Boat Lifts 101: How Much They Cost, and Types to Consider

If you’re considering installing a boat lift, there are a few different options to go with that can make launching your boat so much easier. While it is an investment, it’s well worth it based on my experience.

If you’re tired of tying up to your pier or dock (and have the extra cash to spend) a boat lift is something that will save your knees, and the hassles of hauling a boat trailer around all the time.

What lift you should choose really depends on what type of boat you have and several other factors.

In this blog post, I’ll break down what to know about the different types of boat lifts out there, break down some pros and cons, and follow up with an estimated cost of each type.

Deciding what type of boat lift to install

What type of lift is best really depends on a couple of factors. While money is an obvious one, some lifts are really ideal for larger and heavier boats, and wouldn’t make sense on smaller, more shallow bodies of water where you wouldn’t want to launch a larger boat. Here are a couple of factors to help you decide:

  • Weight of your boat
  • Length of the boat
  • Space to install lift
  • Local regulations

With this in mind, I’ll break down what boat lift to choose, the pros and cons of each.

Elevator boat lifts

elevator boat lift

Permits can be granted for elevator lifts like this one at marinas, and depending on the boat, these can be angled in different ways.

In the category of elevator boat lifts, you can also typically install beamless boat lifts that don’t have PVC or any metal obstructing the view of your boat like the one shown above.

Basically an elevator lift will lift the boat up or down using some sort of electric winch system. One benefit of using an elevator lift is that they can be installed in narrow canals or passageways, since they don’t stick out too far from the shore.

As opposed to convention boat lifts, these don’t require cables and really showcase the beauty of your boat without obstruction.

4-Post convention boat lifts

4 post boat lift

When it comes to conventional boat lifts, the 4 post lift is pretty common, and most lifts you see on many lakes fall into this category. From 4,000 to 20,000 pounds as attested to by Deco Boats, a 4 post lift is going to be your best bet.

For heavier boats over 20,000 pounds, your boat lift installer will typically use 6 to 8 poles to accommodate the weight.

These boat lifts made by Deco (and others) are the most common that I see, due to the fact that they are so easy to operate and install. This is the type of lift my neighbor has for his 1990s MasterCraft, and is a great entry level option for small to medium sized boats on reservoirs, rivers, and lakes.

Deco includes their own gearbox, and really considered a pioneer in boat lifts of a few different types.

Cantilever boat lifts

Cantilever boat lift

Cantilever boat lifts are known for their simplicity and reliability, and while they use steel cables, their operation is really quite simple. These come with a winch wheel, which allows you to mechanically crank your lift up and down.

These I really like for most smaller sized boats, since their design doesn’t depend on having a power source available. It’s really simple technology, which also makes it fairly simple to repair if needed.

Hewitt makes a line of these Cantilever boat lifts you may want to check out.

Hydraulic boat lifts

Hydraulic Boat Lift

As opposed to using cables, hydraulic boat lifts use a stainless steel tube and piston to lift the boat. These are pretty expensive but also can lift a boat higher than other types of lifts.

These are ideal for use at the coast, due to their ability to lift your boat above the water and keep it there. The main advantage here is that, unlike cables, once the boat has been lifted hydraulically, even if the entire system fails for one reason or another, your boat won’t come crashing down.

These require a hoist frame with base pads for each leg, which will rest on the bottom of the water. It’s important to make sure the contact points are level when installing these.

These are pretty low profile in nature, like many beamless elevator lifts. These lifts run off of DC power, and many run off of solar power.

Floating boat lifts

Floating Boat Lift HydroHoist

HydroHoist is really the leader in these types of lifts, which basically combine a floating dock concept with a hydro-pneumatic method of raising boats.

These types of lifts you don’t see too often, but they basically are able to lift the boat out of the water using tanks that are inflated to lift the boat out of the water. The benefit of these floating lifts is that due to the compact design of the tank, you don’t need much water to lift your boat, which makes these great for lakes and reservoirs with constantly changing water levels.

Several neighbors I know of have traditional 4 post lifts, however, during drought periods when the water level is low, these essentially become inoperable. These floating lifts I would recommend due to this factor.

These types of lifts can typically be installed in tighter areas, which makes them popular on lakes or reservoirs. You can read more about this technology on their website here.

Estimated costs of a boat lift

Since many boat lifts use different technologies to actually lift the boat out of the water, they are priced differently depending on the type. Below is a basic breakdown of how much you can expect to pay for each type in new condition.

Keep in mind that these are just estimates for either 5,000 pound or 10,000-pound capacity boat lift based on online prices. This is just meant to give you a basic ballpark estimate of the product itself and doesn’t include labor costs or extras.

Whenever the capacity is increased, so will the price. Some lifts (like cantilever lifts) aren’t designed for heavier boats over about $5,000 pounds, so take that into consideration as well.

  • 10,000 lb. capacity Elevator Lift: $10,000
  • 10,000 lb. capacity 4-post Conventional Lift: $5,000 
  • 10,000 lb. capacity  Hydraulic Lift: $10,000 
  • 5,000 lb. capacity  Cantilever Lift: $3,500
  • 5,000 lb. capacity Floating Lift: $7,000


Installation costs will obviously vary depending on how complex the job is, and in general, you can expect to pay more if you have a larger boat on the coast you are looking to lift.

The benefits of installing a boat lift (especially at the coast) can often outweigh long-term storage costs of a boat if you are planning on storing your boat during the offseason.

Depending on whether or not the boat storage facility is indoor or outdoors, prices start at around $50-$200 per foot, per season. For a 20-foot boat, you’re looking at around $2,000 on the conservative side.

Tip: Check boat lift laws and regulations

It’s always a good idea to first check to see if there are any regulations based on the body of water you are planning to install your lift on. Some states and localities have different regulations on size and scope, as well as on floating lifts (for example).

No matter what lift you decide to go with, it will definitely take a lot of the hassle out of having to constantly take your boat out of the water, or worry about constantly tying your boat up.

In need of a dock box to go hand-in-hand with your boat lift? Check out my post here for 7 of my favorite dock boxes to store fishing rods, life jackets, and just about anything else.

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