Title:
Modular floating dock with inflatable pontoons
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A modular buoyant support apparatus is comprised of buoyant support modules of inflatable pontoons. The pontoons comprise inflatable tubular chambers, typically fabricated of polymer coated fabric sheet material. A buoyant support module comprises a rigid frame connected to an inflatable pontoon. A means is provided to interconnect buoyant support modules to form a modular buoyant support apparatus of varied support area and configuration. Means are provided to attach an appropriately configured dock surface to the modular buoyant support apparatus.



Inventors:
Basta, Samuel T. (Bellevue, WA, US)
Application Number:
11/372885
Publication Date:
07/13/2006
Filing Date:
03/10/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B63C1/00
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Primary Examiner:
MAYO-PINNOCK, TARA LEIGH
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ANTHONY CLAIBORNE (BELLEVUE, WA, US)
Claims:
I claim:

1. A modular floating dock, comprising: a modular buoyant support frame, comprising: a plurality of buoyant support frame modules, each buoyant support frame module comprising a floatable frame connected to an inflatable pontoon, and means for interconnecting the plurality of buoyant support frame modules; and a dock platform disposed upon and affixed to the modular buoyant support frame.

2. A modular floating dock, comprising: a modular buoyant support frame, comprising: a plurality of buoyant support frame modules, each buoyant support frame module comprising a rectangular frame disposed about an inflatable pontoon, and means for interconnecting the plurality of buoyant support frame modules; and a dock platform disposed upon and affixed to the modular buoyant support frame.

3. A modular floating dock, comprising: a modular buoyant support frame, comprising: a plurality of buoyant support frame modules, each buoyant support frame module comprising a floatable frame connected to an inflatable pontoon and means for interconnecting the plurality of buoyant support frame modules; a dock platform; and means for connecting the dock platform to the top of the buoyant support frame.

4. A modular floating dock, comprising: a modular buoyant support frame, comprising: a plurality of buoyant support frame modules, each buoyant support frame module comprising a floatable frame removably connected to an inflatable pontoon, and means for interconnecting the plurality of buoyant support frame modules; and a dock platform disposed upon and affixed to the modular buoyant support frame.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

This application claims the benefit under Title 35, United States Code, Section 119(a) of U.S. application Ser. No. 60/660,287, filed Mar. 10, 2005, which is a continuation-in-part of U.S. application Ser. No. 10/890,882, filed Apr. 13, 2004, which is a continuation-in-part of U.S. application Ser. No. 10/816,992, filed Apr. 2, 2004, which is a continuation of PCT Application No. PCT/US01/46253, filed Oct. 23, 2001, which is a continuation-in-part of U.S. application Ser. No. 09/316,928, filed May 21, 1999, and claims priority from U.S. provisional application No. 60/086,428, filed May 22, 1998, entitled LOW PROFILE LIFT FOR WATERCRAFT.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

This invention relates to buoyant platforms which have provisions for berthing of boats thereto or thereon, as floating docks, and more specifically to improvements thereon as modular structures.

2. Description of the Related Art

Among the many methods known and used for berthing of boats, floating docks are known to have particular advantages. Secured or anchored in some fashion, such docks can provide mooring for boats in areas which were formerly open water. Floating upon the body of water, such docks provide convenient mooring at a constant level above the surface, in contrast with fixed docks whose use may at times be rendered difficult or impractical due to varying seasonal depth of the body of water. Floating docks can provide mooring in bodies of water in which securing a fixed dock is difficult, as in deep muddy or sandy bottoms. Further, floating docks may serve many purposes other than mooring boats, such as serving as floating platforms for the convenience of swimmers, for example. Yet further, because they are not rigidly fixed in place, floating docks may be constructed in a modular manner that allows for easy adjustment of the dock surface area and configuration, often in the form of interconnecting rectangular modules, for example as described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,941,660 to Rueckert. Because of these many advantages, floating docks are widely used in conjunction with boating and other aquatic activities. However, floating dock technology has heretofore suffered from a number of shortcomings as well.

First, because a commensurate volume of water must be displaced for the dock to float, the required dimensions for floating dock pontoons present significant manufacturing costs if rigid pontoons are employed. To provide even a minimal amount of buoyancy such as 1000 pounds, the pontoons must displace approximately 125 gallons of water, often requiring expensive tooling to produce rigid pontoons of such size. For example, the GalvaFoam Steel Floating Dock of ShoreMaster Corporation of Fergus Falls, Minn. employs high density polyethylene pontoons to provide buoyancy. Similarly, Rueckert's dock cited above provides buoyancy by large polyethylene articles that are created in a rotating mold, at considerable cost. Even if floating dock pontoons are manufactured sectionally as float drums, as described in U.S. Pat. No. 4,974,538 to Meriweather, manufacturing rigid pontoons of such large displacement entails considerable difficulty and cost.

Second, shipment of large rigid pontoons to the site where the floating dock is to be assembled and deployed entails additional difficulty and cost. Even when the pontoons themselves may not be costly, such as the steel tanks employed in the dock described in U.S. Pat. No. 4,979,453 to Sloan et al., their size of necessity results in significant shipping costs.

Third, assembly and disassembly of a floating dock, whether for installation, maintenance or relocation, is more complicated when large rigid pontoons are involved, because of the difficulty in maneuvering pontoons of larger dimensions.

Floating docks have been described which do not employ large rigid pontoons. In U.S. Pat. No. 4,727,820 to Klaus, for example, inflatable rings are used to provide buoyancy. By providing buoyancy with inflatable articles, such floating docks overcome some of the limitations of the art employing rigid pontoons. However, heretofore docks with inflatable pontoons have not provided the flexibility of configuration found in prior art modular floating docks.

What is needed is a floating dock that offers the advantage of simple modular configuration but that does not have the disadvantages associated with large rigid pontoons.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The present invention improves upon prior art floating docks by providing a modular buoyant support apparatus comprised of buoyant support modules of inflatable pontoons. The pontoons comprise inflatable tubular chambers, typically fabricated of polymer coated fabric sheet material. A buoyant support module comprises a rigid frame connected to an inflatable pontoon. In some embodiments, the pontoon is removably connected to the frame, facilitating ease of installation, service and replacement. Buoyant support modules may be interconnected to form a modular buoyant support apparatus of varied support area and configuration. The modular buoyant support apparatus attaches underneath an appropriately configured dock surface via attachment means. Advantageously, the pontoons may be shipped deflated to the location for the dock and, in situ, both inflated for deployment and deflated for maintenance or relocation.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The foregoing objects, as well as further objects, advantages, features and characteristics of the present invention, in addition to methods of operation, function of related elements of structure, and the combination of parts and economies of manufacture, will become apparent upon consideration of the following description and claims with reference to the accompanying drawings, all of which form a part of this specification, wherein like reference numerals designate corresponding parts in the various figures, and wherein:

FIG. 1 is an overhead view of an inflatable pontoon module according to the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a side elevational view along the main axis of an inflatable pontoon module according to the present invention;

FIG. 3 is an overhead view of a support module with floatable frame buoyed by an inflatable pontoon, according to the present invention.

FIG. 4 is a top view of a group of support modules assembled to form a buoyant support apparatus; and

FIG. 5 is a side view of a modular floating dock according to the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Referring to FIG. 1, illustrated is an inflatable pontoon module according to the present invention. Pontoon 102 comprises a tube of polymer coated fabric material, with closed ends of the same or similar material, made airtight. Pontoon 102 is further fitted with valve 103 for inflation and deflation in the manner of inflatable rafts of rubberized fabric, well known to those in the art. In preferred embodiments, pontoon 102 comprises a plurality of chambered sections, so that in the event of a rupture, the pontoon will still retain partial buoyancy.

Affixed to pontoon 102 are a number of annular components 104, arranged in groups to form lines along the surface of pontoon 102 parallel to the main axis of the pontoon, as will be described in greater detail in the following passages in reference to the other figures in this specification.

Annular components 104 are comprised of a relatively rigid and durable material, such as metal or plastic, suitable for prolonged use in a marine environment. Components 104 are firmly secured to pontoon 102 by gluing with additional securing, by any number of means well known to those of skill in the art of fabrication of inflatable rubberized fabric, such as those set forth in U.S. Pat. No. 6,186,088 to Garnier et al.

FIG. 2 illustrates a side elevational view of the pontoon 202, showing the arrangement of three lines of annular components 204 parallel to the main axis of the pontoon at 0, 90 and 180 degrees. One line of annular components 204a runs along the top of the pontoon, while a line of annular components 204b runs along each side of the pontoon. Components 204 are so fashioned as to slideably receive tubular components enabling the assembly of a modular buoyant support frame, as illustrated in FIG. 3.

FIG. 3 illustrates a buoyant support frame module in accordance with the present invention. Frame 302 comprises interlocking tubular components slideably fitted through annular components 304. Interlocking tubular components of frame 302 comprise lower side tubes 306, joined by “U” sections 308 to form a horizontal rectangle held about the pontoon in the plane of its main axis along its midline. Interlocking tubular components of frame 302 further comprise upper tube 310 to which is fitted “T” bracket 312, upon which is disposed a vertical bolt 314 extending upward for engaging a dock platform, as will be discussed later in reference to FIG. 5. Tubular components 306, 308, 310 and 312 may interlock in various manners, such as by telescoping mating with a retractable pin/receptacle arrangement and other ways well known to those in the art. As will be discussed in reference to FIG. 4, adjacent buoyant support frame modules may be interconnected via tubular components to form a modular buoyant support frame for the dock.

FIG. 4 illustrates a modular buoyant support frame comprised of eight pontoons of somewhat squatter proportions than those illustrated in earlier drawings. Persons of skill in the art will recognize that the present invention relates to inflatable pontoon modules of a wide variety of proportions and is not limited to pontoons of any particular size or shape. As illustrated, modular buoyant support frame 402 comprises an upper frame 406 and a lower frame 408. Lower side tubes along each buoyant support module are connected by tubular connectors 412, while the upper tube of each buoyant support module interconnects with the upper tube of an adjacent buoyant support module by tubular connector 410, which may be discrete pieces of tubular connectors or in the alternative may comprise a single tubular component slideably threaded through the “T” connectors on the ends of the upper tubes of the buoyant support modules.

While particular embodiments of buoyant support frame modules and particular means of interconnecting such modules to form an embodiment of a modular buoyant support frame have been illustrated, it will be clear to those of skill in the art that the present invention encompasses a broad range of embodiments. For the present invention, required is an inflatable pontoon affixed to components to form a buoyant support frame module, so fashioned as to permit interconnection of a group of such modules to form a modular buoyant support frame.

As illustrated in the accompanying drawings, modules may be interconnected by way of bolted telescoping tubes. As will be clear to those in the art, many other means of interconnecting buoyant support frame modules are available within the scope of the present invention, including, for example, interconnecting plates, releasable mechanisms such as hook-and-latch and ball-and-hitch, engaging male and female threaded or otherwise interlocking members, and the like can serve as interconnecting means.

FIG. 5 illustrates the dock itself, which is simply a substantially planar dock platform affixed to the modular buoyant support frame. As illustrated, dock platform 502 is affixed to buoyant support frame 504 by bolts 506 which extend upward from the “T” connectors on the ends of the upper tubes of the buoyant support modules. Cooperating holes are bored through dock platform 502 to receive bolts 506, which are then secured to platform 502 by nuts with washers or the like.

Platform 502 may be constructed of various materials, but should preferably be relatively lightweight, rigid, and durable in a marine environment. Suitable materials include treated wood, fabricated sheet aluminum and durable plastic resin polymeric materials. While bolts are illustrated for affixing the dock platform to the modular buoyant support frame, as is clear to those of skill in the art, many other methods of affixing the dock are compatible with the present invention. For example, platform 502 may employ specially adapted clamps to clamp onto portions of frame 504. In the alternative, hooks or lashing may secure platform 502 to frame 504. Portions of frame 504 may even be integral to platform 502. As will be appreciated by those of skill in the art, the material comprising the dock platform and the means of affixing the platform to the modular buoyant support frame may vary widely and yet remain in keeping with the spirit of the present invention.

Although the detailed descriptions above contain many specifics, these should not be construed as limiting the scope of the invention but as merely providing illustrations of some of the presently preferred embodiments of this invention. Various other embodiments and ramifications are possible within its scope, a number of which are discussed in general terms above.

While the invention has been described with a certain degree of particularity, it should be recognized that elements thereof may be altered by persons skilled in the art without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. Accordingly, the present invention is not intended to be limited to the specific forms set forth herein, but on the contrary, it is intended to cover such alternatives, modifications and equivalents as can be reasonably included within the scope of the invention. The invention is limited only by the following claims and their equivalents.