Okay, so you probably should have thought about this back in September or October, but there’s no time like the present to make good on previous oversights. With record-breaking cold this winter putting the deep freeze on both freshwater and salt water estuaries throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, 20/20 hindsight shows that those who have already installed mechanical de-icers made a smart decision.
“Serious ice really can wreak havoc with docks and boats that are left in the water through the colder months,” says Andy Gillis, Product Manager for Kasco Marine in Prescott, Wisconsin, a leading provider of de-icers in the US and Canada. “A boat that is encased in ice can suffer extensive structural damage, and the daily gradual movements of an ice sheet can splinter a dock into pieces. All of this is amplified if you live in an area with tidal influence.”
According to Gillis, as ice gets to be around six inches thick, it begins freezing to pilings – especially wooden ones. Then, as the tide rises or ice sheets shift, the pilings get jacked up from the bottom. As the ice continues to expand, it continues to push and pull the pilings, tilting them over or causing a roller coaster effect on a pier.
The whole process can cause more than a little inconvenience. Replacing a typical Chesapeake Bay residential dock, for example, can cost upwards of $15,000. That cost can double if you’ve lost or damaged a boat lift along the way. Add to this the hassle of applying for new permits and of waiting for a pile driver to become available – often in short supply when ice damage is widespread – and you can lose much of the following summer before your boating life gets back on track.
Which brings us back to the need for a de-icer. If you keep your vessel in the water anywhere from northern Virginia to coastal Maine or above, de-icers are probably a good investment. In general, they use a propeller system to create current around your dock or boat and to lift warmer water from the bottom to the surface so it can eat away at the ice. (Kasco has a cool video that shows the process at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9b7RGD8GVjg.)
De-icers work great in saltwater environments where the temperature differentials between the surface and bottom may be several degrees, but perform suitably even in freshwater lakes where the temperature difference may be as little as 1/2 a degree. Of course, the size and quantity of the de-icers you’ll need depends on how much area you need to keep open. The smaller the area to keep clear, and the great the temperature differential from surface to bottom, the smaller/fewer de-icers you’ll require.
Typically, propeller-driven de-icers come in ½-, ¾- and 1-hp models. Gillis claims the Kasco models provide more thrust while using less amperage than competing units, are stainless steel and come rated for saltwater application. In any case, it is vital your de-icers be safety certified. The Kasco units are all ETL to UL and CSA approved. The Powerhouse, Inc., (https://thepowerhouseinc.com) and Scott Aerators (https://www.scottaerator.com) also offer popular de-icing devices.
As for winter already being half over, there’s still plenty of time for another serious freeze. Since most propeller-style de-icers can be installed at any point in the year, however, now is as good a time as any. That is, of course, if you have the funds to finance the project immediately. Most recreational boaters will need one or two ½- to 1-hp units to get the job done. Expect to pay from $500 to $700 each.
There is another reason to get your de-icers now. Most can also be used for summer aeration of stagnant or slow-moving water. All you have to do is add a special aeration float – generally available from the manufacturer – and you’ll be on you way to avoiding possible fish kills come summer.
Written by: Tom Schlichter