Ramps vs. Gangways

A frequently asked question is – what is the difference between ramps vs. gangways?

image of Gangway


image of Standard dock ramp

            Standard dock ramps


When choosing between ramps vs. gangways, first, think about what your neighbors are using. Remember, your dock will most likely sit at the same height! 

Would you, your family, or guests be comfortable going up that incline to use the dock? 

Do they need a running start to get up to the dock? If they do, a ramp is not the way to go.

Ramps work great for a level or short distance up or down. They don’t need handrails due to their length, and the angle to the dock is not steep.


How high is your dock above the water? 

On an inland lake, you usually are about 1 foot above the water at the most. Since the waves seldom get more than a foot high on a lake, you don’t have a steep climb to get to the dock. A simple ramp will do an excellent job for you.


One more thing to consider about a ramp

Please don’t allow yourself to be talked into using a ramps narrower than the dock itself. It’s an accident waiting to happen. 

Someone walking to shore may get distracted and step off the dock expecting the ramp to be the same width. Foolish but true.

Ramps or gangways should always match the width of the dock. You don’t want someone stepping off the edge when they thought the dock was wider.


Consider your shoreline

What do you have to walk over to get to your dock? Is it a sandy beach or a rocky shore with stones the size of the palm of your hand? Are there large boulders that only the kids enjoy climbing?

Is rip-rap only is the first obstacle followed by the rocks?

Now, with the rip-rap, you may experience a difficult time getting over the rocks. In some cases, the water is right up to the rip-rap. 

Once over the rip-rap, you may have to walk over some rough terrain to get to the dock or pier. 

Gangways are a safe and straightforward solution to your problem.

Consider both the length and width you need. For example, the PWS 3-Season Pier offers various pier and ramp widths and lengths to fit your needs. 

PWS offers ramps and gangways with the same decking as the rest of your dock. It all fits together seamlessly.


Do you have rip-rap?

Due to the high water, you may have installed rip-rap along the shoreline to protect property values. 

Now, with the large rip rap, you may have a difficult time getting over the rocks. 

You may also have to walk over some rough terrain to get to a dock or pier. 


What’s the solution?

To start with, PWS can add stairs in the form of flat rocks or steel steps right in the rip-rap. From there, we have gangways in 20 ft. lengths to finish your walk over any obstructions. 


Have an aluminum dock? 

PWS has 16′, 20′, and 24′ lengths with handrails included. These significantly reduce the chance of a twisted ankle or a broken leg or arm.


No rip-rap?

The high water likely means your dock is higher than previous years to escape the waves’ power in a storm.

Now you need ramps or gangways to access the dock. A ramp, which is usually 8-10′ long, will give you a steep angle to climb under some circumstances. 

The best way to access your dock when it is this high is via gangways. The longer gangways provide a gradual slope that young and old will appreciate.

A gentle transition from the shoreline to your dock is essential for a seamless, gentle climb. (As a side note, the long gangways mean you usually need fewer sections of the pier.)

PWS offers stairs, ramps, and gangways to access your dock. 

One of the critical choices you’ll make is choosing between ramps and gangways.


What do you have to walk over to get to your dock?

What do you have to walk over to get to your dock – Sand, rocks, or boulders? 

As you think about the length, make sure you keep in mind the ramp’s width.  PWS has various options to suit your needs.



If you don’t have far to walk (less than eight feet from shore to dock), a ramp is an excellent choice. That is unless the pier is set high. 

Ramps are standard on shorelines where the water level doesn’t fluctuate much. The ramp is usually short enough that they don’t require handrails. However, longer approaches provide a gentle slope to a higher dock. 

Aluminum Ramps come in 4′ x 4′, 4′ x 8′, and 6′ x 8′ sizes. The strength of aluminum does not normally allow for longer lengths without handrails.

PWS will advise you which type of dock access works best in your situation.



If the distance from your dock to the shore is:

1. Long and you have to walk over large rocks or boulders:
2. The dock is set high: or
3. You get a lot of debris floating along your shoreline – Consider gangways rather than ramps.

Unlike ramps, gangways provide a gentle slope to walk up because of the distance they cover.

A 20′ gangway could reduce the cost of your dock system too.


Aluminum Gangways

Aluminum residential gangways are 4′ wide and come in lengths of 16′, 20′, and 24′.

An alternative for galvanized docks would be a steel gangway, which comes in 20′ lengths. As you can imagine, this longer length is much more comfortable with less incline.


Let’s summarize these ideas.

Let PWS find the Perfect Dock System for you.

Determining what a good fit would be is an integral part of making your dock system perfect. 

PWS offers high-quality and affordable options for gangways, ramps, and accessories. We provide the expertise and expert knowledge you need to determine which option will work best for your situation. 

PWS can help you plan the perfect boat docking system for your area. 

Get started HERE!


Where is Pier & Waterfront Solutions?

Pier & Waterfront Solutions, 7325 St. Hwy 57, is located 3 miles south of Sturgeon Bay. It’s 1 mile PAST the intersection with County road MM (heading north). Look on the right at the intersection of Idlewild Road and Hwy 57.


Pier & Waterfront Solutions remains “open” year-round.

Please use face masks

The virus continues to spread. PWS is conducting as much business as possible by email, text, or phone. 

Site visits continue as usual. When making in-person contacts, we follow “social distancing” guidelines whenever possible.

Our display yard is OPEN 24-7

The PWS display area is always open for you to examine at your leisure. All displays available for sale have a numbered, red tag on them. Want more information on something you saw in our yard? Please reference that number when you inquire.

                 Red Tag

PWS will provide estimates by email to make the process faster, safer, and paperless. 

Call, message, or email us with any questions.

Thank you for allowing us to work with you.