All About Boat Lifts

Winter storms, nor’easters, hurricanes and other unusual weather patterns have contributed to excessive damage not only to moored and docked boats and yachts but also the marine structures they are secured to. Conventional docking of watercraft and vessels from 600 to 180,000 pounds can be avoided by having a watercraft, boat or yacht lift. Federal, state and local agencies and authorities in some locations actually mandate their use. Why…..because the WATER HAS PROBLEMS! Big problems! Non-polluting docking and storage lift systems are now the accepted state of the art.

Boaters should have……what is right for the environment. Especially in new marina facilities where in some cases the law is, upon approval of permits, you must install personal watercraft, boat and yacht lifts to mitigate pollution. The more boats floating in the water, then the more bottom paint in contact with and leaching into the water, the more boats the increase of shading of the water bottom. The more boats the increase of liability resulting from dangerous or inclement weather causing unnecessary damage to the environment and property.

Boaters should have……Security! When your 20, 40, 60 or 150 foot long conventional, go-fast boat or yacht must be secure, “LIFT IT”!

Boaters must have……faster, less expensive, more convenient, year round, non-polluting docking, storage and lifting systems.

Boaters must have……increased life of their fiber reinforced polymer laminate or metal hull. This is a must for laminate hull owners. For more than 35 years “osmotic blisters” have been a common cause of hull failure in composite fiber reinforced laminate hulls. Every laminate vessel, no matter what size or age, has the potential for developing this laminate hull disease. Osmosis and permeation of seawater through the laminate surface coat and outer reinforcement layers, traps water behind the surface, causes a chemical reaction and then the evolution of gas blowing blisters into or out of the hull surface. Hopefully out of the hull surface, as inward could cause catastrophic hull failure.

Boaters want……safer, extended storage options to reduce the risk of damage from winter ice, heavy rains, high winds, and other weather related causes.

A boat lift provides the owner with the convenience of storing their vessel adjacent to any seawall, bulkhead, dock or slip year round. Annual maintenance and storage costs are reduced, the need for trailer ownership and operation costs are eliminated including the risk and liability that goes along with it.

Go-Fast boaters want……a way for performance boat owners to store their boats without having to paint the bottom but yet be able to put their boat in the water “on-demand”. Clean, slick bottoms not only increase speed but also preserve the value of the boat at resale time.


It is necessary, before you decide you want a personal watercraft, boat or yacht lift, to explore and seek the advice and services of a boat lift specialist. At the same time one should select and employ the services of a professional “permit “ advisor who can create your marine construction layouts, photos, applications and submit/expedite them in a professional manner. As far as locating boat lift professionals, advertisements in local marine publications and at the internet boat lift web sites will get you going. Selecting and engineering your lift is at the same level of importance as your approved permit to have one. Always consider your next or future vessel when selecting the type of watercraft, boat or yacht lift you want. Choosing a lift for your present vessel limits you if in the future should you decide to purchase a larger vessel. Cost of design, permits (usually 3 to 5 agencies and municipalities), piles, installation, electrical, and other non-recurring costs are usually the same for various lift sizes and capacities. The variable then only becomes the lift which is amortized over many years. So consider a larger lift than the boat you presently own or plan to buy.


The design of the lift and layout of related structures including access is important to consider at the time of permit applications and especially before construction and lift installation. Your permit specialist will advise you about the “do’s” and “don’ts” especially regarding restrictions relating to finger piers, docks (floating & fixed), allowable water depth, marine construction materials and building methods. Safety, security and access are the results of good planning.

The type of waterway also dictates what materials should be chosen for the marine construction phase. This is especially true if the installation is near an open bay, inlet or large salt water body. These salty waters are where worms, marine borers and other destructive sea life thrive and attack wood. So consider the use of vinyl or other plastic and composite marine construction board and seawall materials especially for the float application when below the waterline.

Other construction engineering considerations include the use of dock ladders, boarding platforms, steps, catwalks, and dock, bulkhead or seawall extension platforms. These designs may be for wave runner, jet ski, inflatable boat, personal watercraft, boat and yacht lifts. Therefore the entire lift system including accessories and boarding configurations are usually part of the permitting process. Most of these accessories and boarding options are available from the boat and yacht manufacturers.

Four and eight pile lifts sometimes require either wood, concrete or steel piles. Ask your site engineer, permit expert, installer or marine construction company personnel what size pile they are installing and match the selection to the lift makers design specifications.

Be sure the piles are inserted and set (hammered or vibrated) to a depth in the water bottom that matches the recommendations of the lift manufacturer. If the lift is for a small watercraft and will be attached to a single or double pile(s) at the seawall or bulkhead, be sure the pile is anchored through and to the face of the bulkhead (whaler) and sometimes tied to or next to the existing tie rod anchor that goes inland from the bulkhead or seawall to a “dead man” structure underground. Free standing piles are not suitable for mounting small boat lifts. The piles must be attached securely to a dock, bulkhead, seawall or pier. The lift pile(s) must be cross braced and /or longitudinally connected to adjacent piles.

Depending on the location, water body, depth and flow of the water it may be necessary to protect the lift and adjacent piles, dock or pier system from freezing waters during winter months. Therefore consideration of a water agitation system, and access to install, service and remove it should be part of the lift installation plan. Electric powered “no-icers” or “ice-eaters” are easy to install and operate, cost effective and a sure way to guard against ice damage.

It is important to note at this point that the piles for most 4 pile and 8 pile lifts will not be disturbed or moved during winter ice formation if the boat is stored on the lift during the entire winter and there is no condition of “shifting ice” such as is found in an inlet. In fact winter storage is one of the primary reasons why boat owners decide to install a lift in the first place. Winterizing the engines and water systems, shrink-wrapping for protection against rain, ice or snow is a smart and common choice among yacht and boat owners.


Look first at materials engineering aspects and for a lift that is constructed using aluminum primary structural materials and stainless steel as secondary structural materials. If the style of lift you select is not available in aluminum try to substitute another style, model or manufacturer. If that does not work and steel is your only option be sure to discuss the galvanizing or other finishing process with the lift maker. The lift manufacturer’s engineering staff should be skilled enough to explain the galvanizing or finishing methods used as well as the warranties for such materials. Makers use hot-dip, electrolytic or cold spray methods, but in the end, industry reputation, experience, quality and warranty prevail!

Furthermore, look for a lift that has engineered grease fittings and grease pockets adjacent to the fittings so injected grease can stay in the reserve. It is suggested that the buyer stay away from bronze or other material bushings where sea and other water can get trapped and cause binding of the rotating parts. A flowing grease fitting can move accumulated salt and other debris out of the way of the rotating parts. Taking these “cautious minutes” early on to explore engineered materials and features will result in years of trouble free lift performance.

Now that we have evaluated and compared primary and secondary structural materials used in the lift system we can now evaluate the mechanical engineering aspects. First of all there is a lift manufacturer in the industry that manufactures a yacht lift that has the capacity to lift 180,000 pounds or a watercraft lift to pick up 600 pounds. What sets the large yacht lift makers apart from each other are the materials of use, engineering and application of the materials. A good example is found by comparing yacht lifts with capacities from 40,000 to 60,000 to 120,000 to 180,000 pounds. Carefully engineered lifts in this category have a reduced number of lifter beams (replaced by larger size beams) supporting the vessel, less but larger diameter lifter cables and pulleys making them faster, safer and more mechanically sound.

As far as lift speed of travel, this year “the fastest electric boat lift in the world” was introduced. An advanced state of the art lift of this type, with a unique winch winding system will travel up to four times faster than conventional state of the art lifts.

Improved mechanical lift engineering has also resulted in the redesign of lift winch systems that operate by winding the lift cables. The original technology and state of the art, motor, belt, worm gear and chain drive systems have now been replaced by Gear Drive ™ winch systems. These drive systems are totally maintenance free with no belts, pulleys, chains or sprockets. Look for them! This is advanced state of the art with a simple sealed low profile motor, directly connected to a sealed oil filled gear reduction transmission box, directly connected to the grooved rotating cable shaft. These grooved cable winder shafts are precision machined so the cable “nests” in grooves for every revolution of the cable winder shaft. Compare these features!

Lift operation in shallow water is sometimes a must for the boat owner, especially when the lift must be located adjacent to a seawall, bulkhead or dock. In this case, if the weight of the boat allows, choose a one pile lift with capacities to 5,000 pounds or a two pile lift with capacities to 20,000 pounds. These lifts, called elevators, are available on the market made totally from aluminum and stainless steel materials.

Properly engineered boat lifts can also be installed free-standing, in boat houses if the proper mechanical engineering techniques are used. Boat houses as we know, are a “grand fathered” family of structures on any waterway and preserving their structural integrity is as important as securing and protecting the beauty of the vessel.


The engineered and designed capacity of a boat lift does not take into account tolerances for additional weight such as added electrical or mechanical equipment, gear, or excess rain water, ice or snow not drained properly. So it is important when planning to store a boat continuously in inclement weather the owner consider all these conditions. Especially due to the fact that each gallon of trapped water, turned to ice (that cannot drain) weighs 8 pounds and that weight adds up fast in bad weather! As far as rain water, ice or snow accumulation is concerned, it is suggested that you do not rely on canvas covers or bilge pumps for long term or winter storage. Be sure a drain plug or two is properly located and removed when the vessel is stored on the lift.

So it is suggested that when choosing the proper size lift, consider adding a safety factor. Something like a 10% margin of the total weight could be used. In fact selecting the next size or a larger size lift is the most cost effective way to assure expansion for the future. The cost from one boat lift size to another, amortized over the life of the lift is much less than the fixed costs that we will discuss later.


The electrical supply line going to a lift should be a dedicated one that does not have other devices operating on the same line. The wire feed size/length should be according to manufacturer specifications. The electrical system should be GFI protected and the boat lift UL approved and listed.

Be sure the electrical controls and drive (winch) equipment is of a “gear drive” type and it is contained in sealed and waterproof housings. With careful consideration it is possible to locate manufacturers who sell these types of drives, which have replaced the old style worm gear, pulley and belt systems.

Be sure the electrical engineering plan includes the selection of a licensed and insured electrical contractor that has experience in the boat lift industry. The quality of the grounding system is a reflection of an educated and boat lift experienced professional. Grounding systems are extremely important because stray fields can travel along and through wood piles, up and down, to and from the motor drives. Yes, it is possible to have electrolysis attack your lifter beams, motor assemblies, top rail beams and other metal parts by stray electrical fields traveling along and through wood piles as the conductor.

If your lift has a metal mast, tube, pipe or other structural support permanently placed in the water then be sure this lift comes with a corrosion or electrolytic attachment kit. Boat lifts like “elevators” usually are constructed in this manner. Whether salt or fresh water, these little kits will help to prolong the life of the lift by causing the sacrificial degrading of the kit metal instead of the metal of the lift.

Another suggestion to consider when trying to control electrolysis is to include a quick disconnect connector system into the main feed line at the dock. This protected marine connector will separate the motor drive, remote control, limit switches and other electrical accessories from the power feed line.



Remember, it is not the cost of the lift equipment that drives up the cost, it is everything else! Some of those fixed costs include:

  • Marine construction design
  • Civil and construction engineering
  • Permit applications and expediting
  • Marine construction services such as seawalls, docks, piers and piles
  • Installation of the lift
  • Electrical services and so on

Therefore select a larger boat lift than the weight of your present boat so you have expansion room in the future.

Let’s take an example of a rough cost estimate for a lift that only includes the direct costs associated with the lift system and relate it to an average boat.

Rough Estimate

Boat weight = 14,000 pounds total weight including engines, fuel, water, waste, appliances, equipment and 10% of the dry weight for gear.

The rough cost of the lift will be around $1,000 per 1,000 lbs of lift capacity for a lift up to 16,000 lbs and lower as the lift capacity increases.

So as the boat weight/size increases, the lift cost will go down.

A lift system purchased and used in northern U.S. waters can be amortized and justified over a three year period just based upon the savings from winterization and summarization storage costs in a boat or yacht yard. Added to that is the boat’s security, safety, convenience, longevity of the laminate or metal hull, hauling and storage costs, hull cleaning, bottom painting, running gear maintenance, trailer costs (when applicable) and other important aspects.

Safe and Happy…… Boating and lifting!

For additional FREE information and advice on an advanced boat or yacht lift system fill out the form on our contact page and a representative will reach out to you shortly.