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Choosing the Right Boat Lift

Lamulle Construction

At Lamulle Construction we have been installing boat lifts for decades. People comment to us that “a boat lift is a boat lift”. However, while they all perform the same function, picking the boat up out of the water so it can be stored dry when it is not in use, boat lifts are not all the same.

Things to Consider

• Model of Lift: As with buying cars, there are basic models and high end models.

• Size: Boat lifts are sized according to lift weight and range from 1,500lbs for personal water craft all the way up to 40,000lbs for large boats.

• Quality and Maintenance Needed: You get what you pay for. The difference in quality and level of maintenance required can vary greatly. Maintenance is a key difference. Boat Lifts

 How a Boat Lift Works

In this article, we will discuss the most common type of boat lift, which uses an electric motor to wind a cable. Hopefully this will help you decide what features best suit your needs.

• Most boat lifts raise the boat by winding a steel cable around a pipe.

• A motor is coupled to a pipe, which typically Galvanized steel.

• The motor is typically connected via pulley system to some sort of gear drive, which reduces the speed of the motor and increases the torque of the motor assembly, allowing it to raise the boat.

There are several maintenance points, including pipe system, motor, gear system, and pulley belt, with this type of boat lift system.

Cradle or Straps

Should your lift have a cradle or straps? Straps are old school, but still have some advantages.

• Straps are typically made from a nylon material and are rated in accordance with the capacity of the lift. There are usually two straps, one lift from about one foot in front of the transom, the other about the middle of the boat.

• Straps can put more stress on the hull and are only used when either the boat slip is narrow or when the hull configuration of boat lifted might vary.

Today, it is most common to lift with a cradle.

• A cradle is designed just like the boat trailer that the boat came on.

• The “bunks” the boat sits on are placed in the same location as the bunks on the trailer. This minimizes the stress on the hull.

• Cradles are much easier to use. Just like pulling your boat onto a trailer. It does not move in the waves and catches under the boat quicker when lifting.


Pipe System

RustyPipeInternal• First, there is the pipe system. There are several grease fittings on the mounting brackets which hold the pipe in place and allow it to turn, winding the cable. Depending on how this pipe is mounted to the boathouse and what type of brackets are used, this connection point will quickly wear through the galvanization and down to the steel pipe. This area will accumulate rust when it is not in use and require more frequent greasing to maintain operation.

•A system which mounts the steel pipe inside of pillow blocks will not accumulate rust in this area and will require must less maintenance.

•Choose a system which winds the steel cable around aluminum winders which are sleeved over the Steel winder pipe. The winder guides the cable into the proper place, prevents the cable from rubbing against itself causing excessive wear. Most of all it prevent the cable from wearing off the galvanized coating from the pipe.

• Single pipe systems use a central pipe to wind the cable. This pipe is mounted down the center of the boat slip. If your boat is a center console with a T-top, this system offers very limited headroom to raise your boat.

• Some manufacturers offer two motor and beam systems which bring the winders out to the sides of the boat slip leaving the middle overhead space clear for the boat.

Motor Maintenance

Aluminum winder sleeves internalIf the motor is exposed to the elements and not constructed of weather resistance materials, it will quickly deteriorate and become unusable. Many cheaper lifts install inexpensive motors which will fail if they get wet. Rain, breakers, and storms could be a problem. Make sure your lift has a quality motor that is suited to the environment you are using it in. Being installed inside of a boathouse will not fully protect the motor if it is installed over saltwater.

Gear System


The gear system is the next point of maintenance. Many lifts feature a large bronze gear that is connected to a smaller gear on the pulley system. This connection between the gear is small but needs to be greased, so the design of the gear system will determine how much grease can be used and how long it will stay on the gears.

•Many of our customers complain about these systems, because they are often mounted high in the boathouse, requiring some means to reach the motor assembly over the water. Ladders are difficult to use in this situation, as you might imagine.

•Another complaint we get it that many of these motor assemblies are open, and the grease can drip down in the heat of summer and get all over the boat or motor. This can be frustrating.

•Some manufacturers, like Deco boat lifts, offer a sealed gear system in an oil bath that never needs to be greased.

Belt and Pulley System

The belt and pulley system is the last point of maintenance in your boat lift system. Belts generally last a long time if the rest of the system is cared for.

•Typical life span in a harsh environment is 5 years.

•If the belt is exposed to sunlight it may dry rot and fail quicker.

•If the winding system is not greased properly, this will cause additional strain on the pulley system and cause it to wear quickly.

•Obviously sealed gear systems with covered belts last the longest.

An alternative is to choose a system that eliminates the belt and pulley all together by using a direct drive motor. In this case, the motor is coupled directly to the gear box and the pulley and belt are eliminated. This system should always be coupled with a sealed gear box and be made of aluminum and stainless steel. This type of system eliminates virtually all the maintenance points of the boat lift system. Choose this type of system if you will not be using the lift frequently or you want to eliminate as much maintenance as possible.

At Lamulle Construction we carry several popular brands of boat lifts. We will listen to your needs and help you choose the boat lift that best suits your needs and budget.

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