Everything You Need to Know About Boat Lift Safety

A Boat Lift Safety Lesson

Image of sinking boat

My lift cable broke…and I can’t ….

Proper boat lift safety means you won’t have to learn the tough lesson pictured here. If you apply these recommendations, you can relax and enjoy your boating experience.

Failure to follow these safety suggestions may result in damage to your boat or even personal injury.

Boat Lift Safety = Never exceeding the Ratings

The rated capacity of any lift is the maximum capacity, and you should never exceed that amount. 

Boat weight INCLUDES more than just the published weight of the boat. It also includes the weight of fuel, water, and equipment. After all, you will be lifting all of this when you raise your boat. It adds up very quickly! 

Plus, we recommend that you allow at least a 300-500# margin of error when you calculate the boat weight. See also: Sizing a Boatlifts: How to select the correct Boat Lift.

If you ever hear a salesperson say, “You can easily go 40% or 50% over that rating without a problem”. You are at risk of being the owner of the boat above if you follow that flawed thinking. 

What’s the real story?

Lift cables are rated much higher than the rating of the boat lift. As an example, (using imaginary numbers) your boat lift has a 4,000# rating, it could have cables rated for 6,000# to 8,000#. 

The cable rating may be 6,000#, but ONLY if the wires are in perfect shape – meaning no burrs, kinks, frays, or rust. These defects reduce the load capacity of the cables. 

The lift racks are correctly rated for the weight regardless of the cable ratings. If someone is trying to sell you a 4,000# lift and telling you that it can handle up to 4,700# – WALK AWAY!!

The load must also be “balanced” on the rack for proper boat lift safety. (More on this later)

Lift cables fail without warning

Sorry!! Cables don’t “creak” or “groan” as a warning of impending danger. The only sound you hear is a loud “snap” followed by the sound of your boat hitting the water.

In a storm, you want to get your boat as high above the water as possible. Yet, raising a boat until the lifting platform or rack hits the frame is NOT the way to do it. 

Hitting the frame is an all too common occurrence. Ask yourself, if raising the boat that extra ½” is worth snapping a cable. You risk damage to your boat and lift, or worse yet, personal injury.

Operate Lift Motors properly or break a cable 

Properly used, an electric lift motor is a real back saver! I wouldn’t be without one. But you need to exercise extra care when using a lift motor. Shutting off a lift motor does not mean the lifting action will stop. What if it “drifts”?

For example, one brand of lift motor “drifts” after the motor stops. The “drift” potentially causes the lift rack and frame to jam together. 

Cable failure, lift or boat damage, personal injury, or worse may be the result. 

When the rack hits the lift frame, something has to give. The most likely culprit will be the cables. If you combine a damaged cable with a rack hitting the frame, you have a recipe for disaster.

OK, You Jammed the Rack & Frame! – What comes next?

You were distracted, and now the rack is jammed against the frame. A jammed rack means your next step is critical. 

You’re in a hurry to release the pressure, but be sure you know which way the motor will go when you flip the switch. 

If the rack isn’t going “DOWN,” damage occurs almost instantly. If it is a broken cable – your boat goes down – even faster!! Starting the winch or motor in the wrong direction could mean your boat will be in the water in an instant. Did I mention it won’t be floating?

Proper Positioning of the boat is part of boat lift safety.

As if a jammed rack wasn’t enough, did you know there are right ways and wrong ways to position your boat on your lift?

image of a Boat stern overhanging the lift

Boat stern overhanging too far

All lift ratings are based on a “balanced load.” In other words, the weight of the boat must be relatively equal on each end of the rack. 

When you put the majority of the weight on one end of the rack, cable breakage is more likely.

The heaviest part of any boat will be where the engine is mounted. That could be at the stern (outboards) or even near the middle of the boat (inboards). 

A boat placed too far forward on the lift rack results in excessive weight on the “front” of the lift. Too far to the stern of the boat puts too much weight on the rear cables. If the cables have weakened by corrosion or fraying, you risk impending disaster.

What is the correct position for a boat on a lift?

You can determine the proper positioning of a boat by placing the stern of the boat within 12″ – 18″ of the rear lift rack. Now, raise the rack slightly out of the water.

Next, try to lift the bow end with your hands. If the boat weighs 3,500# and you can lift the front of the boat, you are either “Mr. Atlas” or the boat is positioned to the rear. If you can lift the bow at all, your boat is too far back. The weight is not evenly distributed across the four corners of the lift. Lower the boat and reposition it forward.

The boat shown here overhangs about 36″ from the rack and risking major damage. By placing the boat too far back on the rack, a majority of the weight is on the rear cables. What if those cables are weak from corrosion or fraying?

Does high water affect the positioning of a boat?

Yes, it does. In the example above, with the rear of the rack overloaded, the boat has only minimal weight on the front rack. 

Your boat will float on a wave. When the bottom of the boat is “lapped” by a wave, it will try to raise the boat. With repeated lifting (or bouncing) the boat can work it’s way off the rack. It will try to go go to the rear. Eventually, the boat will literally “bounce” right off the lift. 

With a balanced boat, you have a better chance of the boat staying on the rack.

Align the boat in the same position each time.

So, now you have repositioned your boat until you found a good position for a balanced load. What comes next? 

It’s time to make a note of a fixed object on the boat and how it lines up with something on the lift. This is a good gauge for the next time you enter your lift. Always try to go back to this same position.


You now know the do’s and don’t of boat lift ratings and positioning for your boat. With this knowledge, you can Relax and Enjoy your boating experience.

Where is Pier & Waterfront Solutions?

Located at 7325 St. Hwy 57, it’s 3 miles south of Sturgeon Bay, and 1 mile past the intersection of Cty MM (heading north). Look on the right side, one mile north, at the next intersection (Idlewild Road and Hwy 57).


During this time of uncertainty, Pier & Waterfront Solutions is staying “open.” We have implemented measures to ensure the safety of our employees and visitors. At the same time, we are working to maintain the trusted service that you have come to expect.

We are implementing these precautionary measures:

1. Conducting as much business as possible by email, text, or phone.
2. Site visits will continue but with limited in-person meetings. When in-person contacts are necessary, we will follow “social distancing” guidelines.
3. Our display yard is always open for you to examine at your leisure. All displays have a numbered, red tag on them. If you want more information or pricing, please reference that number.

That’s not all!

4. Some employees are working remotely, but they are always available by phone.
5. Any employee exhibiting symptoms or illness is sent home.
6. We provide estimates and invoices by email to make the process paperless and faster.
7. Crew starting times are being staggered to limit social interactions.
8. We keep the same crews together to limit cross interactions.

With these measures, we hope everyone will stay safe, and we will be back to normal operations soon. 

What can YOU do to help us? 

1. Please conduct as much business as possible via emails, messaging, and emails. This step protects everyone involved.
2. When you see our crews installing equipment, please practice “social distancing.”


Please call, message, or email us with any questions.

Thank you for allowing us to work with you.

Let’s all stay safe!


Jerry @ (920) 493-4404 or Jerry@wisconsinpws.com – Commercial work & new/used Sales.
Dave @ (920) 905-2588 or Dave@wisconsinpws.com – Erosion control & shoreline work.
Jerry @ (920) 493-4404 or Jerry@wisconsinpws.com – Scheduling & Service work