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Boat Lift Buyer's Guide

Congratulations, you have arrived at beautiful Lake of the Ozarks and found the lake home of your dreams. You have a boat, and a dock, but have you given much thought to a lift?

You should. Boat lifts aren't glamorous, but they can make all the difference in determining how much you really get to enjoy the Lake life! Check out LakeExpo.com's boat lift buyer's guide.

photo by Bill Benson

Congratulations, you have arrived at beautiful Lake of the Ozarks and found the lake home of your dreams. You have a boat, and a dock, but have you given much thought to a lift?

You should. Boat lifts aren't glamorous, but they can make all the difference in determining how much you really get to enjoy the Lake life!

It may seem like the boat or lift is only used on a few of the big weekends every season, but actually the lake is always using them. With wind, wave or wake the lift is moving, supporting and protecting  your boat. Without the right boat lift, much of what you've invested at the Lake can be in jeopardy.

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Charlie Noland & Poly Lift Boat Lifts At Overland Park Boat Show

There are some key factors to consider when purchasing a boat lift that can make or break your time at the lake. Let's face it, everyone is busy and wants to make the most of their time, money, and investment on the water. When away for work, spending time with family, traveling or taking care of whatever comes our way, the boat lift must function to offer security and low maintenance. It is wise to make the correct choice when ordering a lift so the purchase is made once and can offer many years of performance, value, and durability.

Here are six things to consider when you're shopping for a boat lift.

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Boats Docked At Lake Of The Ozarks

1. LOCATION/STRUCTURAL STRENGTH

One important factor to consider when purchasing a boat lift is location.   

Life on the the main channel requires a stronger and more durable hoist than in the back of a cove. The lake is getting busier every year, too, and in a rougher area the lift should be strong enough to handle the conditions or it may require a lot of maintenance and ultimately need to be replaced with a better product anyways.

For a main channel dock or rougher water area, make sure your lift has arms that are at least 2.5”. The arms of the lift  attach to the dock and pivot the lift up and down with the motion of the waves. Some top manufacturers are offering Super Heavy Duty arms with additional bracing to the arm above and below the water. This will stiffen up the lift and offer more strength.  With the added strength the lift will react less to the movement, and this can relate to less wear on the bushings, bolts and pivoting joints. In some locations a 3" arm and mechanism can be used. This stronger 3" super structure adds even more security and uses a 3/4" arm bolt that can handle the most extreme conditions.

Inside the pivoting joints of the lift, Ultra High Molecular Weight (UHMW) bushings are important. These bushings work best when they are milled for a tighter fit. They can make the hoist quieter in operation and when made properly with the proper material these bushings will require less replacement maintenance.  When a lift is built with more strength and the proper bracing and support, it will add overall stability for the boat and will ultimately last longer. A well-built lift can actually help take wave pressure away from the dock. This means more savings in the long run, since the dock can be more expensive to repair or replace than the lift. A good boat lift will help add strength to the dock and save on maintenance.

In a calmer area of the lake or a cove location, there may be  cheaper options available that can handle the conditions. It may be possible to use 2" or standard arms in some instances. More generic lift brands or used lifts could work fine.  But even in these locations, there are always advantages to additional strength, lower maintenance features or materials that add quality and value.

2. WATER DEPTH

Always be sure to consider the water depth at any particular location. Uniquely designed Shallow water lifts can help gain operation and make the boat and lift usable when the lake level is low. A shallow water lift can often add an additional foot of operation over a regular lift. In some places this can mean the difference  between being able to get on or off the lift at all.

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Lake Of The Ozarks

photo by Zach del Valle Photography, courtesy Lake Ozark Helicopters

The lake is normally between 658 to 660 levels during the summer months between Memorial and Labor Day weekend. But often early in the season, boaters get “cabin fever” while the lake is still in transition. There’s no better cure than getting out on the boat on a warm spring day — but that's no good if you can’t get the boat off the lift because the water is too shallow! it is very helpful to be able to use the boat and relieve this condition when the weather is good.

3. SLIP WIDTH

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but you need to make sure the lift is the right width for your dock slip. The wrong lift width means some hard work: changing  the channels and torsion bars on the frame so the lift can offer the same structural strength in wider slip as it does for a smaller dock.

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Speed Racer On A Boat Lift

4. WEIGHT AND CAPACITY

Your boat size will determine your lift size. There are quite a few factors here: the year, make and model of boat, along with the dry weight of the boat, weight of fuel, props, batteries, covers, and additional gear onboard.  

The boat length can determine the structural length that will work best for the boat and dock. This is where the pros are indispensable. Different boat manufacturers and brands may have unique ways of determining the dry weights.

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Big Lifts For Big Boats

Lake Shots photo

It is a good idea to have plenty of capacity in order to compensate for temperature changes. The flotation tanks may only hold a couple pounds of air pressure and could be affected by a sudden drop in temperature when the weight is marginal or maximum capacity has been reached.

5. FLOTATION TANKS

The flotation tanks are one of the most important features to consider because they are the foundation of the lift and will offer the hoist stability and support.  Traditionally flotation tanks are made of metal, fiberglass or polyethylene.   

Metal tanks are not ideal, since they will eventually rust and require replacement. The majority of the metal tanks currently in use are nearing the end of their lifespan and already showing signs of corrosion.

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Sunken Boat

Fiberglass tanks also become brittle with age or weakened from the exposure to the sun. Fiberglass can be repaired or patched to help extend life and will work better in deeper water since it is a thinner material and may not be able to support the weight of the boat if it comes in contact with the bottom of the lake. 

Polyethylene tanks can offer the best security and are the least likely to leak.  The security and warranty of the polyethylene will add the best value and have the longest life at the lake.

6. CYLINDER OR SQUARE TANKS?

And finally, a question of geometry: should you get cylinder or square lift tanks? 

Cylinder tanks can offer better stability and displace the water best to keep the boat higher out of the water and make sure all of the boat including the prop and lower unit are up.

For big boats, cylinder tanks can allow the boat to sit more level and work better for the boat’s center of gravity so the lift does not lean as drastically or put too much pressure on the back of the lift.

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HydroHoist Boat Lift On Display At Overland Park Boat Show

photo by Al Griffin

Square tanks, or rotationally moulded polyethylene tanks, will cost less. For smaller boats or calm waters, these can be a fine solution that allows you to save money (which you’ll probably end up spending on your boat!).

In conclusion, remember that the right selection of a boat lift can save money and grief in the long-haul by protecting your boat and dock. That means more time and money for fun at the best recreational lake in the country!

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