Boat Lift Lowdown

Finding the right boat lift for one's needs is a matter of knowing the boat, the dock, the water and more.

shutterstock_134185445 copyYOU’VE GOT THE BOAT OF YOUR dreams plus the bonus of a year round slip, so maximizing time on the water is definitely in the playbook. However, before you dock the boat at your waterside locale, there’s one project you might need to tackle: selecting the right boat lift.

Boat lifts can ea  sily be attached to whatever dock you might have, whether it’s concrete or wood pilings, docks without pilings and even concrete seawalls. And while boat lifts work on the principle of lifts and hoists, new technologies designed to enhance those principles are consistently introduced to the market. Therefore, it’s imperative that prospective buyers check out all their options, making sure they find exactly what works for them.

But how can a new boat owner narrow his choices down? Well, advice from the experts is one way — and we have it. To get you ahead of the learning curve before you begin the shopping process, six industry market leaders offer several factors to be considered, and they provide valuable tips to help create a dialed-in list for getting it right — a boat lift that fits your needs.

Sam Basta, CEO and founder of Basta Boatlifts, emphasized the need to know how much your boat weighs fully loaded. “Fully loaded includes the weight of the boat, the tower (if you have one), fuel (approximately six pounds per gallon of gas), water storage (eight pounds per gallon) and the weight of all your gear,” he said. “Depending on what toys you carry, this can really add up. Make sure you have given yourself plenty of capacity for all the gear you bring. Downrigger? Anchor? Scuba gear? It all adds up, so make sure you are using the fully loaded weight of your boat when selecting the boat lift capacity.”

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In addition to weight, the style of boat will determine the type of lift and bunk supports you will need.

“The shape of the hull also plays a part in determining the minimum water depth and the lifting height,” said Peter Kowalczyk, the marketing manager at Reimann & Georger Corp. (RGC). “Your bunks will be determined if you have a ski boat and an inboard or outboard motor. Pontoon boats require different style of supports for the boat. Also, the draft of the boat will be needed to help determine the style of lift and lifting height you will need for your boat. In other words, how deep the water needs to be (in order) to float the boat.”

Scott Mauldin, the regional sales directorfor HydroHoist Boat Lifts, said there are several things that owners need to determine about their dock and slip that will help them to choose the best boat lift design. His checklist includes some important questions:

• Is your dock fixed or floating?
• Does your dock have a roof structure? If so, is it high enough to allow for your boat to be lifted out of the water?
• If you have a fixed dock, is the roof structure strong enough to support a suspended boat lift, including the live weight of your boat?
• Is your dock structure sturdy enough to support the installation of a boat lift?
• What is the water depth in your slip? Is it deep enough for the boat lift structure to submerge adequately to launch your boat? The necessary depth will vary depending on whether you wish to pull the boat into its slip or back it in.
• Is anything present in your slip that might affect the operation of a boat lift (e.g., winch stands, cables, underwater brace)?
• What is the length and width of your boat slip? Compared to your boat, is the slip long and wide enough to accommodate the installation of a boat lift? This can vary depending on the length and beam of your boat.
• Is electricity — needed to power the boat lift — available on your dock?

“The dock space and configuration determine the type and style of boat lift that’s needed,” said Ken Felty, Golden Boat Lifts’ vice president. “We offer a wide range of lifts for a diverse array of applications. Additionally, installers are able to modify the dock site in order to better accommodate a lift and make it easier to use.”

Kowalczyk explained that water depth, conditions and fluctuation should be factored into any boat lift decision-making process. “The water depth will determine if you need legs or floats for your docks,” he said. “Docks can be pile mounted in applications where the bottom is soft or, a lot of times, in coastal applications. Pile-mounted docks are also popular in saltwater applications.”

He emphasized that rough water might require a lift that has higher lifting heights, to get the boat out of the water farther. In areas where piles are used, due to deep water or salt water, pile-mounted lifts could be used.

“Vertical lifts are popular in low-water applications,” Kowalczyk said,“because they can go lower than cantilever-style lifts. Rail systems are also popular in low-water applications, because you can use extra track sections to extend the rail out to where the boat can be used (with the rail).”

Water fluctuation also determines the necessary lifting height of the lift, Kowalczyk added. In areas where the water fluctuates, owners may need a floating dock or a dock with screw-style legs — a style that can be adjusted from the top of the dock without getting into the water.

Mauldin categorized boat lifts in three main designs:
– Floating
– Bottom standing
– Suspended

“The type of dock construction you have determines the best boat lift design fi t for your application,” Mauldin said. “It is possible that some docks may be suitable for more than one boat lift design; however, in most instances, there will be an optimum solution.”

Mauldin’s recommendation for the floating designs goes like this: “Typically, floating boat lifts are the best choice for floating docks and fixed docks that are in deep water. Floating docks will rise and fall on par with any change in the water level. The advantage to the boater is the dock has a constant freeboard that allows for easy access to board the boat. Floating boat lifts also fluctuate with the dock and prevent the dead weight of the boat from being placed on the floating structure.”

As for the bottom-standing and suspended hoists, according to Mauldin, bottom-standing boat lifts are normally the best choice for fixed docks that are in shallow water, while suspended hoists will most often be found on fixed docks with moderately deep water.

An alternative application from Dan Hewitt, a sales representative with Hewitt Machine & Manufacturing Inc., is geared for pontoon boat owners. “Another option is one of our three models of Hewitt Pontoon Legs. You can match the size, style and operating conditions of your pontoon boat. These models help preserve the appearance and value of your pontoon, eliminate the need to tie off your boat and free up space at your dock.”

Since Basta’s boat lifts are offered in both aluminum (from 2,000- to 6,000-pound capacity) and galvanized steel (7,000- to 50,000-pound capacity), Sam Basta advises “installing the lightweight aluminum boat lifts for vessels that are removed and stored seasonally, while galvanized steel boat lifts are installed for heavier Class A boats or in locations with heavy wind and wave action or steep slopes.”Capture 3

Ken Hey, CEO of Sunstream Corp., elaborated. “Boat lifts of today have a wide range of accessories, including automatic boat covers, bow stops, motor stops, guides, canopies, catwalks, underwater lights and hands-free remotes. When configuring your lift, remember that you should outfit your lift to use and protect your boat, not to just store it.”

And on a final note, Mauldin weighed in with some not-to-be-overlooked criteria. “Other things that you have to consider when choosing a boat lift are permitting requirements, HOA restrictions and any regulations that your marina may have in regard to attaching equipment to the dock structure.”


5 thoughts on “Boat Lift Lowdown

  1. I have a question about boating in shallow water at boat dock. I live in an area in the north bay of the San Francisco Bay Area that has water access. We have dock that when it’s at a low tide the dock sits in the mud. We would like to purchase a boat to be able to enjoy the opportunity of the bay waters. Is there a float that could be used to keep the boat out of the mud? What kind of a boat would be best?

  2. Is it OK to go to the upper limit of the boat lift capacity? My boat is 5300 pounds dry. Probably close to 6000 pounds with fuel etc. The lift being offered is a Sunstream 6500. Safe? Or do I buy a larger capacity left?

    • There is no such model as a Sunstream 6500. It may be a smaller model with the H Beams cut down to increase the lifting capacity or because its former home was shallow water.


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