16th January, 2020

Boardwalk Design Considerations

Erecting a boardwalk can pose a significant benefit for people to observe wetlands and other aqueous environments up close. They open paths that were once inaccessible due to the water and dense collection of foliage. Boardwalks may also serve as recreational attractions for coastal locales, acting as fishing piers or accompaniments to beaches. But to construct one takes careful planning. You must examine all the details, including the safety of people, the effect on nature, the financial burden, and the size and longevity of the boardwalk. It can easily become overwhelming trying to remember all the important aspects that go into building them. To make the undertaking easier, here are the major boardwalk design considerations you should make.


One of the first steps to take in planning a boardwalk is to check whether you need permits from the local, state, and/or federal government. The scale of your project, the type of wetland you are building on, and whether you plan on filling any areas can all be factors that protective laws regulate to prevent substantial damages to the natural environment. Before beginning construction, you should find out about what permits you will need by contacting a zoning administrator, as they will know about building and zoning regulations. If the wetland in question connects to a large lake or leads into the ocean, you will probably have to obtain a Section 404 permit, which is necessary due to a nationwide law.


You should also consider your budget and the costs of what you want to do regarding the boardwalk in the initial stages. The dimensions of the boardwalk, whether you’ll include added features like observation decks, and the materials used to make it will affect the costs. The type of labor that you decide to utilize may also have an effect. Some projects may incorporate a mixture of skilled professional labor and volunteer labor. If you decide to go this route, you must weigh the trade-off between higher proficiency and higher cost vs. lower proficiency and lower cost. You want to figure out the ratio of each that you want to use.

Should your available budget conflict with your plans, there are several ways you can reduce construction and maintenance costs in addition to enlisting volunteer workers. You can first try and lengthen the connecting land trails and shorten the boardwalk itself. By putting up signs in hard-to-reach areas and using more affordable materials for brochures, you can cut the expenses associated with fixing signs and distributing brochures when the boardwalk is open to the public.

Construction Method

Since we build boardwalks over water, they possess unique building needs when compared to regular structures. You may have to use boats and land vehicles to properly position pilings and other components along the water and the shore. Setting pilings along the entire length of the boardwalk, then finishing the platforms of the boardwalk is one method of building that you may take. Alternatively, some opt to finish a segment of the boardwalk and then use it as a stable surface to set the pilings for the next segment and so on until completion. Many professionals prefer this latter method when ordinances are in place that requires minimal environmental disturbance. Because you place it on the platform of the boardwalk segments, the construction equipment does not crush and otherwise destroy the vegetation and wildlife along the work area.

Load Capacity

In addition to accounting for construction equipment in the building process, you may also need to make your boardwalk sturdy enough to support anything from many people in a concentrated space to heavy vehicles. Wetland settings should factor in that people may crowd around a small area to see a certain animal or plant along the way. On larger boardwalks, such as those on public beaches, you should account for an even greater load capacity to support trucks and emergency ambulances. It is thus crucial that you consult a specialist, such as an engineer or architect, so the design of the boardwalk is safe for its intended purpose.


Determine whether your boardwalk needs a railing to keep people who fall off from serious injury. In environments such as shallow marshes where the boardwalk sits above the water only slightly, you may forego railings altogether since there is no danger for those walking through. Generally, any boardwalk that is a foot or less above shallow water of a few inches does not need railings. However, boardwalks that stand over deep water and/or have platforms that are high must have railings to protect adults and especially children. Leaving them out of the design could result in drownings and impact injuries.


The materials you choose to construct the boardwalk have a sizeable influence on its durability and interaction with the environment. Wood has largely been the traditional material due to how someone can cut it to fit the shapes needed for the structure easily. However, its organic makeup means that you must treat it with some chemicals to resist decay born of microorganisms, insects, and the natural contents of the water. Concrete is another material often employed in bigger boardwalks for its hardwearing qualities.

More recently, plastic lumber has arisen as another option. It consists primarily of recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE). As such, plastic lumber not only reduces plastic waste but also makes for a versatile material that can possess varying degrees of rigidity according to the needs of the boardwalk and its different parts. Plastic lumber is also resistant to rot, unlike normal wood, which makes it ideal in wet surroundings and eliminates the risk of chemical leaching.

In any situation, you should choose materials that will not need frequent repair and maintenance, as this will become a drain on taxpayers. While finding the balance between a pleasant appearance and resilience can be a challenge, Tangent’s plastic framing lumber presents a viable solution to this dilemma. Our products have the look of traditional wood with all the advantages of HDPE.