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What Is a Boat Hoist?

By Dale Marshall
Updated May 23, 2024
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A boat hoist is a device which lifts a boat from the water for maintenance, repair or storage. Some are installed more or less permanently at the dock, while others are portable. Boat hoists, sometimes called boat lifts, are made in a wide variety of designs for many different functions. They’re manufactured both for smaller pleasure craft and larger vessels like ocean-going yachts and fishing boats, but very large craft like freighters and cruise ships must use specially-built drydocks to leave the water.

Storing a boat in the water is the source of many boat problems, such as peeling paint on the hull, corrosion of metal parts and damage from large objects moving in the water. A boat hoist installed at a dock is an easy solution to this problem. For storage during the off season, many boat owners bring their boats to a marina where they’ll be raised from the water by moving boat hoists and moved to secure dry storage slots.

Boat hoists installed by docks are often freestanding in the water, because they’re heavy enough not to be moved by the current. When necessary, they’ll be anchored in the rock. Most have a frame containing a series of bars, called bunks, which cradle the boat’s hull when it’s hoisted. The bunks are carpeted to reduce the potential for scratching the hull when the hoist is used. The boat is simply positioned over this platform and then it’s activated.

There are different ways a boat hoist will raise a boat from the water. Some use chains or cable winched from above, whether from a superstructure that’s part of the hoist or from the ceiling of a boathouse. Others use worm gears inside heavy-duty rails. Some employ a set of vertical posts that guide the hoist, others use a single rail.

A floating boat hoist uses air to raise a boat out of the water. When the hoist is activated, the boat is lifted out of the water, cradled by bunks mounted on flotation tanks. One system pumps the tanks full of air to engage them to hoist the boat and floods them with water to float the boat. A newer type of floating hoist uses foam-filled tanks, which never need to be pumped full of air. When activated, these tanks are drawn together under the boat, raising it from the water.

Boat hoists are crucial in areas where ice forms in the winter. Watercraft left in the water generally will be crushed when ice forms. A boat hoist prevents the possibility of such damage.

A boat hoist can be a costly purchase, and so it’s advisable for boat owners to measure the boat to ensure a good fit, both fore-to-aft and beam. Likewise, a good estimate of the boat’s maximum weight, including equipment and full fuel tanks, should be taken to guard against installing a boat hoist with an insufficient motor. If the hoist will be operated by a remote control on the boat, the maximum weight of passengers should also be included. In addition, variances in the water level due to tides or human activity are a major consideration in determining the type of boat hoist to install.

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