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Olivia Hudak

By: Olivia Hudak on March 18th, 2022

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How to Dock Your Pontoon Boat on a Lift

Many of us boat owners can appreciate the convenience of a boat lift. Lifts make it easier to load and unload the boat. You don’t have to worry about waves, wind, or a current pushing your boat around while trying to load your gear onboard. 


Having a lift makes the entire boating experience a lot more convenient. The purpose of a lift is to dock the boat high up above the water.  Keeping a pontoon out of the water while docked helps keep the toons looking like new for a long time.  It will also make cleaning them at the end of the season a lot easier.  


For those who have just started boating or are new to using a boat lift, the process of parking can be intimidating. It can be a challenge to line the boat up just right so that you glide into the lift without hitting the sides.


If this rings true for you and you want to learn to park your pontoon boat in the lift, this article should help you conquer that fear. I’m going to tell you all of the tips and tricks you can use to successfully park your pontoon on your boat lift. With some practice, you’ll be an expert in no time. 


Types of Pontoon Lifts

Let’s start by going over the different kinds of pontoon boat lifts. There are two common types that are available, one of which is a bunk-style lift. These are similar to a bunk-style or float-on trailer.


The other type of pontoon lifts that you’ll see are lifts with boards that slide between the toons acting as guides. There are others out there but these two are the most common lifts on the market. Both are very effective in doing their job.


Whatever kind of lift you have, it never hurts to understand the mechanics of it. How the cable system works and how the pontoon is supposed to sit are very important aspects to understand. Be sure to consult with the company you purchased or are purchasing a lift from about these mechanics. They will be able to answer any of your questions.


Canopy Options

Most lifts have the option of adding a canopy. Canopies are a great way to protect your boat from outside elements. While they help keep the inside of your boat clean, it also helps in maintaining the exterior. Canopies can reduce the amount of time you spend cleaning your boat and therefore increase the time you spend on your boat.


A canopy could be considered somewhat of a permanent cover. Depending on your preference, it can save you the hassle of putting your mooring cover on every time you dock the boat, which is maybe my least favorite part of boating.  


There are optional add-ons you can include that attach to your canvas as well. Options such as extra-long skirts that cover the entire boat from hull to bimini. There are also wind-powered bird deterrent arms that help keep the birds from perching on top of your lift. Discuss these items when ordering your lift.


The Approach

Let’s go over what it takes to successfully park your boat on the lift. First, get your boat ready for the lift. Depending on what kind of boat you have and what accessories are on board, you will have to prepare in different ways.


For example, if your pontoon boat has a bimini, most lifts will require that it be lowered. If it’s not lowered, it could catch on the top of the lift and cause all kinds of problems. This is one example of the many accessories your boat could have that will need to be adjusted before you pull into the lift.


Be sure to acknowledge what you will need to do to properly secure your boat before you pull up to the lift. I have personally broken off a navigation light that I knew was too tall to fit in the lift because I forgot to remove it before pulling up to the entry of the lift as I usually do.


In a perfect world, there would be no wind, current, or chop on the water to push your boat around while you’re trying to park. That’s rarely the case on the water, but to start out, let’s say you have one of these easy weather days.


First, you will want to line the center of the boat up with the center of the lift. This is very easy to gauge with the lifts that have a rack kit on them. These serve as a guide for the toons to slide right onto the lift. Some lift designs don’t have these guides but don’t worry, there are other tricks to help you park your boat perfectly on the lift every time.


If you have a bunk-style lift, it will be a bit harder to gauge where the toons need to be before pulling in. A good part about these lifts is that they typically have guides on the outside of the toons. This way once you get the boat somewhat into the lift, those guides should put the boat exactly where it needs to be.


Handling Wind and Current

It’s time to add in some of the obstacles that you will run into more times than not. Wind and current play a huge role in adding to the difficulty of parking your pontoon boat on a lift. Those factors can push your boat around and make it difficult to drive straight in.


Luckily, there are tricks you can use to park your boat with ease even in these less than ideal situations. The secret is…trust your judgment. You will have to gauge the wind or current speed. You have to gauge how it will affect your vessel when trying to park your boat.


I suggest taking the time while out on the open water to figure out the wind and current speed and direction. This way when you head into the lift you will already have an understanding of how these factors will influence the position of your boat.


I’ll go over an example. I live on the north side of a lake and often have to deal with strong winds blowing to the east. When I start to head into my lift, I will judge how strong the wind is and I will adjust accordingly. When aiming for the lift, I start out further to the west side. 


This way by the time I’m at the lift, the wind will have pushed my boat to the center of the opening. Granted, it doesn’t always happen on the first try. Sometimes it takes an attempt or two to get the boat positioned correctly on the lift.


A current typically affects the boat in the same way that wind would. The difference is that sometimes the current can “hide”. By this, I mean that when it is windy outside, it’s easy to tell because there’s more chop on the water. Current can be less visible on the surface of the water. Use your judgment to figure out how strong it is and how you will have to compensate.


Be Confident

When docking your boat on the lift, it is important to be confident. Even if it’s your first time parking the boat. Go in with the mentality that you can do it. Trust me, it makes a big difference in successfully parking your boat.


With that being said, once again don’t go flying into your lift at full speed. Take it slow and don’t rush it. You could end up damaging your boat, lift, or pier if you carelessly try to park your boat. Like everything else in life, practice makes perfect. The more you practice parking your boat on your lift, the quicker you will become an expert. Soon enough parking your boat on a lift will be a thoughtless action instead of a burden.


Is the Boat All the Way on the Lift?

Now that you’ve mastered pulling the boat into the lift, you want to make sure it’s positioned correctly. Always be sure that your boat is sitting straight on the lift, not too far forward, and not too far backward. This could put a strain on your lift and possibly lead to damage.


Recently, I’ve noticed people putting markers on their lift that line up with markers on their boat. This makes it super easy to know you’ve positioned your boat correctly. You can tell if the boat is sitting properly once you begin to reel it up out of the water.  


Raise the Lift All the Way Up

Lastly, you’ll want to be sure and raise the boat all of the way out of the water. This will help the toons oxidate at a slower rate and keep marine growth from building up. If they sit in the water for long periods of time, residue will build up and the toons will get gross which can actually lead to a drop in performance from the motor


Also, if you have a canopy, the higher the boat is in the lift, the more the canopy will protect the boat. The more canopy protection you have on your boat, the better luck you’ll have to keep it clean throughout the summer months.


Expert Boat Docker

You now have all the tips and tricks you need to successfully park your boat on the lift. There are so many factors that will influence the way you park your boat. It is best to practice whenever you can and always make sure you’re not in a rush when you park your boat, especially the first few times. Give yourself plenty of time to get the boat docked. 


After practicing multiple times with different environmental situations, you’ll be an expert in no time. With these simple tools, you can eliminate the fear that comes with parking on a lift.  


If you’re in the marketing for a new pontoon lift and you own a Barletta, check out our trailer and lift ordering guide. This guide provides the measurements needed to get the right lift configuration based on the model you own.

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About Olivia Hudak

Avid boater and Barletta Boats team member, Olivia is no stranger to the water. She was on the MSU wake team through college and continues to ride the wake in her spare time.