Want to Install Boat Dock Railing? Read This First

Want a safer or more functional dock…or one that looks a bit more aesthetically pleasing? Consider installing a dock railing. Most dock railings are simple to install if you have some basic power tools and an afternoon for a DIY project.

In this post, I’ll break down a few common dock railing ideas for your private dock. It doesn’t matter if your dock is on a pond, lake, or the ocean; one or all of these solutions should work.

Before I jump into the different options you have, I’ll tackle one question: safety.

Are there any OSHA railing requirements for boat docks?

Most private docks don’t require railings on the gangway (the narrow walkway leading to the end of the dock), but these regulations may vary by jurisdiction. Many boat docks for private use (like on a reservoir) don’t require railings at all. Typically railings are added if the owner prefers a handrail, a safety barrier, or strictly for aesthetics.

In this post, I’ll assume you are not taking on a commercial build; for commercial dock railing projects, consult a licensed contractor who knows any regulations on the books.

Dock railing ideas

There are a few common types of dock railings of varying costs. Here are a few common materials and combinations if you need ideas:

  • Pressure-treated wood for posts, railings, and balusters
  • Pressure-treated wood with wire balusters
  • Metal posts with wire balusters
  • Wood posts with stainless steel railings and balusters

Before you decide, you should first ask yourself if you prefer a top handrail or not; handrails will add to the cost of your dock railing, whereas a simple cable system only requires a wooden or metal post every 6 feet or so.

Balusters for dock railings

Balusters on docks (the dividers that run post to post) almost always run horizontal and are generally 4 to 6 inches apart. Many people prefer cables for balusters, but you can use wood or steel cylinders if you’d like.

Keep in mind, for decks (not docks) a four-inch minimum is the general rule, and a good starting point for safety reasons.

Rope railings for boat docks

A dock railing made of rope is one of the easiest and least expensive railing options you can install. You basically need wooded posts, nylon rope, and optional center post caps.

Since exposed pieces of wood (even pressure-treated) tend to crack and splinter, center post caps can help to shield the cut ends of the posts from the elements.

Here is a list of materials if you plan to build your own  dock railing from rope:

  • One-inch braided nylon rope
  • Measuring tape
  • Circular saw
  • Wood glue
  • GRK fasteners

This specific build by DC Woodworks you can follow along to using the video below:

Stainless steel boat dock railings

Since stainless steel is resistant to rust and rot, stainless steel boat dock railings are ideal for boat docks on the coast.

Most of the stainless steel railings designed for docks come in kits with straightforward instructions. If you don’t want to cut wood, but want a modern look, cable-based metal dock railings are the way to go.

Both Lowes and Home Depot carry these metal and stainless steel deck railing kits. Always check any local regulations before installing dock railings.

Wooden boat dock railings

wood boat dock railing for fishing

If you decide to go with a wood dock railing, pressure-treated wood is the most common and affordable option. If you add a slight slant to the top rail, you provide a nice place to cut bait for fishermen. Wood dock railings commonly are made of 2 x 4’’ boards for the middle slats, and a 5 x 7’’ top board for bait.

Your posts are important to get right if you install for wooden dock railing; you may want to select 4 x 6’’ posts (or round posts) depending on how your wooden dock is made.

5 best practices for installing dock railings

These general principles are helpful to know, regardless of what dock railing you decide on.

  • Use chalk lines to center your railings
  • Space out your cable or rope railings to your desired width before install
  • Ensure the materials used will withstand the elements
  • Leave one side of your gangway or dock open for docking boats
  • Decide if you want a functional handrail or just a safety barrier


A dock railing system can add a nice touch to your dock, and add a layer of safety as well. If you plan to dock your boat, remember to position your railings so they don’t interfere with your dock cleats.

You may want to consider installing a fish cleaning station as I cover in this post while you’re at it, or even a dock bench.

Have any other recommendations for boat dock railings or any tips that I missed? Leave a comment below with your recommendations.

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