Lake of the Ozarks (LOTO, for short), a sprawling impoundment built in Missouri in 1929, was the first body of water I was fortunate enough to call home. More recently, a labyrinth of canals etched in a fat, round point at the headwaters of Charlotte Harbor in Punta Gorda, Florida, has become home. I’ve been lucky to have powerboats docked on waterfronts of both, and during that time, I learned more than I wanted to know about navigating regulatory quagmires designed to keep the neighbors and bureaucrats happy when building a dock.

Local water conditions—and sometimes customs—dictate a docking system. If your water level fluctuates due to tides or hydroelectric-dam operations, you’ll have to allow for water-level changes of a couple of feet to 10 or even 20 feet. If you’re in love with your view of the water, the aesthetics of the dock in that view will

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