Life on The Lake: Boat Houses in Lake Anna

By Barrett Baker

Extending Your Space Beyond the Water’s Edge

A dock or boathouse is an extension of your lakefront property, not only providing you with a place to safely pull, secure and store your boat(s) out of the water, but also to provide you with a way to have access to the water for swimming, fishing or just enjoying the afternoon sun. The design can range from a simple one-story structure to a more complex two-story option that provides a host of amenities.

Guidelines for Building a Dock or Boat House at Lake Anna

Before you begin any dock or boat house project, it’s a good idea to make sure you understand all of the potential permits that might be necessary from each individual county that serves Lake Anna, as well as any restrictions the Commonwealth of Virginia may impose.

As a general guideline, Dominion Power has design standards that ensure safe navigation into cove areas, as well as the size of residential structures allowed based on the amount of your shoreline frontage. Those standards are as follow:

For structures built on coves, water access entrances and travel-ways into coves must be at least thirty feet, until the cove reaches a width of 90 feet or less. Structures shall not protrude more than one third of the distance across a cove, to a maximum of 150 feet.

As for the size of structures allowable:

  • 0-54 linear feet of waterfront = no slip or piers*
  • 55-99 feet of waterfront = 1,500 square feet
  • 100-300 feet of waterfront = 2,000 square feet
  • More than 300 feet of waterfront = 3,000 square feet

*Parcels in existence prior to April 2, 2007 shall be limited to no more than 750 square feet.

The square footage totals do not include the area from land to the structure. In addition, the maximum height of structures on land within the Dominion easement in all zoning districts is 20 feet for flat roofs and 28 feet for pitched roofs, as measured from the lowest finished grade. Weathervanes and telecommunication antennas do not count against the structure’s height.

Working with a local contractor who is knowledgeable about the necessary permits and is sensitive to construction that minimizes any ecological impact on the lake is ideal. There are several quality builders in the area that can help you make your dream boathouse a reality.

So now that you have a general idea of the size of the structure you can build, the rest is completely up to your imagination and the skill of your contractor or designer.

Designing Your Boathouse

So what do you need to keep in mind while you’re designing your boathouse? The first part of that equation depends on the type and size of boat(s) you’ll be docking and storing there. Will you primarily be storing canoes and kayaks, jet skis, a small bass boat, a larger power boat or a “party barge” (pontoon boat)? Will your boat be winched out of the water and hung by a sling, or would you prefer to use a marine railway lift system? Do you want a boathouse with a “garage” door that opens to the water or do you want an open design?

The next part of the equation is the kind of support structure that will be used for the foundation of your structure. Options include what’s known as a crib, where an underwater foundation of wooden boxes filled with ballast rocks creates the building platform. The next option is building on steel “stilts” that are driven into the lakebed and secured using horizontal steel beams above the water. The last option is a floating boathouse that rises and falls with the height of the lake and is securely anchored to the shore. Your contractor can discuss the pros and cons of each, depending on the size and shape of the structure you want to put on the foundation.

Finally, think of the design of the structure itself. Do you want an open dock design where your boat can pull in to one side or the other, or do you want the boatlift to be in the middle so people can enter and exit the boat from either side? Do you want a two-story structure with an open sun deck/diving platform off the top of the boathouse, or do you want an enclosed space where you can create a secondary residence where guests can stay?

Other amenities you may want to consider include adding lighting that not only provides a path to your boat house in the dark but also allows for setting a romantic mood; a tiki bar with outdoor appliances for keeping drinks cold and preparing light meals; a waterslide from the stop of the structure; or maybe a fish-cleaning station with a running water option so you can prep the catch of the day and clean up with a quick spray of the hose.

Take a look at other boathouses on the lake and keep notes about what you like and don’t like. Conduct online searches for contractors who build boathouses—not just in this area but all across the United States—and see what they offer by way of design features and amenities. Keep a folder of your notes and photos of structures you like so you can refer back to them when designing your own boathouse.

Also keep in mind the details of the materials you’ll be using, especially if you are designing a second-story guesthouse as part of the overall design. Keep in mind what you’d like to like to use as flooring and what kind of decorations you’d like to have. Will the space be a single room or will it have separate sleeping quarters or a kitchenette? Will there be a sewerage line that runs to your septic system so you can include a bathroom and other grey-water run off? What about the outside of the structure? What kind of shingles do you want? What kind of design elements will you use to set your boathouse apart?

Depending on how complex you’d like your boathouse to be, the design process can be very similar to building a new house—the possibilities are nearly endless. Be sure to bring your folder with you when working with your designer/engineer to give them a sense of everything you want in your new home away from home—away from home.