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Docks in Non-Tidal Areas FAQs

Providing detailed information about wetlands and shoreland regulations.

Is a permit required to install or construct a new dock?

Yes, anyone planning to install or construct a new dock (including other docking structures such as boathouses) within or on the banks of surface waters of New Hampshire must first obtain a wetlands permit. Swim rafts and moorings are not subject to NHDES wetlands permitting, however, they must be installed in accordance with all applicable state laws and rules adopted by the New Hampshire Department of Safety. More information is available on the Department of Safety’s Mooring Program website.


Why do I need a permit to install a dock?  

Lakes and ponds over 10 acres in size and navigable rivers are held in trust by the State for the use of the general public. Whenever someone installs a dock in public waters it is being placed in public lands rather than within their own land. The Legislature has charged the NHDES with the responsibility of ensuring that structures are placed in public water in a manner that does not have an unreasonable adverse impact on the interests of the general public. NHDES exercises this responsibility through the application and permitting process.


I have a dock in a non-tidal area and I only want to change it a little, do I need a permit?

If you have an existing, legal dock, a wetlands permit is required prior to making any change to the size, location or configuration (footprint) of the docking structure(s). Changing construction materials, such as replacing wood decking with composite decking or replacing a wood seasonal dock with an aluminum seasonal dock, does not require a wetlands permit provided there are no changes to the size, location or configuration (footprint) of the dock; no work is done to any portion of the structure that is located below the water surface at the time of such repair; and no work is conducted in a tidal area.


Is a wetlands permit required to repair a dock in a non-tidal area?  

Existing, legal docks require a wetlands permit for any repairs that result in any changes to the footprint of the dock. Repairs that do not change the size, location or configuration (footprint) of the dock do not require a wetlands permit, provided these repairs are on portions of a dock that are exposed (in "the dry"), and the lake bed is not disturbed.


How big can my dock be in a non-tidal area?

The below table gives the maximum standard dimensions for docks:

Maximum Dock Standard Dimensions
Freshwater Waterbodies Shoreline Frontage
Less Than 75 Feet
Shoreline Frontage
75 Feet or Greater
Lakes and ponds less than 1,000 acres 4 feet × 24 feet (seasonal dock only; permanent structure not allowed) 6 feet × 30 feet (seasonal dock only; permanent structure not allowed)
Lakes and ponds 1,000 acres or larger 4 feet × 24 feet (permanent or seasonal dock) 6 feet × 40 feet (seasonal dock);
6 feet × 30 feet (permanent dock)
Navigable rivers 4 feet × 24 feet (seasonal dock only; permanent structure not allowed) 6 feet × 30 feet (seasonal dock only; permanent structure not allowed)

Standard dimensions of docks. Docks must not exceed the dimensions listed in this table.


How do I determine the shoreline frontage of my property?

“Shoreline frontage” means the average of the length of a straight line drawn between the points where the side property lines intersect the reference line and the length of the natural frontage between the same points.

a diagram showing shoreline frontage

The shoreline frontage is the average of the black and blue dotted lines, measured between the property lines.

Can I install a piling or crib dock in a non-tidal area?  

Permanent docks, such as piling or crib docks, are permitted only on lakes greater than 1,000 acres in size and only in areas where wind or wave conditions prevent the use of a seasonal dock, based on pre-determined criteria. Seasonal docks are less disturbing on lakes as they are removed during the winter months and do not require the use of aerators for protection against ice damage. The use of aerators disrupts normal lakes cycles and creates dangerously thin ice, a hazard to snowmobilers and ice fisherman.


Can I dredge the area around a dock located in a non-tidal area?

Permits may be obtained from NHDES to relocate rocks that are navigational hazards. A rock is considered a navigational hazard to the owner if:

  • It is within a boatslip or the approach to a docking structure; and
  • It is within 3 feet of the water’s surface.

Dredging of sediments can be permitted only in and around existing, legal fixed structures such as boathouses or breakwaters which cannot be easily modified to attain necessary water depths for docking.


What is a boat slip?

A boat slip is a predetermined, waterbody-dependent, volume of water. For waterbodies 10,000 acres or less, a boat slip is a volume of water 20 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 3 feet deep. For waterbodies greater than 10,000 acres, a boat slip is a volume of water 25 feet long, 8 feet wide and 3 feet deep. Note that only one lake in New Hampshire is greater than 10,000 acres: Lake Winnipesaukee. State rules allow for up to two feet of navigation space around a boat slip. Water depth is measured at the normal high water mark (Figure 2).

a diagram of boat slip requirements     a diagram showing boat slip requirements


Do I need a permit for a boat lift or a jet ski lift in a non-tidal area?

Yes, a wetlands permit is required to install all boat lifts and jet ski lifts, whether seasonal boat or permanent. One boat lift or jet ski lift is equivalent to a single boat slip.


Is a permit required for a canopy over a boat slip in a non-tidal area?  

Yes. Only seasonal canopies may be permitted and:

  • The canopies must not interfere with boating safety by obstructing lines of sight necessary for navigation.
  • All parts of the canopies must be readily removed at the end of the boating season, prior to ice-in.
  • And the canopy must not be installed prior to ice-out.
I have a wetland permit for a dock. Does the permit transfer ownership of the land under or around my dock?

No. If the dock will be on a lake or pond over 10 acres in size the lake bed is owned by the State and the permit grants permission for the dock to be installed over/on the State’s land. For other freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers, the State holds the waters in trust for the public and the permit grants permission for the dock to interfere with the public’s rights to the waters. Ownership of the bed of such a lake/pond/river is determined by several factors, the most important of which is what the deed to the property abutting the waters conveys.


How does NHDES determine if a permit can be issued for a dock?

NHDES uses the criteria set out in the “Fill and Dredge in Wetlands” law (RSA 482-A) and its associated Administrative Rules to balance the rights that an applicant may have to wharf out over a waterbody with the impact of the project on waters, the public, and other interests of the state.


Is it possible for a dock to be grandfathered?  

No, not in the traditional legal sense, but a docking structure is generally recognized as legally existing if the structure was in place prior to any legal requirement to obtain a state permit for the structure AND:

  • Has been continuously maintained with no change to its location, size, and configuration or is a legal replacement structure.
  • Has not been abandoned for more than five years.
  • Is consistent with the public’s right to reasonable use of public waters, as established in New Hampshire case law.
  • Is not built on land created by the unauthorized filling of public waters (i.e., converting public waters to land).

The legal requirement to obtain a state permit was established June 22, 1967 for docking structures adjacent to tidal waters, July 2, 1969 for freshwater permanent docking structures, and September 4, 1978 for freshwater seasonal docking structures.


What if my pre-existing docking structure is associated with filled land in public waters?

Structures associated with or that constitute fill in public waters (converting public waters to land) may require a Grant of Right from Governor and Council pursuant to RSA 482-A:17.