Boat Lifts: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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a boat on a lift

Are boat lifts really all they're cracked up to be?

Boat lifts are more and more popular, but as we see them multiply along every shoreline, one must ask: are they really all that great? So let’s take an in-depth look at boat lifts, and examine the good, the bad, and the ugly.

a boat on a lift

Are boat lifts really all they’re cracked up to be?

THE GOOD: Boat lifts eliminate the need for bottom paint, which would seem to make them instantly superior to keeping a boat in a slip. When considering this factor, don’t forget that painting the bottom of a boat commonly cuts top-end speed by one or two MPH, it adds toxins into the environment, and it costs money to paint the bottom every season. Boat lifts are also incredibly convenient; walk down the dock, press a button, and your boat lowers into the water. Nifty. And, on top of all this, you never have to worry about a dock line chaffing against the outboard, the boat banging against a piling, or an ugly waterline stain etching its way into your boat’s gel coat. Add all these factors up, and putting your boat on a lift seems like a great idea.

THE BAD: Boat lifts are expensive, and cost thousands of dollars. They also fail with surprising regularity, particularly the cables, which can become pinched or kinked (though there are a few hydraulic boat lifts out there which mitigate this problem). Lifts can also be quite problematic in areas with a significant tidal swing. When you leave the dock it may be positioned perfectly, but extreme low tides, in particular, can cause issues. Just a month ago, I went duck hunting on a boat kept on a lift. A stiff wind blew all the water out of the creek, and when we returned, the lift hit bottom before we were able to get the boat back onto it. We had to muscle it up onto the bunks, which was no small chore.

THE UGLY: In severe weather (read: hurricanes) a lift is a dangerous place for a boat to be. If water levels peak at above the lift’s height, your boat can wash away (if you didn’t tie it down) or become swamped (if you did tie it down).

THE BOTTOM LINE: During seasons of normal use, in the long run, keeping your boat on a lift is a good thing. The expenses more than pay for themselves after a few years, and the convenience more than makes up for the occasional inconvenience of equipment failure. In fact, of all the people I know who have lifts, not one single one regrets it. The kicker? When severe weather is rolling into town, don’t trust the lift to keep your boat safe—pull it out of the water, and keep it on dry land until the danger’s past. Do so, and the chances are you wont’ regret lift-keeping your boat, either.

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