Pontoon lifts are devices used to hold a pontoon boat up and out of the water while it is parked at the dock and not in use. The most common design in pontoon lifts are manually-operated, however, there are electronic units that use battery-operated winches or hydraulics to raise the boat out of the water. Used most frequently are the vertical boat lifts and the cantilever-type boat lifts. These two styles offer ease of operation and stability on soft-bottom soil while supporting the pontoon boat from underneath the deck area. Other types and styles of pontoon lifts use battery-powered hydraulic motors fastened beneath the dock connecting to hydraulic legs that are positioned on the lake or river bottom so that when raised, they also contact the bottom of the deck of the boat as it is resting alongside the dock.
The reasons for using pontoon lifts are two-fold. A common reason for using pontoon lifts is to raise the boat up and out of the water to avoid staining of the pontoons by dirty water. The dirt stains can often be very difficult to remove and can actually reduce the boat's performance by slowing its motion through the water due to the filthy buildup on the pontoons. This is not, however, the prime motivation for most owners to purchase pontoon lifts. Allowing the pontoon to rest tied to the dock can result in serious damage due to the boat riding on the waves and being rubbed and smashed against the dock.
The vertical pontoon lifts look like a square with four steel posts protruding out of the water. A large wheel is fastened to one of the legs and functions as a crank to actually raise the pontoon up and out of the water. The pontoon is driven over top of this style of pontoon lifts; as the crank is turned, the bottom supports raise up and meet the pontoon under its deck. Two long rails rest under the deck and support the raised pontoon very sturdily.
Cantilever pontoon lifts use long supports that also support the boat under its deck, except this style uses a long cantilever device that raises by sweeping up and out of the water as opposed to rising straight up like a vertical lift. The benefit of a cantilever lift is in the long bottom structure that provides a wider support base and creates a firmer hold on the lake or river bottom. This is especially important in bottoms with uneven structure.