Pontoon Boat Lift: Sea Legs vs Pontoon Lifts

It’s true - the water is a pontoon boat’s natural habitat, but that doesn’t mean it has to sit there every minute of every day. There’s a reason why most boat owners suffer the tedious process of towing their pontoon out of the marina and it’s because extended exposure to water speeds up the process of corrosion and damage.

Now, maybe you recognize the need to take your boat out of the water, but you just don’t have the patience to tow it every single time. If that’s the case, then you might want to consider investing in a pontoon boat lift. Designed to literally lift your pontoon out of the water, these ingenious machines ease process of boat maintenance and storage.

How Do Pontoon Boat Sea Lifts Work?

There are lots of different kinds of pontoon boat lifts, but they all work to do the same thing - and that’s to lift your boat out of the water. These machines stay stationary in the water and carry your pontoon by literally lifting it up. The purpose is to help you minimize the damage of extended moisture exposure without having to hook up to a trailer and drive your pontoon back and forth.

Most pontoon boat owners dream of having their own sea lift for its unparalleled convenience. Letting you keep your pontoon safe from organism growth, corrosion, and other expensive damages, pontoon boat lifts prove to be an effortless solution if you want to prolong the life of your watercraft.

Different Types of Pontoon Boat Sea Lifts

boat lift for pontoons

Not all pontoon boat lifts are made equal. There are tons of options on the market, and although each one promises to do the same thing, they’re typically designed for different environments. So it’s important to understand exactly what makes a sea lift unique and why it might (or might not) be the right one for you.

Freestanding Pontoon Lifts

As the name suggests, freestanding pontoon lifts quite literally stand with their feet fixed at the bottom of the water. These lifts are installed in place and can't usually be moved around to a different area once they're set. That means you have to be sure of where you're placing them before you finalize on the installation.

Freestanding pontoon lifts come in two different subtypes. These include:

Cantilever Boat Lifts

These are designed for areas where water levels change only in increments. They’re ideal for shallow waters with sandy bottoms, and they use very few moving parts, making them easier to maintain and cheaper overall.

Vertical Boat Lifts

Sturdier and bulkier, vertical boat lifts are ideal for areas with deeper waters. They use a sturdy framework that keeps the design stable even when installed over uneven terrain.

Floating Boat Lifts

These designs use air or hydraulics in order to lift a boat out of the water. They’re ideal for shallow waters where they can lift the boat up just enough to get it slightly out of the water’s surface. Similar to freestanding lifts, they come in two main types:

Air and Water Displacement

These work in waters as shallow as four feet, but aren’t usually as stable or smooth to operate as freestanding lifts. They work by inflating a set of pontoon stands that press against your boat and lift it out of the water depending on the amount of air blown into the design. To bring your boat back down, simply deflate.

Hydraulic Lifts

A hydraulic lift can be installed on both fixed and floating docks, and they can operate in waters as shallow as 12 inches. They’re typically more expensive than air and water displacement lifts, but operating them can be much cheaper since there are solar powered options on the market.

Sea Legs vs Pontoon Lifts - What’s the Difference?

Pontoon lifts and sea legs do pretty much the same thing - and that’s to take your boat out of the water. But the way they work can be completely different, so you might find that you prefer one over the other.

While pontoon lifts are fixed to a dock or an area by the shore, sea legs attach directly to your pontoon. They work the same way that lifts do, in that they also extend upward to take your vessel out of the water. But instead of being a fixed installation that you have to ‘park’ your pontoon over, sea legs are mounted directly underneath your boat.


PROS

CONS

Pontoon Lifts

- Don't require as much maintenance as sea legs

- Easier to repair

- Provides a safe place for long term storage

- Can't usually be moved around once installed

- Some designs can be tedious to operate

- Requires precision docking for safe & stable use

Sea Legs

- Can be deployed anywhere

- Increase your boat's resale

- Prevents most cosmetic damages caused by banging into the dock

- Adds significant weight to your boat

- Can't be used for winter storage

- Isn't compatible with boats smaller than 18 feet and bigger than 30 feet

The Cost of Pontoon Lifts

For as convenient as pontoon lifts might be compared to pontoon trailers, it’s easy to see that not a lot of boat owners have made the transition. And the reason for this is because they’re not exactly affordable. Pontoon lifts can cost a pretty penny, so they’re typically reserved to boat owners who are willing and capable of shelling out an amount almost equal to the cost of the boat itself.

Prices vary depending on the style of the lift and the manufacturer behind it. The most affordable lifts come from budget brands like ShoreStation, and can cost as little as $1,500 for a cantilever lift. There are lots of other manufacturers on the market however, including ShoreMaster, Pier Pleasure, and Hewitt Manufacturing.

Some of the most expensive lifts come from brands like ShoreMaster, and can come with prices that reach up to $17,000. These premier lifts usually carry the heaviest weights and use intuitive technologies that make them especially easy to use and operate in all sorts of weather conditions.

How Much Do Pontoon Lifts Cost Annually?

how pontoon boat lifts work

Other than the lift itself, there are a range of other expenses worth considering if you’re planning on buying one for your boat. For starters, there’s the cost of installation. While some manufacturers will toss in the installation cost with the price of the lift itself, most of them won’t. And because the process of installation will typically require specialized skills and tools, you’re going to have to hire professional construction companies to get the job done.

Then of course, there’s maintenance. Keeping your lift well-oiled and tightly screwed together will help guarantee the safety of your boat with each use. Regular checking of all bolts, nuts, runners, and other moving parts will let you get ahead of any potential, necessary replacements.

Lubricating the gears, cables, and moving parts should also help prevent any damages and major repairs down the line. And while the cost of doing it yourself might not put such a dent in your wallet, there’s always the risk that you might not be doing it right. So if you really want to guarantee that your boat lift is in proper working order all year round, you can always hire a professional team of marine water construction contractors to do it for you.

Which Lift Should You Buy?

There are two things worth considering when thinking of what boat lift will work best for you: your pontoon and the conditions where you plan to install the lift. Here’s a quick overview of what lift might be ideal for your situation:

LIFT TYPE

IDEAL CONDITIONS

Cantilever

Shallow waters, sandy bottom, standard conditions

Vertical

Fluctuating water levels, uneven bottoms

Air and water displacement

Shallow waters, sandy bottoms, calm conditions

Hydraulic

Very shallow waters, heavy boats

What is the Best Pontoon Lift?

Preferences vary, and each pontoon lift design bring different benefits. So there really isn’t a single choice that shines as the best there is. But if you were interested in quality, these brands give most other manufacturers a run for their money:

1. Shoremaster

Having been around since 1972, this Minnesota-based boat lift manufacturer offers cantilever, vertical, and hydraulic lifts. Their designs are built to sustain up to 7,000 pounds of pontoon weight.

2. Shorestation

Slightly more established with a history that spans back to 1952, Shorestation specializes in offering lifts with a range of added features like wireless operation, extension legs, and deep water functionality.

3. Pier Pleasure

Offering up to 20 years on their product warranties, this brand provides buyers with a wealth of options that push the weight load up to 5,000 pounds.

4. Hewitt Manufacturing

Considered a premier name in the boat lift industry, this company offers versatile lifts that install seamlessly and provide excellent, smooth performance for easy operation.

5. Porta-Dock

This brand offers the whole range of pontoon lifts, including cantilever, vertical, and hydraulic. Their designs are pretty simple, and their prices are accessible for most boat owners.

Where to Buy Your Pontoon Lift

Always deal with trusted brands and avoid transacting with companies that have yet to establish their reputation on the market. A pontoon lift is an investment that works to protect your boat from damage and wear. So if you try to skimp out by buying one from an unscrupulous source, you risk further damaging your boat and incurring costly repairs. Read up, do your research, and know your dealer before venturing into any transaction so you can ensure the safety of your vessel.

Need a Lift?

Pontoon boat lifts are a major investment that any boat owner would be happy to have. Letting you safely haul your boat out of the water without all the effort, a pontoon boat lift provides a safe space for storage that also works to protect your boat from the usual damages. Of course, they’re not exactly cheap. But because they come in a range of designs, you’re guaranteed to find one that suits your preferences and your budget.