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Pier vs. Dock: What’s the Difference?

By March 18, 2021 Floating Docks
AccuDock Fishing Pier

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:

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.