Introduction: Floating Dock With Barrels (UPDATED)

Picture of Floating Dock With Barrels (UPDATED)

This is a floating dock that's easy to make and works beautifully.
Here is quick parts list of everything I used:

4 - 2x8" pressure treated lumber. 8 feet long.
7 - 2x4" pressure treated lumber. 8 feet long.
17 - 1x6" pressure treated lumber. 8 feet long.
4 - 4x4" pressure treated posts. 8 inches long.
4 - 55gallon plastic Barrels
100ft of Rope
16 - Screw in Eye Hooks
10 to 20 - L shape braces
Galvanized screws and Nails
Drill/Screw Driver
Silicone Caulking

Here are the parts for the ramp/walkway I added (Step 7)

1- 55gallon plastic Barrel
2 - 2x8" pressure treated lumber. 12 feet long.
2 - 2x8" pressure treated lumber. 3 feet long.
2 - 2x4" pressure treated lumber. 12 feet long.
3 - 2x4" pressure treated lumber. 33 inches long.
4 - Screw in Eye Hooks
6 - L shaped corner braces
1" steel pipe...length depends on water depth.

Step 1: Build the Frame

Picture of Build the Frame

So once you have your parts head out to the body of water you want to place the dock in. Get as close as you can as your final product will be quite heavy and you don't want to have to move it too far.

Luckily I had a relatively flat area near the lake I was placing mine and I could keep things pretty level.

Lay your 2x8 boards out in a square and screw them together. Make sure and keep two sides of the square on the inside of the square effectively making an 8'x8'4" square. I used the pieces of 4x4" posts in the corners as a right angle. I didn't screw these in yet incase I needed to make adjustments.

At this point you can also ready your barrels. Make sure the plugs are tightened and then apply a layer of silicone caulking over the plug to ensure a good seal and prevent leaking. I did not fill the barrels with any sort of ballast but some people suggest doing so for stability. But my final product was quite stable so no worries.

Step 2: Support the Frame

Picture of Support the Frame

Now that you have the basic shape we need to add supports.

Measure out the middle of the square and place a 2x4" support there.

The remaining bottom layer pieces are playing two roles. They are supporting the frame as well as holding the barrels against the dock and preventing them from pushing up against the decking. Place two of the boards as the picture shows and lay a barrel on top. Shift the boards around until you get the barrel sitting nicely in between the boards without touching the ground but also fitting nicely around the curve in the barrel. Mark that point, screw them in and do the same to the other side.

Now the top layer of supports that run perpendicular to the rest also have two jobs. The provide the cross support and keep the barrels from moving back and forth while in the water. So once again place your barrels on the bottom supports and measure where the barrels end. Place your top layer supports here and screw them in.

Step 3: Add the Barrels

Picture of Add the Barrels

After screwing in the 4x4" post pieces in the corner to solidify the structure you can make things a little more stable with L Braces places at each of the support intersections. This will make sure that everything stays where it is and really tightens up the frame.

Now, place eye hooks in the bottom layer of supports where your barrels lay. Two on each side the barrel. Lay your barrels in their slots and tie them up! I started on one eye hook with a knot and ran rope across the barrel, then diagonally, then across again and tied it off on the last eye hook. After you do all 4 barrels you are ready to flip.

Step 4: Flip It.

Picture of Flip It.

I did everything up to this part alone. Now I recruited some friends to come and help me move the beast. With only 3 of us total we easily go it up on it's side and slid it in to the lake. I'd say we might have been able to do it with just 2 of us but 3 worked nicely.

Flip it in to the water and tie it down to something. You don't want it floating away while you go inside to get the beer.

(It just rained for a week straight so the water level was quite high here, hence the dock basically floating in the grass.)

Step 5: Deck It.

Picture of Deck It.

Now that you have a friend or two...and your beer, this part is a breeze. Lay out the 1x4" boards and make sure everything fits nicely. Leave a little spacing between each board. Drink your beer and hammer in the boards along each support. Once you get a few in you can jump on top and finish from there. Feels nice and stable doesn't it!

Step 6: Float.

Picture of Float.

One thing that is nice about a floating dock is that you can untie it and float out in to the middle of a lake or pond for a nice swimming platform or just a nice place to hang out.

I'm still working on a ramp and a good way to keep the dock from drifting while actually on shore. I'll be sure to post that once it's complete.

Step 7: A Ramp Begins...

Picture of A Ramp Begins...

So now with the floating platform/dock I needed a way to easily get on to it without stepping in the water first, so here is the walkway/ramp.

I'll go through it quick as it's basically the same thing as the platform.

Working with this was different in that the 12 foot boards are much harder to get level where I was working as the slope of the ground really came in to play with the extra 4 feet length. So I used a lot of extra boards and stuff lying around to try and keep everything flat.

Basically though it's the same idea. Frame the entire ramp with the 2x8" boards. Screw them together and level. Add the 2x4" boards down the middle as support for the barrel as well as the walkway area when you flip it over. Throw in the 33" pieces of 2x4" board for support every 3 feet. Add the Eye Hooks for the barrel, rope it down and you are ready to flip it.

I did this in about and hour and a half. Most of that time was spent making sure it was level...and it still wasn't perfect.

Step 8: Flip It and Float It.

Picture of Flip It and Float It.

Once again, bribe a friend with beer (or in my case my friend actually brought the beer) and flip the ramp over and walk it in to the water.

Now, this is where this could easily not work for some people depending on their shoreline. Mine has a nice little hill the ramp can sit on while on land. So I set that end down and the other side floated nicely out by the platform. I had to add some dirt underneath the land side just to get everything straight but it wasn't too bad.

Now just put the decking on just like before...thanks to those 2x4"s running long ways you have plenty of support for the deck boards.

I actually ran out of boards for decking because I wasn't really thinking...remember, after wood gets milled and sent to the store it is no longer it's original dimensions...I calculated for 1x6" boards, when it reality they are more like 3/4x5 1/2" I came up short.

Step 9: Attach and Secure...

Picture of Attach and Secure...

Now it's all finished but the platform is floating free and the ramp is somewhat unstable. So I placed poles (not pictured) on the corners of the platform and sunk them as far as I could in to the lake bed. I also placed a few on the ramp to keep it from getting pushed to the side. Just don't make anything too tight, everything needs to be able to move by wind, people walking, water level changes. I've already found the poles make great places to lauch bottle rockets from as well as place tiki torches! (I'll throw a pic of that in soon)

I also attached the platform to the ramp with rope, carabiners and eye hooks. Check out the pic on how I did it. Now it can still be easily detached to float out if need be.

It's not as stable over all as I hoped...if you walk to the far corner of the ramp it dips pretty low in the water and actually rolled the ramp before I added the poles. I guess I could just add 4x4" pillars and take out the barrel........maybe once the water level goes back down to winter levels.


srcpt (author)2017-06-16

I scored two 10' by 4' wood docks for free. After reconditioning (all new deck screws and turn over the deck boards so good side is up) I'm ready to think about flotation. I can get plastic barrels for $5 each. But, I don't want the dock to be that high off the water. I was thinking of cutting the barrels in half and filling each half with expanding foam. Much easier to get in and out of kayaks and rowing shells if the dock is only a few inches off the water. There is an expanding foam product for setting fence posts which is $9 a bag at Menards. Anyone have any thoughts about this idea?

ewbray (author)srcpt2017-09-08

If your floating dock is sitting high in the water, couldn't you just attach an inexpensive 5 foot aluminum ladder with wooden? rails to one side of the dock, where three feet of it would be below the water level and the other two feet of it would be above the water level? That way you could get in and out of any water craft with relatively ease of access.

PermacultureP (author)srcpt2017-07-02

Much simpler and cheaper if you have access to cheap barrels is to let some water into each barrel until you have the boancy/freeboard you want.

dstewart7 (author)2017-07-21

hey great instructable, loved the use of 4x8's. idk why but it just never occurred to me.

anyway, i just wanted to chime in because i have some experience making these and one thing i would add is to use Spray Foam! Filling the barrels with spray foam is a great way to add bouyancy and extend the longevity ov the barrels by giving them internal support!

thank you!

JustinM88 (author)2015-12-09

Good Day! May I ask you something? What is the maximum load that a single 55-gallon plastic barrel could carry? I just need to know for my research purposes. Thanks :D

CPUDOCTHE1. (author)JustinM882017-07-03

It would be the density of water (8.34 lbs/gallon at 60 deg F) times the capacity of the barrel (55 gallons) or 458..7 lbs less the weight of the empty barrel. You can also add in the density of water multiplied by the volume of the barrel material if you want closer to exact.

MattP119 (author)JustinM882017-07-02

Go to This will give you a pretty close idea of your float's capacities. Hope this helps.

djsnowman06 (author)JustinM882016-05-10

Just over 500 lbs. Provided this is fully submerged...

Daveschroeter86 (author)2015-07-26

Our barrels collapsed any ideas why?

Hello ... I own ... cork or seal up your barrels in the shade and on a colder day. If you can seal them at a temperature below 60 degrees you should be fine. The air inside the barrels contracts as it cools.

Dave, You probably sealed your barrels on a hot day and the air cooled when it hit the water and contracted the barrels. I would think that if you floated the barrels for a couple of hours prior to sealing them and launching that this would not happen.

jj34indy made it! (author)2016-08-15

We built this using the published plan but increased the size to 12X12. Used 8 barrels for stability. Used 2X8's with 2X6 interior stringers for strength. The 2X4's are then angled to better fit the barrels and also fit within the 2X8's with little overhang. The L brackets had to be bent to also secure to the 2X6's. I did not build the ramp as it will be tethered to my new dock when not moved to the middle. With the 8 barrels, two of us can walk around on it with very little movement. I still need to trim the deck boards, add the ladder and cleats and anchor but I'm calling it a success.

RodS31 (author)2016-07-25

Looks great! How well do the barrels withstand winter and the lake freezing around it? Will they start to crack after several harsh winters in the lake?

critopadolf (author)2016-07-21

Will I have to cut the two top supports to fit them in the frame?

TaylorK25 made it! (author)2016-06-05

I used barrels as both flotation and as rollers to move the dock. If I had to build this again, I would place the barrels so that they would extend outward from the side to provide more stability. There are aluminum brackets which capture the ends of the barrel and has rollers which the barrel to roll. My barrels also flattened once they hit the cold water. I had sealed them on avery hot day without considering the physics of air cooling and contracting.

dave132 (author)TaylorK252016-06-21

Awesome idea - where did you get the brackets? You should do an instructable for this one!

TaylorK25 (author)dave1322016-06-21

My brackets are available in Oregon. Enough for 6 barrels.

JanetM84 (author)TaylorK252016-06-21

Thanks for the link, totally appreciate it. This is the dock for us!

JanetM84 (author)dave1322016-06-21

Sent you a private e-mail re this idea. Mcjanet or at friends's

JanetM84 (author)TaylorK252016-06-21



We want a floating dock but need to pull it out of the water each fall because of ice where
we live. Yours is the first one I have ever seen that is self rolling -
We are seniors and need something like this so we can pull it out with a
vehicle of some sort. Please, let me know how to build this as soon as
you can. Currently our pier is all over the place because it floated
off its stands [water in lake rose] so yours would simply go up and down
with the water level, Again, genius

My e-mail is or you can send this to a friend at

Daveschroeter86 (author)2015-07-26

Our barrels collapsed any ideas why?

JanetM84 (author)Daveschroeter862016-06-21

never heard of that - see above re wt allowance for each barrel - check to see if you got good sturdy barrels

JanetM84 (author)Daveschroeter862016-06-21

never heard of that - see above re wt allowance for each barrel - check to see if you got good sturdy barrels

mwmaterial (author)2016-06-10

This is a great design, thank you! How did you drive the poles into the ground? Did you have to dig them out, and did you use concrete?


mrscloud (author)2016-06-08

We have a cottage on the Alleghany River in Pa. 50+/- years ago (I'm 59 so i was a kid!) Our grandfather built our families a floating swimming raft using 4 or 6 55 gallon steel/metal drums that were readily availble least for him!!

With the river having a current, he attached a cement block on a chain that became an anchor. The water (and sometimes riders on the raft) helped us lift the anchor and walk further out from the edge of the river, into deeper water, or carrying it back upstream if our jumping or diving or more likely the current dragged the anchor downstream and not in front of his and our side-by-side cottages. He also placed handles at the sides of the deck so we could help pull it upstream. We'd put the anchor up on the deck and just use the handles if there were as usual 4 or so kids to pull it along.

To add to your design:

1) we only used this swimming deck for swimming and not a dock.
2) he purposely placed the barrels in the direction to allow the dock to rock from side to side to help swimmers in the water to jump back up on the deck. If it didn't rock, it would be harder to climb on. Its much easier to hop on if it tips toward you.
3) the heavy steel drums floated lower in the water so it was easier to climb up on the deck.
4) We made another dock years later for my kids as the old one floated away when heavy rains made the river higher and lifted the cement block up. As it wasn't resting on the bottom of the river, it just floated downstream when we weren't there. A fix may have been a longer chain. The plastic drums we used made it harder for our kids to jump on since it didn't rock down to climb on. We had to add a ladder to the front so they could get back on by climbing up the ladder.
5) he stapled an old piece of carpet to cover the deck and the sides so we didn't scrape or get splinters in our arms or bellies when pulling ourselves up on deck to dive or jump off again..
6) at the end of summer, our parents...mabe 6 or 8 men...carried it up away from the river. As winter snow melts would raise the water level, we were unable to leave it out in the river or at the edge, so it was lugged up and stored out of water until the following year.

So if a person reading your excellent instructions for building this deck is "messed up" and is too unstable to walk on...keep the mistake for swimmers and build another one with the barrels turned in a different direction! And I'd also recommend using clean, and sealed heavier steel drums for a swimming deck! This is one of my most favorite things in my early pre-teen and teenage years growing up on the Allegheny River!

JasonE6 made it! (author)2016-05-31

Great Design. I old school rolled it into the water with logs.

CindyJ2 (author)2015-07-08

I got our blue plastic 45 gallon barrels from Rust Check. $15 each. We put hooks in the raft to attach to the end of the dock so we could easily disconnect it to bring it out deeper for jumping off when we were at camp. We also added a few gallons of water to each barrel so it was more stable in the water ! Our raft is 10x10 ft. We also added solar water proof lights to it so it was more visible in the water at night !

JeffC149 (author)CindyJ22016-05-01

How many barrels did you use for your 10x10 raft?

TylerP44 (author)2016-04-04

I like the Idea but any chance of getting a photo posted of the posts you used for stabilizing the dock, I just wanted to see how the posts looked after.

Omannn (author)2012-05-26

I'm wondering if there would be a way to rig up something so that the floating dock is primarily kept at the end of another pier in a semi permanent position - maybe even connected to some non moveable posts but then when we wanted to move it out to deeper water on weekends we could easily move it. Any thoughts?

pilx (author)Omannn2012-06-27

I put a few poles on the far end through some mounts that I sunk down when it was to stay in place. Then I would just pull them out when I floated it out. I went though a few different poles though trying to find a good strong one that wouldn't bend with a good wind.

michaelmechanic (author)pilx2012-07-24

I'm thinking of building one for a large pond, to swim to/from, without the ramp. One thing I haven't seen anyone mention in the comments is weather. Can the dock survive winters, where the water freezes? I assume you'd need to pull it out of the water for winter. Can it be left outside, or will the barrels crack? Any tips on wintering?

LindaK68 (author)michaelmechanic2016-03-08

Here are seven reasons why 55 gallon drums make better dock

1. Drums are more Rugged – The walls of a typical 55
gallon drum are twice as thick as the walls of standard rectangular dock float.
A 55 gallon drum can be beat with a sledge hammer without damage. Do NOT try
this on a rectangular dock float.

2. Drums don’t require Foam Filling – Rectangular dock
floats are typically foam filled to keep the walls of the float from
collapsing. This increases the weight of the float and If the float ever gets
punctured, the foam inside can become water logged with no way to dry it out.
Drums, on the other hand, have a shape that makes them strong without requiring
foam filling. If, somehow, they ever get punctured, the water can be easily
drained and the hole welded up, returning the float to 100% capacity.

3. Drums won’t crush in the Ice – The round shape of a
drum keep the ice from grabbing hold of it. As the lake freezes, the drums get
pushed up on top of the ice. When the ice thaws and shifts, the drums and the
dock are not damaged. Rectangular floats will easily crush in the ice.

4. Drums slide easily across the Ground – The round
shape and ruggedness of drums allow a dock to be easily dragged over sand,
gravel, even small rocks. Hook your dock up to your truck and drag it up on

5. Drums sit the dock higher above the Water – A
typical dock floating on 55 gallon drums will sit about 20” above the water
where as a dock on rectangular floats will sit only 10-16” depending on the
design. A higher floating dock more in line with pontoon boats and ski boats.

6. Drums are much less Expensive – Brand new
rectangular dock floats can cost anywhere from $110-140 not including shipping.
A brand new 55 gallon drum is only about $50 and used drums are almost always
available in the $5-15 range.

7. Drums are already Everywhere – Shipping a single
rectangular dock float can cost $30-45. But used drums are already available in
just about every community. Just search for “55 gallon drums” or “55 gallon
barrels” on Craig’s List. Locally available drums dramatically reduce shipping

Martyrapp (author)2015-07-26

I just completed my raft yesterday & floated it on our pond. Thanks for the simple plan! I added a second layer of 2x8's to the skirt to hide the barrels. We love it!

Daveschroeter86 (author)2015-07-26

Our barrels collapsed any ideas why? Thanks

Daveschroeter86 (author)2015-07-26

Our plastic barrels collapsed is there a way to fix this and prevent it?

6mlmerwin9 (author)2015-05-15

Is the ramp a little wobbly with only the one row of barrels in the center of it? I plan on making it for a boat dock so will make it 4' x 16' with the same basic design concept (thanks very much by the way) and anchor it with cement blocks and chains to the shore bottom, do you think the height is okay without filling the barrels with water for an 18 foot jet boat, or should I perhaps use 6 barrels (2 side by side across on each end and the center)?

CindyJ2 (author)6mlmerwin92015-07-08

We used 9 barrels for our 10 x 10 ft raft.

pilx (author)6mlmerwin92015-05-15

The ramp was wobbly for sure, I would think just turning the barrels 90 degrees from how I set them would help a ton. I'm not sure there would be enough room to set two barrels side by side with the 4' wide ramp. If you make a little wider with the same basic design I think it would be super stable. Regardless everything sits nice and high with no water in the barrels, not sure how high a 18 foot jet boat sits but I'm sure you could climb in. Good luck.

Bosoxfan10 (author)2015-05-18

I am going to use this design for an anchored swim platform. How sturdy is the 2x8 and 2x4 construction? Should I use that or go with 2x10 frame and 2x6 joists and 2x4 cross beams?

pilx (author)Bosoxfan102015-05-18

Up to you. I found it super sturdy, a 2x10 frame would give it a few more inches above the water which could be nice but the build as-is I found extremely stable.

lalunette (author)2014-08-11

I recently built a floating dock inspired by your plans. I use it as an anchor point for two gangplanks. One anchored to the shore and one anchored on our main 16 by 16 floating dock. It works quite well.

I used 4 metal pipes (one at each corner) to stabilize the dock.

1ccason (author)2013-08-23

Have you tried putting a small railing & trolling motor on one for a motorized family fishing boat? My neighbor builds those.

skittrell (author)1ccason2014-02-18

Exactly what I was thinking of doing. If anyone has done so, I would also like to know how it went/ what you did.

J-PT (author)skittrell2014-08-04

There's the video of me on the dock. The motor works quite nicely, as you can see in the video.

J-PT (author)skittrell2014-08-03

Just finished building my dock. I added a little support for my motor to hang onto using a couple 2X4's. I'm currently building the battery box, but I'll get a video up once it's on there and done!

rybo105 (author)2014-04-27

Do you have to trim the two 2x4's that go across that hold the barrels at the end? Wouldn't it be 7' 8"?

rmurray-adams (author)2012-07-07

I'm back and my walk way is in place. Yes I did some modifications which seemed to work out great. I increased my walkway to 4 FT. and turned the barrel sideways I added an extra 2x4 in the middle laying it down for extra support of walkway. I figure with all the kids I have with me I needed to make it wide enough for all the kids to get in and out safely. I also added 2x4 for handrails with some rope just for looks and a quick grip if needed. I also used cable to put my barrels on with a turn buckle to tighten the barrel if needed. It is really stable. I joined my dock and walkway with 4 eyebolts, 2 on dock centered and 2 on walkway that went just on the outside of the ones from the dock. which, I ran a metal pipe with caps on the end. If you put a nut on the eyebolt and mount it through the dock and walkway you can slide the pipe through and tighten the caps down easily. It was really an easy project.

Omannn (author)2012-05-26

I assume you pull out the floating dock in the winter?

pilx (author)Omannn2012-06-27

I live in it stayed out all the time. Sadly I'm not at that house anymore though.

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Bio: I worry too much.
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