The Ultimate Guide to Boat Lift Types and How to Choose

Ready to ditch the hassle of docking and hauling? Investing in a boat lift can transform your boating experience and end those knee-straining tie-ups and tedious trailer hauling.

But with a ton of options, it’s important to find the right boat lift system for your needs. Some lifts are great for smaller boats or jet skis, others for heavier boats in deep water.

In this blog post, we’ll break down the different types of boat lifts out there, pros and cons, and follow up with a general cost for each type.

How to decide on the right type of boat lift

Before you begin quoting boat lifts, consider these factors to help you decide:

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

There isn’t one best boat lift out there for everybody, it all depends on the type of boat you own and your preferences. Below are a few of the most common you’ll find on most lakes or bodies of water.

Elevator boat lifts

elevator boat lift

Elevator boat lifts use a winch system to lift the boat in and out of the water. One benefit of using an elevator lift is that it can be installed in narrow canals or passageways and doesn’t stick out too far from the shore. Since these beamless boat lifts don’t require cables or large beams like conventional boat lifts do, they can showcase the beauty of your boat without obstruction. You may need a permit to install an elevator lift at a marina.

Cradle boat lifts

Cradle boat lifts are similar to elevator lifts, but instead use a cradle system that contours to the hull of the boat. For large boats that are top-heavy with V-shaped hulls, cradle boat lifts are a great choice.

4-post vertical boat lifts

4 post boat lift

Most conventional boat lifts you see on lakes are vertical boat lifts that use a system of pulleys and cables. A traditional 4-post vertical boat lift is the best option for boats that weigh 4,000 to 20,000 pounds.

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 because 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 also uses its own gearbox and is considered a pioneer in boat lifts.

Cantilever boat lifts

Cantilever boat lift

Cantilever boat lifts are known for their simplicity and reliability, and use a pivoting arm (the cantilever) to support the boat while it is raised or lowered. These come with a winch wheel, which allows you to mechanically lower and raise your boat.

Cantilever lifts are great for smaller-sized boats since their design doesn’t depend on having a power source available. It’s simple technology, which also makes regular maintenance and repair easier than other lifts.

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

Hydraulic boat lifts

Hydraulic Boat Lift

The hydraulic system is connected to a pump or power unit, while traditional vertical lifts utilize cables and an electric motor.

While hydraulic lifts can be more expensive than some other types, they are often preferred for their ability to lift boats above the water’s surface, especially in deeper water.

Due to the support provided by hydraulic cylinders, in the event of a system failure, the boat is unlikely to come crashing down. These lifts require a hoist frame with base pads for each leg, ensuring stability on the lake or riverbed, and it’s crucial to ensure the contact points are level during installation.

Floating boat lifts

Floating Boat Lift HydroHoist

Floating boat lifts can lift a boat out of the water using tanks that are inflated. 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.

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

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 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 a 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 consider that 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 vary depending on complexity, and you can expect to pay more if you have a larger boat.

However, the benefits of installing a boat lift (especially at the coast) can often outweigh the long-term indoor storage costs at a marina.

Depending on whether or not the boat storage facility is indoors 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 check for any regulations based on the body of water you plan to install your lift. Some states and localities have different regulations on size and scope, as well as on floating lifts.

No matter what lift you decide on, a new boat lift will take a lot of the hassle out of removing your boat from the water and constantly tying it up.

Need a new dock box to go with your new boat lift? Check out these 7 top dock boxes perfect for storing fishing rods, life jackets, and just about anything else.

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