You may have heard the words “pier” and “dock” used interchangeably in the United States and assumed they meant the same thing. However, when looking at pier versus dock, the difference in meaning depends on which side of the English-speaking world you come from.
What is the difference between pier and dock?
In the United States, these two terms refer to a narrow and long structure that extends from the shore to navigable waters. In American English, pier and dock can also refer to an area between or next to a man-made structure. However, in British English, a dock is an enclosed area of water in a port used for unloading, loading, repair, or building ships.
Quay vs wharf vs Pier
A quay is a platform constructed using concrete, stone, or metal along a riverbank or coastline to allow ships to dock parallel to the shore. A wharf is also a structure constructed by the river or sea to provide a safe area for boats to dock. The difference between them is that a wharf can contain piers, quays, and other buildings.
What this means is that a wharf is a structure built for the purpose of servicing ships. Unlike a wharf and a quay, a pier is typically built using wood and used by both boats and ships.
Best Piers in America
Piers in America are ideal places to go fishing, watch sunsets, and do other fun activities. Some of the best piers in America include:
- Santa Cruz Wharf in California: It offers kayaking tours, thrill rides, eateries, and more. You can drive, walk, or cycle on this pier.
- Morey’s Pier in New Jersey: It has two water parks, eateries, and a Ferris wheel.
- Santa Monica Pier in California: There are outdoor concerts performed here regularly. You have great views of the Pacific Ocean and the city skyline aboard the Ferris wheel.
- Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier in Texas: People love the giant swing rides and roller coasters on this pier.
- Pier 60 at Clearwater in Florida: It is famous for its street performers and is a perfect vantage point for watching sunsets in the evening.
- Pier 39 in San Francisco, California: It has museums, arcades, and eateries, but the sea lions may be the main attraction.
- Navy Pier in Chicago: Its stretches into Lake Michigan and is surrounded by parks, eateries, and shops. It is a major tourist attraction.
People sometimes refer to these piers as wharves, which is not accurate because these structures are meant for leisure activities, not servicing ships. But the quay versus wharf versus pier conversation can get even more confusing when you discover that quay and wharf used to mean the same thing. Generally, people still use pier or dock to refer to places where ships stop for servicing or loading and unloading. In other English-speaking countries, these words are not used interchangeably.