How Are Boat Slips and Boat Docks Different?

How Are Boat Slips and Boat Docks Different?

If you own a boat or intend to buy one, you’ve probably heard phrases like “boat slip” and “boat dock” tossed around. While some people might use them interchangeably, these items are different. Take a closer look at the boat slip vs. dock conversation to learn which one may be the better option for you.

What Is a Boat Slip?

What Is a Boat Slip?

A boat slip is essentially a parking space for a dock. Boat slips often have an F or U configuration to create a three-sided port with a single entry point. A boat can “slip” into this parking spot with ease, which is why boat docks are called slips in the first place. 

The most common place you’ll see a boat slip is in a marina where many people are mooring their boats. Boat slips can save space, making more room available for incoming boats. You’ll often see many slips in a row, making more spots for boaters to slip in and tie off. 

When parking a boat in a slip, you will pull in bow-first so that your bow, port and starboard are surrounded by the slip. It’s similar to pulling into a parking space with the parking paint surrounding the vehicle on the left, front and right sides. 

Boat Slip Advantages

A boat slip is a unique mooring option that offers several parking advantages for boaters, including the following:

  • Greater protection: Since boat slips surround the boat on three sides, they offer greater protection against other vessels and debris. This is especially true in crowded, busy marinas where boats are always going in and out. 
  • More mooring points: More mooring points also contribute to better protection for your boat. You can tie off your boat on all three sides, keeping it more stable in the water. 
  • Ease of parking: Whether you’re an experienced boater or a new boat owner, you can easily learn to park your boat in a slip. The direct, bow-first approach of parking a boat in a slip is easy to master. The parking process also takes little time, so you can quickly move on with your day. 
  • Ability to hold more than one vessel: Boat slips can hold multiple boats at a time because of their F or U configuration. Public and private marinas use boat slips to make the most out of available space, but boat owners with more than one vessel may also consider using a boat slip for their boat parking needs. 
  • Easy to enter and exit the boat: Boat slips do not require stairs or ladders, which makes it easier for passengers to enter and exit the boat. 

Having a boat slip is useful in instances when you want extra protection or security for your boat. If you’re a new boater, parking in a slip may also be your best option. Consider the needs of you and your passengers in terms of entering and exiting the boat when choosing where to park. 

What Is a Boat Dock?

What Is a Boat Dock?

If a boat slip is a parking space, boat docks are for parallel parking. Rather than having three closed sides and one open side, a boat dock has the opposite configuration. Three sides are open, and boats tether to a single dock strip on the one closed side. Docks often take the form of a T shape.

You’ll most commonly see a boat dock on private property or areas where larger vessels need to park. They’re less popular in busy marinas due to the fact that fewer boats can park on them at a time, despite taking up less space than slips. 

To park your boat at a boat dock, you will make your approach so that either the port or starboard side is parallel to the dock. From there, you will tie off your boat and exit the vessel using stairs or ladders to access the dock. 

Boat Dock Advantages

Boat Dock Advantages

Due to their unique shape and features, boat docks offer several advantages to boaters:

  • Ability to accommodate larger vessels: Large vessels can park at boat docks more easily because three sides remain open at all times. All the boater has to do is line up the port or starboard with the dock. Some boats are unable to park in slips simply because they are too big for the size of the slip’s opening. 
  • Affordability: Boat docks are usually more affordable than boat slips due to the simpler, easier construction process used to make them. They require fewer materials to build, and their simpler shape ensures more affordable design and construction phases. 
  • Simple maintenance: Boat docks are easy to clean and maintain due to their simple design and construction. You may experience fewer issues over time with a boat dock than you might with a boat slip. 
  • Easier cast off: Casting off is simple when using a dock since your bow, stern and either your port or starboard are unobstructed. In some cases, you can pull directly ahead from the boat dock as opposed to having to go in reverse to leave a boat slip. 
  • Smaller size: Boat docks are generally smaller than boat slips when parking similarly sized boats. Their size makes them ideal for anyone who wants to save space on their water property. 
  • Ability to work in deeper waters: Boat docks work well in deep waters, especially if you’re using a floating dock that can rise with high tide. 

Whether you own a large boat or want something more affordable, space-saving and easy to cast off from, a boat dock could be the right solution for you. 

What Are the Differences Between Boat Docks and Boat Slips

The boat slip vs. boat dock debate comes down to three significant factors — space, ease of use and cost. 


Boat slips are most commonly used in marinas and other public storage spaces because you can get more boats in a line, and the edges form a protective barrier between boats. Docks are common with large barges or cruise ships, and you’ll also find them on private properties with only one boat.

Ease of Use

Another difference between slips and docks is how easy it is to enter and exit the boat once it’s docked. A boat slip provides more stability with pieces on three sides, while boat docks may rock as you step in and out.


When deciding between a private dock or a boat slip, you should also consider the cost. Since docks require fewer pieces, they’re usually more cost-effective than boat slips. If you’re not sharing your space with other boats, a boat dock may be an excellent option.


You should also consider the level of protection that boat slips and boat docks provide for your vessel. Boat slips offer protection on three sides of the boat, while boat docks only have protection on one side. 


One of the final and most obvious differences between boat docks and boat slips is their design. As you now know, boat slips are usually an F or U shape, while boat docks are generally a T shape. Take their design into consideration when deciding which is right. 

Boat Slip or Boat Dock — What’s Right for You?

Now that you know more about the differences between boat docks and boat slips, you have to decide which is right for you. Here are some tips to help you determine the right option. 

Ideal Docking Experience

Think about how you’d like to dock your boat. Would you rather pull right into a boat slip or pull alongside the dock? Remember that with slips, you have to go in reverse when casting off, but boat docks allow you to pull straight ahead. 

Water Depth

Consider the water depth of the area where you’ll be keeping your boat. A boat slip might be ideal in areas with shallow water, while a dock — especially a floating dock — could be better suited for deeper water. Regardless, make sure you’re tying your boat off with enough slack to account for your area’s tidal changes. 

Dock or Slip Height

Boat slips are usually higher than boat docks, making exiting the vessel a much easier process. Boat docks rest closer to the water, so you may need stairs or a ladder to enter and exit your vessel. 


Consider your budget when choosing a boat slip or a boat dock for your vessel. Boat docks are usually more affordable than boat slips for the same size boat, which can give you more money to work with for boat and property upgrades. 

Boat Size

How big is your boat? Boat docks are more accommodating for larger vessels, while boat slips are more suitable for smaller boats. If you expect that you’ll be getting a larger boat in the future, a boat dock will be a more future-proof investment. 

Discover Our Wide Range of Dock Accessories

Discover Our Wide Range of Dock Accessories

At EZ Dock, you can buy configurable dock pieces and set your boat up with any custom structure that works for you. These sections, paired with our accessories, make your dock the best one on the lake. Get a quote today, or get in touch with our team to learn more.