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the permits you need for your waterfront property projects.
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Waterway protection Piers, docks and wharves

Piers are a popular focus for boating and waterfront recreation.What pier owners need to know is that they can continue to place their existing piers on the water, the same as they've been doing for years.

Pier

Pier


Most existing piers and wharves are grandfathered.

All existing piers and wharves that were first placed in the water before April 17, 2012 are exempt from needing state approval and can be placed in lakes and rivers the same as they always have with few limitations.

Determine permit required

This is a text version of our Piers, docks and wharves interactive question and answer module to help you understand if you need a permit to have a pier, dock or wharf on your property. If you are seeing this message, you currently have JavaScript disabled or are in compatibility mode while using Internet Explorer. This text version is here to help you understand if you need a permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for your pier project, and if so, which one. Please go through and answer each question. This will help you determine which permit you will need.

Question 1 :

Are you the riparian owner of the shoreline for which you want to place a pier, dock, or wharf?

If your answer is "Yes” go to Question 2.

You've answered No.

If your answer is “No,”:

Only riparian owners of shoreline property are allowed to place a pier, dock or wharf. This is true if you are a valid easement holder and have access to the water through someone else's property. However, some valid easement holders do have easements that allow for the placement of a pier, dock or wharf. Check your easement language, and also review this part of the state law to make sure if you are an easement holder that you can place a structure like a pier, dock, or wharf.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

A riparian owner is someone who owns land abutting a stream or lake.

Question 2 :

Do you want to place a new pier or wharf or modify an existing pier or wharf in the St. Croix River?

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

Any new pier or proposed modification of a pier on the St. Croix River requires a permit in lieu of an exemption per 30.12(2m) Wis. Statues. This means an Individual Permit would be needed. This requirement is based on the Lower St. Croix Cooperative Management Plan [PDF] (Appendix B) and NR 118.05(1)(a)2.b. Wis. Admin. Code. The reason for permit requirements on this waterbody is because of the classification of the waterway and the States agreement with the Federal National Park Service and Minnesota DNR in the cooperative management plan for the river.

If your answer is "No” go to Question 3.

Question 3 :

What do you want to do?

If your answer is "I want to place a brand new pier or wharf that I have never placed on the property before,” go to Question 16.

If your answer is "I want to continue to place, repair, maintain, replace in-kind my existing pier or wharf,” go to Question 5.

Question 4 :

Do you have a permit or written authorization to place your new pier or wharf?

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

You do not have to do anything. As long as you place your pier or wharf in accordance with your permit or written authorization you are fine.

If your answer is "No” go to Question 8.

Question 5 :

Do you have a permit or written authorization from the department of natural resources to place your pier?

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

You do not need to do anything! Keep placing your pier or dock as you always have!

If your answer is "No” go to Question 14.

Question 7 :

On your existing pier that was first placed after 2012 that you have no authorization for, Does your loading platform (if you have one) have a surface area of 200 square feet or less? If you do not have a loading platform (0 square feet) choose 'Yes'

If your answer is "Yes” go to Question 9.

You've answered No.

If your answer is “No,”:

You will need to apply for a pier, dock and wharf individual permit. *Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please be aware there may be additional permit standards you must meet. Prior to applying for a permit please review the Permit application checklist [PDF] and also be sure to review the Sample Drawings [PDF] for this activity.

If you do not want to apply for an individual permit you can always modify your boat slip.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

Please review this video to learn how to measure your pier: How to measure your pier [VIDEO Length 2:52]

Question 8 :

We have established that you are placing a brand new pier (no pier placed on the property before). Will any part of your new pier or wharf be over 6 ft. wide?

If your answer is "Yes” go to Question 12.

If your answer is "No” go to Question 11.

Question 9 :

Does your pier or wharf exceed the number of boat slips or personal watercraft that you are allowed?

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

To place a pier or wharf that will exceed the number of slips allowed (see below), you will need to apply for an individual permit. Apply for a pier, dock and wharf individual permit. If you do not want to apply for an individual permit you can always modify your boat slip...

*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please be aware there may be additional permit standards you must meet. Prior to applying for a permit please review the Permit Application Checklist [PDF] and also be sure to review the Sample Drawings [PDF] for this activity.

Example A Example B
Amount of shoreline owned (in feet): 75 125
Maximum number of boat slips allowed: 2 3
Maximum number of personal watercraft (PWC) allowed: 2 3
Total number of watercraft (boats and PWC) allowed: 4 6

You've answered No.

If your answer is “No,”:

You may qualify for the exemption. You do not need a permit for your new pier if your plan meets the rest of the exemption standards on our Exemption Checklist [PDF] and Pier Planner [PDF].

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

The number of boat slips and personal watercraft allowed on your property without needing a permit is determined by the amount of shoreline frontage owned. The law states that to place a pier or dock without a permit that two boat slips are allowed for the first 50 feet of shoreline owned and one boat slip for each additional full 50 feet of shoreline owned. In addition to the boat slip allowance, you can place up to two personal watercraft for the first 50 feet of shoreline owned, and one personal watercraft for each additional full 50 feet of shoreline. The table below illustrates two examples of how to calculate the number of boat slips allowed without needing a permit. If you exceed the number of boat slips allowed on your property please go back and choose “Yes”.

  Example A Example B
Amount of shoreline owned (in feet): 75 125
Maximum number of boat slips allowed: 2 3
Maximum number of personal watercraft (PWC) allowed: 2 3
Total number of watercraft (boats and PWC) allowed: 4 6

Question 11 :

Will your new pier or wharf exceed the number of boat slips you are allowed?

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

You will need to apply for a pier, dock and wharf individual permit. *Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please be aware there may be additional permit standards you must meet. Prior to applying for a permit please review the Permit application checklist [PDF] and also be sure to review the Sample drawings [PDF] for this activity.

You've answered No.

If your answer is “No,”:

You have verified that no area is over 6ft wide and that you won't exceed the number of boat slips you are allowed. Your pier does not need a permit. Please make sure and verify that your existing pier does not need a permit by making sure that it meets the other criteria specified in the Exemption checklist [PDF] and the Pier planner [PDF]

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

The number of boat slips and personal watercraft allowed on your property without needing a permit is determined by the amount of shoreline frontage owned. The law states that to place a pier or dock without a permit that two boat slips are allowed for the first 50 feet of shoreline owned and one boat slip for each additional full 50 feet of shoreline owned. In addition to the boat slip allowance, you can place up to two personal watercraft for the first 50 feet of shoreline owned, and one personal watercraft for each additional full 50 feet of shoreline. The table below illustrates two examples of how to calculate the number of boat slips allowed without needing a permit. If you exceed the number of boat slips allowed on your property please go back and choose “Yes”.

  Example A Example B
Amount of shoreline owned (in feet): 75 125
Maximum number of boat slips allowed: 2 3
Maximum number of personal watercraft (PWC) allowed: 2 3
Total number of watercraft (boats and PWC) allowed: 4 6

Question 12 :

What part of your new pier or wharf will be greater than 6ft wide?

You've answered Main stem or main stem and loading platform.

If your answer is “Main stem or main stem and loading platform,”:

You will need to apply for a pier, dock and wharf individual permit. *Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please be aware there may be additional permit standards you must meet. Prior to applying for a permit please review the Permit application checklist [PDF] and also be sure to review the Sample drawings [PDF] for this activity.

If your answer is "Loading platform” go to Question 13.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

Please review this diagram to determine the difference between main stem and loading platform.

Pier Diagram

Also feel free to review the video on how to measure your pier below.

What's my pier size? How to measure your pier
[VIDEO, Length 2:52].

Question 13 :

Will your new loading platform have a surface area of 200 square feet or less?

You've answered No.

If your answer is “No,”:

You will need to apply for a pier, dock and wharf individual permit. *Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please be aware there may be additional permit standards you must meet. Prior to applying for a permit please review the Permit application checklist [PDF] and also be sure to review the Sample drawings [PDF] for this activity.

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

You have verified that the surface area of your loading platform is 200 sq ft or less and that your main stem is less than 6ft wide. Your pier does not need a permit. Please make sure and verify that your existing pier does not need a permit by making sure that it meets the other criteria specified in the Exemption checklist [PDF] and the Pier planner [PDF]

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

Please review this diagram to determine the difference between main stem and loading platform.

Pier Diagram

Also feel free to review the video on how to measure your pier below.

What's my pier size? How to measure your pier
[VIDEO, Length 2:52].

Question 14 :

Has your existing pier, dock, or wharf been initially placed before April 2012 or after April of 2012?

If your answer is "Placed before 2012” go to Question 15.

If your answer is "Placed after 2012” go to Question 7.

Question 15 :

Does your pier meet the Pier planner [PDF]? That is, does it meet the:

  • Length: The length needed to moor your boat or use boat lift, or 3-foot water depth, whichever is greater. 3-foot water depth as measured at summer low levels.
  • Location: Does not interfere with the rights of other riparian owners.
  • Number of boats: Two for the first 50 feet of frontage, one for every additional full 50 feet.
  • Number of personal watercraft: Two for the first 50 feet of frontage, one for every additional full 50 feet.

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

You may qualify for the exemption. You do not need a permit for your new pier if your plan meets the rest of the exemption standards on our Exemption Checklist [PDF] and Pier Planner [PDF].

You've answered No.

If your answer is “No,”:

That's ok if your pier does NOT meet the pier planner [PDF] since as part of 2011 Wis. Act 167, all existing piers, docks and wharves initially placed in the water before April 17th, 2012 that did not meet the pier planner [PDF] are exempt from permitting requirements (grandfathered) as long as:

  • Your existing structure does not interfere with the riparian rights of other riparian owners;
  • You had not been previously notified by the department telling you that your structure was detrimental to the public interest.

The new law (ss. 30.12(1k) Wis. Stats.) allows you to repair and maintain and relocate and reconfigure your existing dock as long as you do not make it larger.

Question 16 :

Do you want to place a new pier or wharf in a waterbody designated as a State Wild River?

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

State law Wisconsin Administrative Code NR 302.04(6) prohibits the placement of new piers on state wild rivers.

If your answer is "No” go to Question 4.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

A State Wild River is a waterbody designated by the legislature to afford the people of this state an opportunity to enjoy natural streams, to attract out-of-state visitors and assure the well-being of our tourist industry. It is in the interest of this state to preserve some rivers in a free flowing condition and to protect them from development; and for this purpose a system of wild rivers is established. A list can be found here - https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/30/II/26

Exemptions

Still have questions?

Visit our Pier FAQ to see answers to the most commonly asked questions about piers.

Why regulate piers?

Newly constructed piers first placed in the water after April 17, 2012 that do not meet the Pier planner [PDF], and the Piers exemption checklist [PDF] You will need to apply for a pier, dock and wharf individual permit.

Laws

Applicable statutes and codes include Section 30.12, Wis. Stats. [PDF exit DNR] and Chapter NR 326, Wis. Adm. Code [PDF exit DNR].

Local permits and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulations may also apply. We advise you to contact your local zoning office and your regional U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office [exit DNR].

Last revised: Tuesday September 06 2016