What Flooding and No-Wake Zones Mean for Your Floating Dock

Does Flooding in Lake and McHenry Counties Threaten Your Floating Dock?

April showers bring May flowers, but sometimes they also bring flooding. This past month, heavy rainfall caused parts of the Chain O’Lakes and Fox River to flood, and the Fox Waterway Authority (FWA) declared no-wake zones in various places. If you’re a relatively new boater, you might be wondering, “Does this happen often? Why the no-wake zones? Should I worry about my floating dock?”

Here’s a rundown of flooding along the Chain and the Fox, the no-wake zones created to deal with it, and what this means for your floating dock.

For a primer on docks and piers, start with our FAQ!

Why Was There Flooding in the Fox Waterway?Floating Dock on Lake

Was this flooding out of the ordinary? Short answer: not at all. A quick search shows news articles reporting on similar flooding and no-wake zones in the area both in recent years and as far back as 20 years ago. This tells us that this flooding isn’t anything new or all that unusual.

Still, if you haven’t been boating for very many years, this all might take you by surprise. Let’s go over why this flooding happens.

First, storms bring heavy rainfall to Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Next, the runoff from this rainwater collects in rivers, lakes, and streams in the area, creating elevated water levels. Then, that extra water travels south through various rivers into the Chain O’Lakes. This is when the Chain and the Fox experience flooding in many parts. Finally, the water empties out after a bit and continues flowing southward, and things go back to normal.

This is how a couple inches of rain in Wisconsin can lead to water levels along the Chain several feet above normal summertime levels. It’s also exactly what happened this year, as heavy rainfall to the north led to flooding along the Chain.

What Are No-Wake Zones and Where Were They Declared?

A no-wake zone is an area on the water where boating speed is restricted. A “wake” is the wave-like movement of water created by a fast-moving boat. In a no-wake zone, you’re not allowed to travel faster than 5mph—slow enough not to create a wake.

The Fox Waterway Authority institutes no-wake zones to deal with the effects of flooding. This is because flooding increases the amount of debris on the water. No-wake during this time keeps boating safer and prevents wakes from disturbing the water, which might increase any potential damage done by flooding and debris to someone’s boat or floating dock.

Typically, the FWA declares no-wake when the water level is at least a foot higher than normal summertime levels. During this time, violating the no-wake restriction carries the consequence of a $300-500 fine as well as additional charges for any damage your wake may cause.

The FWA declares no-wake for all of the waterway and then lifts the restriction zone by zone, of which there are three making up the waterway. Zone A extends from the Algonquin dam north to the McHenry dam, Zone B continues from the McHenry dam north to Pistakee Lake, and finally Zone C reaches from Pistakee Lake north to the Wisconsin state line.

This time, no-wake was declared in all three zones on April 4th. As of April 15th, the no-wake restriction on Zone C has been lifted while it remains in place in Zones A and B, from Pistakee down to the Algonquin dam. The Zones further north typically have the restriction lifted first as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ department of water resources keeps water moving southward through the dams until water levels return to normal.

What’s This Mean for My Floating Dock?

All docks are at risk of damage during flooding, but a floating dock is at even greater risk than a fixed or recessed dock. Fast currents, waves, wind, debris, fluctuating lake levels, and possibly even other floating piers—all of these threaten your floating dock.

The worst case scenario is that it breaks away, floats downstream, and damages other people’s property. In such a case, you’re responsible for the damage your dock has caused.

Here are some precautions you should take to protect your floating dock from flooding and debris.

Position the Anchors Correctly

When you suspect there might be flooding soon, you should prepare by changing the anchor positioning.

Typically, a floating dock has four anchor points—two offshore and two onshore. Before a flood, double up your cables and anchor downstream, with no anchors upstream. This way, rather than taking the full force of flood currents, debris, and possibly even other docks, and possibly breaking loose, your floating dock will be able to pivot away.

Keep Your Floating Dock Close to Shore

Another important safety precaution is bringing your dock in closer to shore.

There are restrictions in place on the maximum distance offshore that you can keep your floating dock. The shore is defined as wherever the land meets the water. This means that when flooding raises the water level and pushes the shoreline back, your floating dock is now further offshore. Your floating dock will be at greater risk of breaking away, as well as potentially obstructing the waterway and putting you in violation of the law. Make sure your dock will stay within the maximum allowed distance from shore.

Consider Installing Lighting

Flooding is a time when you want to be able to keep an eye on your floating dock. This is why you might consider installing some safety lighting. Battery-powered lights work well enough, or solar-powered lights can store sunlight during the day to use later on at night. This way it’s easier for you to keep track of your floating dock and for boaters to navigate around it.

Hire a Qualified Professional

Flooding can be a bit of a risky time for dock owners on the waterway. It calls for additional maintenance and precautions. This extra work can be tricky if you’re an inexperienced owner or a part-time lake resident who can’t be on-site all the time.

The most responsible thing you can do in this situation is contact a qualified boat dock contractor—and you won’t find a more trusted contractor than Captain Rod’s Boat Lift & Pier Services. We’ve been in the business of installing, maintaining, and repairing docks, boat lifts, and seawalls for over 15 years, so we’re your go-to contractor for a floating dock in McHenry, IL and the Chain O’Lakes region. Give us a call at (815) 759-9134 and we’ll keep your dock intact, come hell or high water!