Boat owners must consider the value of their watercraft as a serious investment, regardless of the reason for its purchase. Those who have purchased any type of pleasure craft, or quality fishing or sport vessel, are obviously aware of the cost of maintaining the integrity of the boat. Even boat owners who limit their use to one or two trips per year understand the need to protect their investment from the elements. Water can be especially hazardous to a boat's life expectancy, as rust, dry rot, and normal wear that can occur in boats that are not dry-docked will take their toll in the long run.

Boat lifts are the best answer to this problem. They allow the owner to keep their vessel out of harm's way when not in use, and also make it much easier for the general maintenance procedures that must be undertaken on a regular basis to ensure the life and integrity of the boat. The best news of all regarding boat lifts is that there are a wide variety of types available for any application that need be addressed.

The most common of boat lift types is the standard four-point lift. This system is characterized most often by four to eight pilings that are installed at each corner of the berth site and along strategic points for full support and operation. Many of these are of the top-mount variety, consisting of four support columns at the corners, with each set of two columns connected by railings arranged in a parallel manner, and a pair of beams, or bunks, on which the boat rests.

Boat lifts are generally operated using winch motors that provide the lifting power, which are attached to the boat lift by steel cables. The winch will, when activated, reel in the cables using a worm screw and drive shaft to lift the apparatus. The winch motors will be housed and sealed to protect them from the elements, and the better lifts will come standard with drive shafts that open to provide easy access for maintenance and inspection.

Another style of boat lift is the free-standing type. These are very adaptable to mooring sites that do not readily lend themselves to standard boat lifts. They are also the best kind to use for lake docking, especially in those areas where water freezes during winter months. These type are of a one-piece construction, and can be dropped exactly where the owner wishes, to sit securely on the lake bottom. This type of boat lift can be either a vertical or a cantilevered style, depending on the size of the boat and space requirements.

Some boat lifts are known as elevator lifts. These are the probably the best type for permanent moorings that can provide a solid mounting foundation, such as a seawall or a permanent dock. This type of boat lift is best described as a forklift, consisting of support beams underneath that lift the boat out of the water when activated. Many such lifts operate using chains, yet the higher quality types use tracks, which are less likely to break down from constant operation. Boats that weigh 6,000 pounds or less will use a straight-up lifting method, whereas boats of higher weights will require a lifting track arrangement that is angled at around 24°.