“Winter is coming.”
In the world of boating, boaters are just the Starks who must get ready for a merciless weather.
If you live in high altitudes or where water tends to freeze and are considering a wet (in-the-water) storage for your boat, you need to be cautious and prepare the surrounding dock and boathouse.
(Actually, you may want to do this even if your boat is in storage!)
And to do so, one wise gadget to use is dock bubblers.
The Icy Dangers for Docks and Boats Without Bubblers
Dock bubblers, also known as de-icers, prevent ice damage around your dock and boat, especially wooden and fiberglass boats.
In the case of wood hulls or wood docks, water enters between the planks and freezes, which spreads them apart. This might cause major leaks that might even cause a boat to sink!
Fiberglass boats are even more vulnerable. Although fiberglass boats are slightly more durable, ice around the hull can still damage the rudder and prop. Also, the continuous hitting of the ice around a fiberglass boat can affect the gelcoat along the water line.
If nothing else, you’re possibly looking at a gelcoat repair job come spring.
Dock bubblers can prevent all of that and protect your boat from any major structural damage that ice might have inflicted upon it otherwise.
How Dock Bubblers Work
Water has a very unique property. Like all other liquids, it contracts when cooled.
However, when it reaches its freezing point (39°F), it starts expanding. So, as it turns into ice, it floats on top of lakes, keeping the water below it warmer.
Dock bubblers utilize this anomalous expansion of water and bring up this warm reservoir of water to keep ice away from boats and docks.
In case of a dock bubbler, a perforated hose is placed along the bottom and attached to an air compressor, which is controlled by an air thermostat.
The hose releases air bubbles that push up the slightly warmer water from below, creating a space of unfrozen water above the bubbler hose.
Dock Bubbler Details to Keep in Mind
Dock bubblers make an excellent choice for permanent docks. However, if you have a non-permanent type of dock, there are a few things that you must keep in mind.
Sheets of Ice
Dock bubblers won’t protect from moving sheets of ice.
But that happens if there is an ice “accident.”
Let me explain: Think of a situation when your dock is free from ice, thanks to the bubblers you installed. However, there might still be ice across the lake. Lots of it.
In case of a strong wind under such circumstances, chances are, sheets of ice would be blown towards your dock and your bubbler would be powerless.
Low Lake Levels
Dock bubblers won’t be very effective if lake levels are very low.
Winter is the time when the lake levels can go very low. This often happens because the authorities drain out lake waters during this time. And if that happens, and you suddenly find your bubblers running in only 7-inch waters, it might malfunction.
Also, there should be a minimum clearance of 1-foot from the bubbler’s base to the lake bed. This gives it enough room to stir the water and move it while pushing away ice sheets.
The Best Time to Install Dock Bubblers
When installing dock bubblers, it’s wise not to wait until winter.
If you’re not a snowbird who sails away to warmer locales, take care of your dock well before winter.
Many prefer to install a de-icer only when the lakes and pond freeze by drilling a hole on the ice surface. However, you can save a lot of the hassle by simply moving up the installation date by a few weeks.
The best time to install dock bubblers is November.
Place up safety warning signs; unguarded holes on ice usually need one. Find out the laws and regulations in your area and stick to those. This is will keep everyone safe.
How to Install Dock Bubblers
You have several installation options, but suspended operation and universal dock mount are the simplest ones for personal dock bubblers. There is also the industrial dock mount but, as the name suggests, you need that for industrial applications in the harshest weather.
In this type of dock bubblers, tie the moorings or ropes that come with the application kit to the sides of the de-icer.
Next, fasten the rope to the waterside property that you want to keep ice free.
(Kasco marine comes with two standard 20-foot mooring ropes that make suspending the de-icer very convenient.)
Universal Dock Mount
If you’re uncomfortable with a suspended operation de-icer, you can also mount it on your dock or any other waterfront property.
With this bubbler system, you’ll be using sturdy stainless steel pipes and mounting hardware, which helps you install the de-icer in place and even adjust its angle and position when under water.
The Energy Cost to Run Dock Bubblers
Dock bubblers basically need two costs—the purchase price and the energy cost for operating through winter. The purchase price is predictable, but the later is not.
To calculate how much energy a bubbler takes, use the following formula:
Cost to run de-icer per hour = Kilowatts x cost per kilowatt/hour
In the above formula, kilowatts stand for your de-icer’s power consumption requirement and cost per kilowatt per hour refers to the amount you are supposed to pay for each kilowatt of energy you use every hour.
In case you live in a place where time of use hydro rates is applicable, you can still use the above formula. Simply calculate the cost for each time block and add them together to get an idea about your daily total.
Apart from these, dock bubblers are practically maintenance free!
Choose a Dock Bubbler Horsepower Size
You can use dock bubblers in rivers, lakes and ponds. However, the amount of water a dock bubbler can move typically depends on its horsepower.
While many models and sizes are available in the market, you need to zero in on the option that’s ideal for you.
The easiest way to determine the best dock bubbler size is to consider how much area around your dock you want ice-free. Then, check the manufacturer’s size-guide chart to see which model will do the job.
Let’s use Kasco Marine as a reference:
- ½ hp model keeps a 50-foot area ice-free
- ¾ hp model keeps a 75-foot area ice-free
Basically, the more square feet of area you need to keep ice-free, the more horsepower you need.
Trusted Dock Bubbler Brands
When buying a dock bubbler, opt for one made by trusted manufacturers.
This not only ensures a good quality item but also guarantees the best after-sales service in case of any problems.
Here’s a list of the most trusted names in the bubbler business:
Kasco Marine is one of the leading manufacturers of submersible de-icers, who offer various ranges of horsepower (like referenced above). Each of Kasco’s de-icers also offers different power cord lengths to be sure you reach your energy source. (Make sure to measure that too!)
Here are a few that are perfect for docks:
Kasco ½ hp De-Icer (check price on Amazon) keeps away a 50-foot diameter of ice around your dock.
Kasco ¾ hp De-Icer (check price on Amazon) keeps away a 75-foot diameter of ice.
Kasco 1 hp De-Icer (check price on Amazon) keeps away 95-foot diameter of ice.
They also offer a Universal Dock Mount (check price on Amazon) for easy attachment.
They call their dock bubblers Ice Eaters.
One special feature of the Ice Eater is its use of eco-friendly dielectric lubricating fluid, which is biodegradable in nature.
These Ice Eaters also come with a 3-year warranty, which is the best in the industry.
Here are various models:
As a Canadian manufacturer, Abrux’s dock bubblers and de-icers are known for efficient performance and reliability.
While they also build heavy-duty commercial de-icers, they also offer us regular residential boaters options as well.
Abrux offers anywhere from 1/2 hp to 3 hp de-icer bubblers with various power cable lengths just like their competitors.
Protect Your Dock This Winter…
Installing a dock bubbler is one of the best things you can do to protect your boat, dock or boathouse from the harsh winters. However, choose the right type and size for maximum performance.
Take good care of your boat in the winter and it won’t let you down when the boating season returns.
Enjoy the winter boating season!