How to Safely Use a Boat Lift: Top 5 Mistakes Beginners Make

How not to use a boat lift: top 5 mistakes beginners make


We’ve seen it all over our almost forty years of experience in the boat lift industry. In this post, we want to share some common mistakes boat lift owners make and how you can avoid making them yourself.

Here are five things you should never do as a boat lift owner:

  1. Lift the cradle too high or too low.
  2. Leave the cradle in the water.
  3. Don’t prepare the lift for a storm.
  4. Don’t maintain the lift.
  5. Disregard weight limits.

Let’s get started!

1. Lift the cradle too high or too low.

Use caution when raising and lowering your boat lift.

As a boat lift owner, one of the worst mistakes you can make is lifting your cradle too high or lowering it too far down. Unfortunately, we’ve heard too many stories over the years of people turning their switch on and forgetting about it, only to find their boat smashed into the ceiling of their boathouse or their cradle lodged in the sand at the bottom of the lake with the cables unraveled.

Lifting your lift too high can damage your boat and the lift, and cost thousands in repairs. Lowering it too far in the water, on the other hand, can cause the cables to unravel and rewrap incorrectly, often causing the lift to hang crookedly or not function properly.

Take precautions against this by never leaving your boat lift switch unattended. If you have a maintain switch, stand by it the entire time it is operating. Alternatively, you could get a spring-loaded switch which requires you to stand and hold the handle. Otherwise, if you let go, the lift stops. Or, you can have a remote with an auto stop. 

2. Leave the cradle in the water.

Never leave your cradle underwater for extended periods of time.

Some lift owners find themselves needing to remove their boat from their lifts for extended periods of time, and often think that leaving the cradle in the water is the best way to keep it safe from the elements.

Unfortunately, we’ve replaced many rusty cradles and cables that were left in the water for far too long. Aluminum cradles and galvanized steel cables are not meant to be submerged for extended periods of time as lake water can erode the metal and cause it to rust and seize, often leading to further damage to the lift.

To prevent this from happening to your lift, make sure you never leave your cradle in the water for extended periods of time. If you have to take your boat off for a while, we recommend you raise the cradle out of the water and any potential wave action. This will keep the lift from rusting in the water and prevent unnecessary damage to the cables and, depending on the cradle, the cradle itself.

3. Don’t prepare the lift for a storm.

It’s best to trailer your boat before a storm.

Storm damage can be among the most severe we encounter on boat lifts, boathouses and boats alike. In Florida, hurricane season often brings heavy winds, rain and waves to lakes across the state — and even the lowest rated hurricanes and tropical storms can do damage to boats and boat lifts without proper precautions.

We’ve seen everything from ripped canopies to free-standing lifts that were flipped upside down and thrown several hundred feet away from the shoreline — but how? The lift canopy was not removed and acted like a sail for the severe, hurricane-force winds, lifting the free-standing lift out of the water and flipping it upside down in the lake. We’ve also seen severe winds cause boathouse cradles to swing, acting like a battering ram and damaging boats, lifts and boathouses in the process.

To avoid severe damage from the elements, we recommend that you trailer your boat before a severe storm, tropical storm or hurricane. Take precautions with your boathouse lift by raising the cradle as high as it can go and tying off each of the corners to prevent it from swinging. If you have a free-standing lift, lower the cradle as low as it can go into the water. Be sure to roll and remove your canopy to prevent it from becoming a sail and ripping or moving your lift, and roll up your curtain to prevent the mesh from being damaged by wind or debris.

Want to learn more about preparing your lift for bad weather? Click here.

4. Don’t maintain the lift.

Without proper maintenance, cables are likely to rust and break.

Boat lift cables wear out like the tires on your car, but they often last from three to five years depending on use and can last even longer. Without proper maintenance, however, lift cables wear out much faster, leading to breakage or even damaging the lift mechanisms themselves.

At R.J.’s, we recommend servicing your lift at least once every six months by greasing the gear plate zircs, along with the zircs on the pipe brackets and h-bearings. However, do not put grease on your cables as this will hold moisture in and cause them to rust; WD40 is water soluble, so it will not do anything to protect your cables. Instead, you can put motor oil on the cables to prevent premature wear. Performing regular maintenance will help your lift run smoothly, and prevent damage from undue wear or breakage.

Want the full rundown on how to maintain your lift? Check out our maintenance guide here.

5. Disregard weight limits.

Always check your lifts weight capacity — especially if you have a free-standing lift!

The weight capacity of a boat lift is not a rough estimate or starting point — it is the absolute limit. If your lift is rated for 4,000lbs, that means it can safely lift boats that have a total weight of 4,000lbs or less.

In general, boathouse lift weight capacities can be modified to accommodate very small boats to heavier boats by adding larger cradles or bigger motors, moving beams to allow for greater width or length, etc. Free-standing lifts are set in their capacities and cannot be altered — so keep that in mind as you consider buying a new boat or lift.

At R.J.’s, we recommend that you get a free-standing lift with more weight capacity than you might need, as ballasts, bimini tops and other elements can increase your boat’s weight. Plus, if you’re thinking of getting a larger boat in the future or using the lift for multiple boats, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and go larger than you actually need.

While these issues are common, they don’t have to be common for you! Use caution in using, maintaining and storing your lift, and consult with experts on best practices to keep your lift running smoothly — and you’ll be able to enjoy your lift for many years to come.

Have questions? Our team is here to help! Call our office at 352-394-5666.