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Which Is Better? Cantilever Boat Lifts vs Vertical Lifts

At IMM Quality Boat Lifts, our experienced team fields a variety of questions from boat owners who are researching the best boat lift for sale. Every boat owner who buys a lift will want a design that protects their investment and will serve their needs for years to come.

If you are considering a cantilever or vertical boat lift style, it is important to know that each style has specific applications to which it is better suited and this will depend on a few factors, such as your local bottom conditions, your boat’s fully loaded weight and more.

Simply put, cantilever boat lifts were originally designed to suit the needs of a typical boater in a freshwater lake, whereas pile mounted vertical lifts were designed to withstand saltwater conditions and to handle larger, ocean-going boats.

How Cantilever Boat Lifts Work

r1 cantileverlift logo 2019 650x433 image source porta dock
Porta Dock

Typically, a cantilever boat lift sits on the lakebed and uses leverage to raise a watercraft up above the water. Cantilever boat lifts rely on two H-shaped frames to transfer the weight of the boat from the cradle to the base of the lift frame. In its most simple form, the lift’s cable and pulleys exert diagonal or horizontal force to bring the H-frame structures into an upright position. This allows the boat to be lifted from the water.

The biggest drawback of a cantilever boat lift is that its structure remains submerged in the water. This allows algae and other biological growth to foul the mechanisms of the cantilever lift. This problem only gets worse if the cantilever lift is installed into saltwater. Furthermore, the lift’s structure will quickly degrade from corrosion and electrolysis when left permanently submerged in saltwater, especially given cantilever lifts are often made from steel. Pile-mounted vertical lifts are usually made from aluminum to prevent corrosion and you can raise the entire lift structure out of the water and rinse off the damaging saltwater.

What do you do with your cantilever boat lift in cold climates during winter? Pressure from the ice will quickly crush your lift if left in the water. People have come up with all types of contraptions and methods to drag cantilever boat lifts out of the water in preparation for winter. What a lot of work! Wouldn’t you rather have an easy and permanent solution for your boat?

Another drawback of cantilever boat lifts is their limited stroke, i. e. , total lifting height. To understand this, consider a boat that requires 15 inches of water to float. If your cantilever lift has 30 inches of lift travel, subtract the possible lift travel from your boat’s requirements to determine how high you can lift your boat out of the water. In this cantilever boat lift example, you would only be able to elevate your boat 15 inches above the waterline. For reference, the largest amount of travel we have seen for a cantilever lift is 66 inches, whereas, the travel of standard pile-mounted vertical lifts is twenty feet and can be made much longer with custom designed lifts.

Why is that important? As many boat owners can tell you, inclement weather and busy traffic conditions will bring choppy waters to your waterfront paradise. If you’re in a coastal area, when hurricane season pummels your boat lift with waves, every inch between your boat and the rough water makes a huge difference. With limited lift height, cantilever boat lifts do not work well in these conditions.

cantilever lift 02 image source naylor systems
Naylor Systems

It is also important to note that cantilever boat lifts cannot tolerate major fluctuations in water levels for the same reason. If a canal or lake rises due to heavy rain or a hurricane, your boat may not be stored high enough to keep it from floating away. But isn’t the goal of a boat lift to protect your valuable vessel for many years of enjoyment and use?

Additionally, bottom conditions can be a deal-breaker. This is because the design of cantilever boat lifts requires a firm bed to function properly. Even with large footing pads, cantilever lifts can sink into muddy bottoms under load. With hard bottom conditions, it can sometimes be difficult to adjust a cantilever lift into a level position due to the contours of the lakebed. This differs from vertical boat lifts, which can be installed on secure pilings regardless of rocky or muddy bottom conditions.

Due to these significant drawbacks, cantilever lifts are primarily used by boat owners on calm, shallow lakes. Plus, cantilever lifts are traditionally rated for smaller boat lift capacities, which limits usage. For reference, the typical maximum capacity for cantilever lifts is 5,000 pounds and the largest we have seen is a hydraulic model rated at 16,000 pounds.

How Are Vertical Boat Lifts Designed?

vertical lift blog post

Unlike cantilever boat lifts, vertical boat lifts are engineered to lift and store your vessel high above rough waters. Vertical boat lifts use a cable and pulley system to lower your boat.

IMM Quality’s vertical boat lifts use parallel upper beams that each contain a motor-driven shaft through their length. Four cables are wound around the shaft and connected to the four corners of the boat cradle. The cradle is then raised or lowered by a clockwise or counter-clockwise rotation of the shaft. In contrast, most cantilever lifts use a handwheel to raise and lower the lift and therefore do not require electrical power. However, by being manpowered, you have to be willing to exert the effort yourself.

Standard vertical boat lifts can accommodate boats with loaded weight that span from 4,500 pounds up to 250,000 pounds, securing them high above the choppy waves and corrosive salt water. Many offer both four-piling and eight-piling configurations, making them ideal for both shallow and deep-water applications. In contrast, cantilever lifts save money by not requiring the installation of pilings.

Because the cables bear the full weight of the boat, IMM Quality Boat Lifts has engineered our vertical boat lifts to use the mechanical advantage of pulleys to lessen the exerted force on the components. We use aluminum pulleys with a unique self-lubricating bearing that is maintenance-free. In fact, the vertical boat lifts engineered by IMM Quality Boat Lifts are considered the most efficient design for a cable-drawn lift for sale in the industry!

Check out the links below to explore each of our models in closer detail, including a photo gallery of each type of boat lift in action:

How to Choose Cantilever Boat Lifts vs Vertical Lifts

When it is time to decide between cantilever boat lifts vs vertical lifts, there are several pros and cons for boat owners to consider.

First, there’s the price point. At face value, cantilever boat lifts are the less expensive option, while vertical boat lifts require a larger up-front investment. However, upon closer examination, vertical boat lifts offer better overall value – and resale value – with proven durability, versatility and security that a cantilever boat lift just cannot match.

The disadvantages of cantilever boat lifts also provide pause, with its limitations affecting lift height, capacity, suitability to saltwater and bottom conditions that could quickly eliminate this type of lift as a possibility for your home or boat. Then, there’s the extra hassle that comes with needing to move your lift into and out of the water with the changing seasons.

Launching a boat stored on a cantilever lift is also much harder. Would you rather raise and lower your boat by hand with a cantilever lift or press a button on a remote control and let the vertical lift’s electrical motors do the work? You can set the height of the top beam so that it can be used as a step for easier boarding. As an added aesthetic advantage, IMM Quality’s top-beam vertical boat lifts can be set in a “low-profile” configuration. This allows you to deck your cradles and make a seamless wrap-around dock for easy access to your boat from all sides. It may sound like a minor feature at first, but when you want to quickly head for open waters, conveniences like these will save you precious time.

One complaint many direct against vertical boat lifts is the increased need for maintenance, stemming from the reliance on weight-bearing cables. But unlike our competitors, IMM Quality Boat Lifts’ innovative vertical boat lifts have been engineered to require little to no maintenance, by design. Setting the standard for the industry, our vertical boat lifts are engineered and manufactured in-house to deliver consistent high-quality and longevity.

If you are a boater who is debating whether to buy cantilever boat lifts vs vertical lifts, choose the vertical boat lift to maximize your investment. To learn more about the design, engineering and manufacturing of our vertical boat lifts, complete our CONTACT FORM or REQUEST A QUOTE and we’ll give you a call!

READ MORE: Six Questions to Ask Your Boat Lift Dealer