Building or Buying a Dock on Lakefront in the Okanagan (Part 3 of 3)

Building or Buying a Dock on Lakefront in the Okanagan 

In this article, let's talk about how to ensure you can build or receive permission for a dock on your lakefront property in the Okanagan.  

I’ve watched the regulations on dock building change over the years until the most recent 2020 changes to the Okanagan Large Lakes Foreshore protocol.  I think it’s really important anyone buying on the waterfront knows if the house they are buying has a conforming dock and if it isn’t, what the ramifications are to them as the new landowners.  As Realtors, more often than not, we find that a lakefront home sale comes down to the dock. 

I will explain the Permission process first.  There are numerous steps that have to be taken in order to ensure a dock can be built or permission received for an existing dock on lakefront property.  If you haven’t watched our video on the important riparian considerations when purchasing a lakefront property, click on the link above to watch that video also.

Step #1:  Determine the Foreshore Sensitivity Zone

The first step is to determine where the property lies in terms of foreshore sensitivity zones.  You may have heard of the terms Red Zone and Black Zone. Here is what they mean:

1.         Black Zone (critical habitat value)  - In this zone, no new construction is generally allowed, although if the dock was in place and was or could have been authorized prior to December 31, 2009, then that dock may be able to be rebuilt or replaced.  Maybe.  If that was allowed, then there would be new requirements like probably flow through decking and things like that.   

Red Zone (high “) – no floating structures; have to have a light penetrating material for the walkway and a biologist has to determine that the pilings won’t be in a spawning substrate

Yellow Zone (moderate “) – as long as you abide by the regulations, you can generally build what you want here as long as the Dock Design Criteria 2020 is followed. 

No Colour Zone (low or unknown “) – this is the same as the Yellow zone, you can build what you want, however you can build also whenever you want, unlike the other 3 zones.  Those other zones cannot have work done on any private moorage between  September 30 to June 1st.

To determine the Zone for a property, consult the kml files at:

Step #2: Determining the Activity Risk

The range of activity risks range from Low to High, with a Low High risk activity being the construction of a new marina or a boat launch, Moderate being the construction of a new dock whether it be a pile driven dock or a removable dock, and Low being a repair or upgrade of an existing dock or a new waterline.  This step is relevant when submitting an application, which is Step #3. 

Step #3: Submit an Application

This step is usually where the QP comes into play – the qualified professional, such as a biologist.  For all moderate and high activity risks, which includes the building of a new dock of any sort, you must hire a QP and the Moderate to High Risk QP Checklist must be filled in and supplied to Front Counter BC as well as a Marine Habitat Assessment Report conducted and submitted. 

If you are purchasing a home with an existing dock, in addition to determining the zone the property is in, is to determine whether the structure qualifies for a general permission or a specific permission:

General Permission – A general permission means the current dock complies with all the newest regulations and may be granted for ocean, lake and river docks located on aquatic Crown land.  And as long as a person constructs and uses their dock in accordance with the terms and conditions contained in the General Permission, they will be deemed authorized.  This is your best-case scenario because if the dock has a General Permission it means it complies with everything in the regulations and no formal transfer is required when it changes hands.  The dock automatically transfers to the new owner once they are on title.

Specific Permission:  Can be applied for if the dock is to be located where general permissions are prohibited, or where the dock does not adhere to any of the requirements of the General Permission.  If the dock complied with the regulation at the time it was built yet doesn’t comply with the newest regulations, a specific permission may be granted however a Specific Permission must be applied for every time a property changes hands. 

Some of the main restrictions involved in building a new dock or having an existing dock receive a General Permission, all the following criteria must be met (Dock Design Criteria was redone in 2020):

  • Dock including boat lift must be at least 5 meters from the neighbouring property line (6 meters from a dedicated beach or access);
  • No boat houses or coverings in any way;
  • Docks cannot be more than 42 meters long;
  • Docks cannot be more than 1.5 meters wide on the walkway;
  • Docks cannot have more than a 3-meter wide platform at the end;
  • New Dock Construction only during the appropriate timing window specified by Fisheries and oceans Canada (to reduce harm to fish and fish habitat) – June 1 to Sept 30 for Yellow, Red and Black, and anytime in the no colour zone;
  • There can only be one dock per property;
  • The upland owner must have a homeowners insurance policy that extends to the structure built;
  • No non-moorage type structures allowed;
  • No filling below the present natural boundary;
  • No dredging of the foreshore;
  • No solid core structures are allowed; and
  • There is a new regulation for Batter Board panels for Okanagan Lake structures as well***.

Saying all this, if you’re looking at a property built after 2004, it “may” be grandfathered as existing non-conforming under a General Permission.  If a General Permission isn’t possible, then they may be able to receive a Specific Permission.  However, any additions, or modifications or anything that was built without a permit that do not conform with the standards of when the dock was built usually requires some modifications to bring them into compliance with current standards.

In a nutshell, “it’s complicated”!  I’m sure you can see why it is so important to call a Realtor who specializes in lakefront and resort properties when buying, or selling, lakefront.  Call RE/MAX Vernon Salt Fowler today, your lakefront specialists.  

Helpful links:

Okanagan Large Lakes Foreshore Protocol:

Land Use – Private Moorage:

Dock Design Criteria for Okanagan Large Lakes – 2020:

Design Criteria for Batter Board Panels on Okanagan Lake – 2020:

Helpful Contacts:

Contact at BC Front Counter (Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations):  2501 14 Avenue, Vernon BC  V1T 8Z1 250-558-1700 

QP (Biologist):  Canyon Wren Consulting Inc. - Mark Piorecky - R.P.Bio., MSc.,

Wildlife Biologist / Owner

Cell: 250.307.2038


Dock Builders:

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