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Pier FAQ

Waterway protection

These are questions that are frequently asked about pier requirements and regulations. They are provided to help you better understand what you need to do to ensure that you can continue to place your pier(s) on the water for many years to come.

I want to place a new pier. How big can it be?

The Pier Planner [PDF] and Exemption Checklist [PDF] outline the size of new piers that can be placed without a permit. If you need a different size an Individual Permit may be needed.

I have an existing pier I have been placing the same way for years, do I have to do anything?

No. All existing piers and wharves that do not have an existing permit and were initially placed before April 2012 are “grandfathered” and need no department authorization.

When determining the length of my pier, do I include my loading platform?

Yes, the loading platform should be included when measuring the length of your pier.

When determining the surface area of my loading platform, do I include my pier?

Yes, the pier should be included when calculating the square footage (surface area) of your loading platform.

My pierhead line is established at 100 ft out from the shore, but the pier planner says the length of my pier can be to the 3-foot water depth, which would allow my pier to extend 120 ft from the shore. How long can my pier be?

Your pier can be 100 feet long or less. Wis. stats. 30.13 (3) allows for the establishment of pierhead lines. If your municipality establishes a pierhead line your pier cannot exceed it regardless of what length pier you would have been allowed under state law. In addition, Lake District ordinances are treated the same way.

Water levels are lower this year, can I extend my existing pier into deeper water?

If you have a pier that is authorized to be placed in the water by a permit issued by the department, the conditions of the permit dictate the size and configuration your pier/dock can be. To extend your pier and make it larger it must still adhere to the permit conditions. If it will not, feel free to seek a permit amendment from your local water management specialist.

If you have a pier dock that meets the dimensions and use outlined in the Pier Planner [PDF] and Exemption Checklist [PDF], you can go ahead and extend your dock. As long as the enlargement still meets the pier planner guidelines you are good to go.

If you have an existing pier with no state permit authorization that does not meet the pier planner, but the pier was initially placed on the water before April 17, 2012, those structures are now also exempt under the new pier law changes in 2011 Act 167. For these structures that do not have an existing state permit and do not meet the pier planner but are still exempt as a result of 2011 Act 167 because the pier was placed before April 2012 can only be repaired and maintained but cannot be enlarged or replaced. Extending your pier/dock would be considered an enlargement and would require an Individual Permit [PDF].

How many boat slips can I have?

For new piers,* the number of boat slips, berths, mooring spaces, etc. allowed on your property is determined by the amount of shoreline owned. The law states that for non-commercial properties or properties with less than three dwelling units, up to two boat slips are allowed for the first 50 feet of shoreline owned and one for each additional full 50 feet of shoreline owned. For non-commercial properties you can also place two personal watercraft for the first 50 feet of shoreline owned and one personal watercraft for each additional 50 feet of shoreline owned. You can place this number without a permit.

*Existing piers placed before April 17, 2012 are able to keep existing boat slip usage.

For commercial properties, or properties with three or more dwelling units, up to four boat slips are allowed for the first 50 feet of shoreline owned and two for each additional full 50 feet of shoreline owned. Commercial properties or properties with three or more dwelling units using this boat slip formula must apply for an Individual Permit.

 

Non-commercial property Example A

Non-commercial property Example B

Commercial property Example A*

Commercial property Example B*

Amount of shoreline
owned in feet

125

225

125

225

Maximum number
of boat slips allowed

3

5

6

10

Maximum number
of personal watercraft allowed

3

5

-

-

*Individual Permit required
I am part of an 'out lot,' 'back lot' or 'keyhole development' with a common use shoreline frontage and our three or more dwelling units (e.g., condominium) or commercial structure are not located on the waterfront parcel. Are we still eligible to apply for a permit for a new pier* to have up to four boat slips for the first 50 feet of shoreline and two for each additional full 50 feet of shoreline?

No. To be eligible to use the 'double density' slip formula for new piers* that is allowable for parcels of land that contain commercial structures or three or more dwelling units, the commercial structure or condominium has to be on the property that touches the water.

*Existing piers placed before April 2012 are able to keep existing boat slip usage.

I have a commercial property or a property with three or more dwelling units located on a river. When placing a new pier,* do I get double the boat slips allowed versus a non-commercial property?

No. The ability to apply for an Individual Permit to place the commercial property boat slip calculation/formula is only applicable to parcels of land on a lake, not a river.

*Existing piers placed before April 2012 are able to keep existing boat slip usage.

How many piers or docks can I have on my property?

Wisconsin pier laws do not regulate the number of pier dock or wharf structures that you can place on your property. Wisconsin pier laws do regulate the size of the structure (e.g., width) and how you use the structure (e.g., boat slips/berths). However there may be local ordinances that restrict the number of structures placed on your property either directly or indirectly by requiring side setbacks with structure placement.