Boat Lifts Explained: 4 Types Sailors Need To Know (With Pictures)

In Boating by Christopher Schopf

Not all boats are on trailers. Even when they are, it isn’t always convenient or even possible to get them on the trailer.  For these reasons, many people turn to boat lifts.

There are many different boat lifts that can be used to get your boat out of the water.

Some of the most popular boat lifts are:

  1. Freestanding lifts
  2. Boathouse lifts
  3. Pile mount lifts
  4. Floating lifts

In the rest of this post, we’ll take a look at these lifts in more detail. How they work and what you should know about them

1) Freestanding Lifts

A freestanding boat lift is a lift that is mounted directly into the ground.  This type of lift supplies its own base so no other structures will need to be present to make them work.

These boat lifts can be placed in the water or they can be built on the land.  One of the main advantages of this type of lift is that it can easily be erected in a wide range of areas.

How Freestanding Lifts Work?

A freestanding lift is essentially a vertical or cantilevered lift that cradles the boat and lifts it into the air.

It will often use a hydraulic lift system but you can find crank systems and electrical systems as well.

To use a free-standing lift that is in the water, you just need to drive the boat onto the lift system.  Once in place, the lift will take the boat up into the air and out of the water.  In this case, you could use a vertical lift when you have plenty of water to work with over top of the lift.

Otherwise, you might want to go with a cantilevered lift so that you can get some additional space between the boat and the shore.

This will give you a deeper water depth.

Freestanding lifts that are on land work in a similar manner.  However, to get a boat onto this type of lift, a person would have to take the boat out of the water and lay it onto the lift.

Depending on the size of the boat, specialized equipment might be needed.

When to Use Freestanding Lifts?

A freestanding lift can be used by a homeowner of waterfront property who wants a simple method for getting their boat out of the water.

This type of lift is one of the easiest types to install and a DIYer should be able to assemble and install the lift system themselves.

On top of this, you can even add large wheels to a freestanding boat lift.  With wheels mounted on the boat lift, the boat owner can move the boat around their yard or even into their garage after it has been lifted.

Professional docks might want to use these systems to make use of the vertical space on their land and to keep their customer’s boats out of the water when not in use.  I’ve been to boat yards that put your boat in the water for you and when you’re done boating for the day, they put it up on a lift.

This type of boatyard gives you many of the conveniences of having your boat at a dock but it costs less money.

The only major downside was that we would have to call ahead and ask the dock to get the boat off of the lift and into the water before we could use it.

Also, we’d have to be aware of the dock’s hours as someone would need to put the boat back onto the lift at the end of the day.

How Much do Free Standing Lifts Cost?

The cost of a free-standing lift will vary based on the size and weight capacity of the free-standing lift.  A small 2,500-pound vertical freestanding lift might sell for around $3,000.00 while a larger 6,000-pound boat lift might easily sell for well over $10,000.00.

In addition to this cost, you might have to pay money to have the lift installed.  This will depend largely on your DIY skills, the placement of the lift, and the conditions that surround the lift.

Accessories like boat canopies and guideposts can also be added to free standing lifts.  These accessories also cost money and if you end up with a lot of accessories, you could easily end up doubling the cost of your freestanding lift.

2) Boathouse Lifts

A boathouse lift is a type of overhead lift.

This type of lift is often built into the homeowner’s docks and it is a great alternative for people who can’t put a freestanding lift into the water.

This being said, a boathouse lift doesn’t actually have to be built into a boathouse at a dock.  A vertical lift system like this could just as easily be built into a business’s warehouse or even a homeowner’s garage.

How Boat House Lifts Work?

A boathouse lift uses a pulley system to vertically lift a boat into the air.  The weight of the lift as well as the boat is supported by the overhead structure.

This structure could be a dock with an overhead metal or wooden canopy or it could be a structurally sound building built on the land.

These lifts usually use a hydraulic system but other movement systems are available.  Typically, people prefer hydraulic systems because of their increased speed of movement and power.

One nice feature of a boathouse lift is that you can operate them completely off of solar power.  This is because solar panels can easily be mounted on top of the boathouse.  The solar power option makes it so that you do not have to have electric running at your dock to take advantage of this boat lift.

When to Use Them

Homeowners who already have a boathouse are a natural fit for this type of boat lift.  People who do not have solid enough ground near their boat dock will also greatly benefit from this type of boat lift.

People looking for a lift that they can put in their garage without occupying any additional floor space might also want to look into having a boat house lift installed into their home.

Businesses might want to use this type of boat lift to help keep the boat stable while their customer moves on and off of their chartered or rented boats.  The boathouse lift gives customers a shaded and stabilized entry point that can be accessed by people with accessibility issues.

How Much Does a Boathouse Lift Cost?

Boathouse lifts are usually less expensive than free-standing lifts.  This makes sense as the lift boathouse is providing much of the structure of the lift so you need fewer parts to build and operate a boat house lift.

A typical boat house lift kit for a lightweight boat can cost less than $1,000.00.  Even a heavier boat weight upwards of 12,000 pounds might only cost the boat owner around $6,000.00.

Of course, these prices do not include the construction of a boathouse or the installation of the boathouse lift system.  If you have to build a boathouse to accommodate your lift system, you could very well end up spending much more money on this lift than you would for a freestanding lift system.

3) Pile Mount Lifts

A pile mount lift is a boat lift that is mounted to the piling of a dock.

If you’re unfamiliar with what a pile is, it’s just that large wooden beam that goes into the ground around stationary docks.  These beams are generally mounted in concrete so they are sturdy and stable enough to take on tidal forces.

As a result, they make a good base for a boat lift.

This type of boat lift is often recommended as an alternative to people who need a structural boat lift but do not have a boathouse to mount it onto.

These lifts can be mounted to as few as one post and they can often support a lot of weight:

With a pile mount lift, more pile posts allow you to lift more weight.

Four post pile mounts can often support tens of thousands of pounds while one post pile mounts should not be used to support boats of any significant weight.

How Do Pile Mount Lifts Work?

A pile mount lift will consist of two large beams that run parallel to each other on a separate set of piles.  These beams will have a set of pulleys on them that connect to the cradle that will ultimately hold the boat.

The boat owner will drive their boat over the cradle and the pulleys will then lift the boat up out of the water.  Like the other lifts, pile mounts will often use a hydraulic design to quickly lift the boat out of the water.

When to Use a Pile Mount Lift?

A pile mount lift should be used whenever a person or business needs a secure structural lift that can support large amounts of weight.  They should also consider using a pile mount lift for conditions that require the boat to be lifted high out of the water.

An example situation might be a boat dock that is subject to extreme high tides.  In this case, you’d want to lift the boat high out of the water so that it would not be submerged again in the event of a deep high tide.

How Much do Pile Mount Lifts Cost?

Pile mount boat lifts are an economical type of boat lift, especially when dealing with heavy boats.  In fact, you can buy a four-post pile mount lift capable of lifting 10,000 pounds for less than $4,500.00.

Lifts prices can go over $10,000.00 but with a lift this expensive you’ll be able to lift boats that weigh in excess of 20,000 pounds.

4) Floating Lifts

A floating boat lift is essentially a dock that you can drive your boat up onto.  This type of lift keeps your boat out of the water without the need for a pulley system.

The benefit to this is that you don’t have to worry about the corrosion that can result when a traditional boat lift system makes contact with the metal of a boat.

Additionally, these boat lift systems generally require much less maintenance as they do not have as many moving parts.

On top of this, you never have to worry whether or not a floating lift will be high enough.  This lift will simply float higher as the tides come in and it’ll float lower as the tides move out.

How do Floating Boat Lift Systems Work

A floating boat lift system will often use an airlift system to raise the height of the lift.  However, this isn’t always the case.

For lighter boats, the lift system may be as simple as a plastic dock with high buoyancy.  In this case, the dock is pushed down in sections while the boat is driven up onto it.  The dock then springs up and out of the water.  This dock then floats just above the water, keeping your boat out of the water until you push it back off the dock.

When to Use a Floating Boat Lift

Floating boat lifts are useful for homeowners who do not have a boat house or the space for a freestanding or pile mounted lift.  They’re also good for homeowners who want a boat lift that does not require a lot of maintenance.

Boat rental companies may also want to make use of floating boat lifts.  The reason for this is that they are quicker and easier to operate than more traditional boat lifts.  This is especially true if the company is renting out smaller boats and jet skis.

How Much do Floating Boat Lifts Cost

Floating boat lifts can be had for less than $2,000.00 and can cost well over $10,000.00.  The price will mostly depend on what type of floating boat lift is installed and how large the boat lift is.

Lifts with airlift systems will generally cost more than lifts without.  These types of lifts will also cost more money to maintain as there is an actual mechanical element to the lift.

Special Considerations When Buying a Boat Lift For a Sailboat

Some people are under the false assumption that sailboats cannot be put up onto lifts but this simply isn’t true.

A sailboat can be put on a boat lift but considerations for the mast must be taken beforehand.

For instance, you can’t lift or even drive a sailboat into a boathouse without taking the mast off.  In most cases, this makes using a sailboat in a boathouse impractical.

Even accessories like boat lift canopies should probably be left off as you won’t be able to use them while the boat is in place.

Tiny sailboats might be better off with floating boat lifts while larger sailboats might need to take advantage of freestanding or pile mounted boat lifts.  In any case, you’ll want to choose a boat lift that makes using the boat easier rather than more difficult.

Why Get a Boat Lift At All?

Some people choose to forego getting a boat lift at all.  These people will either trailer their boat or they’ll leave their boat tied up at their dock.

It is easy to see why someone would lift their boat rather than trailer it.  Trailering a boat is time-consuming, it’s inconvenient, and it usually requires the use of a boat ramp.

When it comes to lifting a boat instead of just docking the boat, it can be harder to see what the benefits might be.

However, there are a few thoughts you might want to keep in mind when choosing between docking and lifting your boat.

For starters, lifting your boat will help keep it from moving back and forth at the dock.  This reduces the chances that your boat will be scratched and dented while it is docked.

On top of this, having a boat out of the water helps protect it from any debris that might be floating by.  Many boats have been damaged from boards and other large materials floating into them while docked.  This is especially true just after a bad storm or hurricane.

Also, a securely lifted boat is easier to get in and out of.  The lift will keep the boat out of the water and you’ll have a stable base to walk around on until you get seated.

Lastly, keeping the boat out of the water helps it last longer and reduces maintenance.  This is especially true if your boat is sitting in salt water.

People who dock their boats in water have to treat the bottom of their boats so that marine growth does not occur on their hull.

This treatment can be time-consuming and costly.

Final Thoughts

There are many different lifts that can be used to get your boat in and out of the water.  Each of these lifts has specific advantages and disadvantages associated with them.

The type of boat lift you choose will depend on your dock, the size of your boat, and your budget.

Images Sources:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:UL2.jpg