Deck boats and party barges have seen a huge surge in popularity within the pleasure boating market, and for good reason. One of the great pleasures in boating is being able to hang out with a group of friends in a relaxed, “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” setting. Whether pontoon boat, catamaran, or multi-hull, there are some easy steps to take to ensure that these types of vessels, with their large square footage and infinite accessories, stay properly supported when out of the water and on your boat lift.
The first step is to find out if the manufacturer has any recommended or required methods to properly support these vessels. Sometimes boat builders have exact support designs to ensure hull protection, making the process a no-brainer (especially if the vessel is still under warranty). If the manufacturer has no specific recommendations, then the next step is to examine the trailer on which the vessel was hauled. Simply reproducing the trailer’s configuration is a good place to start, but be sure to examine the trailer and boat thoroughly to ensure that the trailer did not have a design flaw that caused damage to the boat. Also, be aware that certain types of trailer support systems are not easily transferred to a standard boat lift.
If the first two methods of support design are not available, you’ll need to design from scratch. The first thing to be aware of is what areas on the vessel are structurally sound. In most cases, it is the hulls or pontoons themselves that are designed to hold the load. This certainly makes sense since these are what supports the boats’ load in the water, but remember, water provides evenly distributed support throughout the hull. Once the vessel is raised from the water, some type of structure must support all loads. This creates potential “point loading” which is what damages vessels.
The safest configuration for most multi-hull boats is parallel longitudinal support of each of the outboard hulls. For vessels with more than two hulls, it is usually OK to support the outer two hulls and let the middle hull hang freely. For a round bottom aluminum pontoon, a V-shaped longitudinal support will often distribute the load well enough that the hulls won’t buckle or dent. Square edged fiberglass pontoons are usually best supported by flat, longitudinal bunks placed so that the corners of the hulls handle the majority of the load. On longer, multi-hull boats, be aware that the further the boat extends beyond the lifter beams, the less support the bunking system will provide the hull. The inherent flexibility in all materials tends to focus a higher amount of load directly over the lifter beams. One popular solution for long, bi-hull boats is to construct a raised structure that is elevated high enough to directly support the frame of the boat and keep the pontoons off the lifter beams. While these approaches are not comprehensive, they work for the majority of the multi-hull boats.
As with any hull style, each fit-up should be approached on an individual basis and never assumed that any two boats are the same. To be sure that your method of hull protection and support will work for your vessel, ask for guidance from your lift manufacturer and installing dealer. When you contact the manufacturer and/or installer, have as much information available as you can to prevent damage and ensure your vessel is around to provide relaxation for years to come.
So, why would there be a blog topic about choosing the “right” boat on a boat lift website? Well, it turns out that the factors that influence which boat you purchase are often directly connected to whether or not you purchase a boat lift, and which type of lift you buy. Without getting into specifics of any one type of vessel, let me put your mind at ease: whatever boat you choose will be the perfect boat for you. The choice you make is all about who you are and what you desire, not the opinions of salesmen, friends and “experts.” And if you find that you don’t like your decision down the road, you can always change your mind.
Let’s start with some important questions to ask yourself when considering buying a boat:
What do I like about boats?
Do I want to connect with other people while boating or enjoy the solitude of the sea?
Do I enjoy the action of water sport or the relaxation of cocktails?
Am I a minimalist or do I need luxuries?
What is more important in the vessel: function or form?
What is the environment that I will be operating in look like?
Will I be doing my own maintenance or will I hire someone else to keep up the boat?
When you begin to uncover the answers to these questions, your internal compass will point you towards a particular style of boat with certain generalized features. Most of this applies to first time boat owners. If you are a seasoned captain, then you probably already know exactly what you want when buying a boat, with a very specific list of amenities. If you are a longtime boat owner and find your boating activities becoming boring or burdensome, then this exercise might just open up a new perspective for you. Don’t rush the process; come up with your own questions as well and always think outside the box. Just remember, the only perfect boat for you is the one that you choose.
Once you decide on which boat is for you, much of the decision-making process that you went through to choose your boat will directly apply to choosing the right boat lift system to protect your new investment. For example, if you decided on a beautiful Chris Craft inboard wooden restored original masterpiece, you will want to design some type of covered structure to maintain the finish. In this case, a boathouse type lift would be a good consideration. If you were into wakeboarding and making multiple trips onto the water, a high-speed lift might be in order, enabling you to spend more time having fun and less time waiting on the dock. In tight quarters with limited dock access, a lift without a top beam may be your best choice. Whatever your final decision, always choose a service provider (boat dealer, marine contractor, and lift manufacturer) who has a focus on what is best for you as the customer and not what they want to sell you.
If you are enjoying the pleasures of boating in the coastal marine environment, you will most likely have to deal with the threat of severe weather at some point. With sustained high-speed winds and a large coverage area, hurricanes are the most dramatic of these events, often making for a high potential for destruction. The good news is that there is plenty of time to prepare. While the best solution is to relocate the vessel out of the storm area, this may not be practical based on personal safety factors and limited availability of time and resources.
If your only option is to leave your vessel on its boatlift, step one is to secure the vessel. Remove and store canvas, cushions, or any other exposed, loose items that may be caught and destroyed by the wind. If possible you can “bag off” for rain protection any critical gear for example engines, generators, electronics. It may not be a good idea to cover batteries as that may trap escaping gasses and create an explosion hazard.
The most critical factor in hurricane preparation is to create a draining system to prevent water from accumulating in the hull and overloading the lift or flood motors and batteries. It is not wise to rely on bilge pumps for water evacuation since they can be rendered useless in a storm, therefore leaving your vessel vulnerable. Almost all boats are equipped with an external drain plug located at the lowest point of the vessel. This drain plug needs to be removed to allow for gravity drainage. Also, don’t forget to check for potential debris obstruction at the main hull drain and in the bulkheads toward the bow. Water must be able to flow freely.
Once the vessel’s loose items are secured, the next step is to secure the vessel within the lift system. At this point, a judgment call must be made. All mechanical lift systems, pile-mounted lifts, elevators, and davits have maximum lifting height. This is the highest point that you will be able to raise your boat. If you do not know what that height is, please contact your manufacturer or your installing contractor for assistance in determining what that elevation is. If an estimated storm surge height will exceed the limits of the lift, you may want to create an alternate storage method in your hurricane preparation plan.
If we assume that you can raise your lift high enough to keep your boat above the estimated surge height, the goal is then to secure the vessel to an adjacent structure. This will prevent the vessel from moving on the lift system, as well as adding temporary additional bracing to the lift structure. While there are many ways to bolster additional support, the methods that are presented here involve the tie-down approach. This method is easily deployed before a storm and easily removed after the winds have subsided. A set of high capacity ratchet straps may make the task easier but the same goal can be achieved with the vessel’s mooring lines. Look around the lift system for other solid structures – this will commonly be a dock pile, but items such as trees, securely fastened cleats, or even the vessel’s anchor can be used!
When the vessel is secured, the ideal line position will be as far fore and aft as possible, 90˚ to the centerline of the boat and 45˚ down from the horizontal plane of the fastening point on the vessel. If the anchor points on the adjacent structures aren’t in the correct location, just get as close as you can with as many lines as you can.
Raise the boat within about two feet of its maximum storage height; if you are using ratchet straps you can raise the vessel to its maximum storage height. Tie the mooring lines to a solid structure on the vessel and then to the anchor points selected on land. Use of proper knots (a bowline or clove hitch) will make releasing the lines much easier later. Once the lines are secured, raise the lift and boat to the maximum height to create additional tension in the lines. This process may take some experimentation with the ropes, knots and lift travel needed to get everything secured. During this process, be aware that the additional tension being added to the lines adds load to the lift. Make sure not to make power of the lift cause an induced overload situation. If you are using ratchet straps, the process becomes a bit easier – you simply need to connect the straps and tighten them down. If you are talented with mooring lines, you can utilize a “trucker’s knot” to post-tension the lines while tying the vessel in its maximum height storage position. While there are no guarantees in a storm, at least you can rest assured that you made your best attempt to secure the vessel. That hurricane preparation may come in very handy when discussing your insurance settlement with your adjuster.