Free-Standing Boat Lifts vs. Boathouse Lifts: 5 Questions to Know Which is Right for You

Boat Lift Buyer's Guide: Everything you need to know about buying free-standing and boathouse lifts, including expert tips, pricing and more

“You didn’t need a boat, you wanted one.
You may not want a boat lift, but you need one.”

— Dick Cavender,
Founder of R.J.’s Boat Lifts

 So, do you need a boat lift? The short answer? If you have a boat, yes.

We believe a boat lift is a great way to safely store your boat when it’s not in use that still allows you to have easy, unfettered access any time you want to get back out on the water.

If you’re in the market for a boat lift, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of options and sizes, and feel like you don’t even know where to start — and that’s okay. We’re here to help!

If you have a specific question, feel free to jump to it by clicking on the links below!

  1. What do I need to know before buying a boat lift?
  2. What is a boathouse lift?
  3. Should I buy a boathouse lift?
  4. What is a free-standing boat lift?
  5. Should I buy a free-standing boat lift?

1. What do I need to know before buying a boat lift?

When you’re considering buying a boat lift (or a jet ski lift), you need to start by gathering some basic information to use in your research and to give to your local boat lift dealer when you’re ready to schedule an estimate or make a purchase.

a. What is my lake setup? Do you have a dock? If so, does it have an existing boathouse or frame? Maybe you just have a sandy shore – that’s okay too! There are boat lifts designed to fit whatever setup you have.
If you can, gather additional information like water depth, the type of lake bottom you have, and your community or lake’s regulations. Most boat lift dealers will want to come in-person to measure and give you an accurate estimate, but it doesn’t hurt to give them somewhere to start!
b. What kind of boat do I have? It’s important that you have your boat’s dimensions and dry weight on hand when you start looking at lift options. Your lift will be tailored to your watercraft’s dimensions and weight, so knowing this information up front will help you narrow down your options and give your dealer some direction.
Be sure to mention if your lift is a pontoon or tritoon, has a tower or covering, or has any other add-ons that affect your boat’s overall dimensions. Your dealer will take measurements during the estimate, but knowing if you have a bass boat with a fishing tower or a pontoon boat up front will help them determine what kind of lift is best for you.
c. What’s my budget? It’s important to consider how much you’re willing to spend on your boat lift. You’ll need to consider the cost of the lift itself and if you want any add-ons (like canopies or curtains).
The great thing about boat lifts is that they’re tailored to fit your boat, your needs and your budget. If you’re just looking for an inexpensive way to store your fishing boat, then a manual free-standing lift might be the option for you. Or, if you’re looking for a powerful hydraulic-powered lift for your tritoon with a canopy, remote-operated curtain and bow stop, that’s an option too! Knowing your budget will open up your possibilities and ensure you get the perfect lift for your needs.
Now that you know the basics of what you have and what you can spend, it’s time to explore your options.

While there are many different lift types out there, ranging from elevator lifts and piling mount lifts to floating lifts, this article will cover the two most prominent types for our Central Florida area: boathouse lifts and free-standing lifts.

2. What is a boathouse lift?

Aluminum boat cradle hanging in a boathouse lift with galvanized steel cables

A boathouse lift is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a lift that hangs from the ceiling of a boathouse at the end of a dock. Also called boat hoists, these lifts consist of a motor, pipe, and four galvanized or stainless steel cables. Depending on the size, your boat will sit on either a set of straps or a cradle.

A cradle is what holds your boat: it’s a large aluminum frame that hangs from the lift cables. It has two aluminum or wooden bunks that support your boat. If you have a pontoon or a tritoon, your cradle will include two toon rails, composed of PVC over aluminum tubing, that allow your boat to be lifted from the floor up.

These lifts are typically powered by a one or three-quarter horsepower motor; but they can also be solar powered and operated with a remote.

3. Should I buy a boathouse lift?

Boathouse lifts are ideal if you already have an existing boathouse or pilings and are fairly affordable and easy to install in an existing setup. These lifts can support anywhere from 2,000-10,000lbs and are a sturdy, safe way to lift your boat, no matter the size or type.

These lifts are easy to operate and run off a switch or a remote. In terms of maintenance these lifts only require servicing about twice a year — and the cables can last from three to five years depending on use.

Boathouse lifts are incredibly versatile in terms of pricing and available add-ons — ranging from $3,000-$10,000 depending on the size of your boat, power preferences, addition of docking aids or curtains, etc.

Overall, these lifts are incredibly sturdy, affordable and versatile, and are a great way to store your boat if you have an existing boathouse or frame.

Boathouse Lifts

  • Weight capacity: 2,000-10,000 lbs
  • Required lake setup: Boathouse, dock or pilings
  • Price range: $3,000-$10,000
  • Power options: Electric or solar

For more on how to take care of your lift, check out our beginner’s guide or maintenance and troubleshooting guide.

4. What is a free-standing boat lift?

ShoreStation free-standing boat lift alongside a wooden dock with revolution canopy and power curtain add-on

A free-standing boat lift doesn’t require an existing boathouse, framework or even a dock. These lifts are entirely self-contained and sit on the bottom of your lake, lifting your boat from the bottom up.

These lifts have an aluminum frame with stainless steel cables that support a cradle that, like a boathouse lift, has two bunks that support your boat. However, the cables aren’t visible and lift the cradle using hydraulic, solar or manual power.

5. Should I buy a free-standing boat lift?

Because they are self-contained, free-standing lifts are easily installed alongside an existing dock or along a sandy shoreline, and can be moved to account for changing water levels. They are incredibly sturdy, easy to operate with either a switch, remote or a wheel, and require little to no maintenance.

Free-standing lifts are also tailored to the size and shape of your boat and are incredibly versatile. Many brands, like Shorestation, also offer add-ons to protect your boat from the sun or debris like canopies and power curtains.

These lifts are ideally suited for small to mid-sized boats ranging from 2,000 to 15,000 lbs. Depending on the size of your boat and if you want any add-ons, they range from $7,500-$35,000.

Overall, these lifts are incredibly versatile and are easily adjusted, relocated and operated; and are the ideal solution if you don’t have a boathouse or a dock.

Free-Standing Boat Lifts

  • Weight range: 2,000-15,000 lbs
  • Required lake setup: None
  • Price range: $7,500-$35,000
  • Power options: Manual, hydraulic or solar

Whether you have questions on which lift is right for you, pricing, or anything in between, we’re here to help! Feel free to call our office at 352-394-5666. Our team of experts would be happy to help you!

If you’re in Central Florida and would like to schedule a custom estimate or install with us, you can schedule our team at 352-394-5666. We have over thirty-five years of experience and would love to help you find the perfect lift for your boat

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