Posted on March 3, 2022

Boat Lift vs. Pontoon Lift: The Difference Between a Boat Lift and a Pontoon Lift

What is the difference between a boat lift and a pontoon lift?

Written by ShoreMaster Marketing

No matter what kind of boat you have or where you boat, a boat lift is an important investment for waterfront enthusiasts. Boat lifts and their accessories make it so much easier to get on and off the water faster, which leaves more time for truly enjoying your boat. Boat lifts protect your boat from getting damaged by the elements and other hazards of the shoreline, including the water itself and your dock. The upfront cost might seem a little steep, depending on your requirements from a boat lift.

 All boat lifts are designed to lift boats out of the water, so a boat lift is a boat lift and should fit your craft, right? Not necessarily. Pontoon boat owners have a little more to think about before they invest in a boat lift, including length, width, weight capacity, and all of the other factors that go into purchasing other boat lifts, like ease of use and motor integration. Read on to learn a little more about the considerations you’ll need to make to protect your pontoon or tritoon boat properly.


ShoreMaster Infinity RS7 with IPE Decking and Vertical Lift with Black Canopy

Pontoon Frame Features 

Boat lifts for pontoons require different features than lifts for boats with V-shaped hulls. Pontoons are much larger boats, both in terms of weight and dimensions, which means that a sturdier lift is required. Your pontoon boat lift will need the ability to support the design, structure, and weight of a pontoon, which means taking the weight distribution and width into account. Instead of a single set, a pontoon boat lift will have at least two bunk boards to support each pontoon. It will also have a larger footprint than many other boat lifts—a pontoon is typically around three and a half feet longer than a standard boat lift, which accommodates the size of the pontoon. ShoreMaster’s pontoon lifts include a guide system to ensure that you’re ready to start lifting your boat out of the water as soon as your lift is set up properly.

Adapting Your Existing Lift

While you should consult an expert before undertaking any serious projects, some boat lifts can be adapted into pontoon lifts to accommodate a new boat. Regular lifts will require the addition of bunk or pontoon rail kits to fit the pontoons properly. A handy boater might be able to DIY extra bunks out of lumber and carpet to avoid marring the underside of the boat (one extra pair for a pontoon and a third pair for a tritoon). If you’re not a handy person, or if a conversion is a daunting project, it’s possible to pay someone else to do the conversion, or you can buy a rail kit to install yourself. Before making any modifications, you’ll want to note the weight of your boat while it’s fully loaded and fueled, as well as how the weight is distributed. If your pontoon boat is 25 feet or longer, though, don’t take the chance and make the upgrade to a pontoon lift instead.

Boat Lift Structure

Different boat lifts, even for pontoons, work in different ways. For pontoon boat lifts, there are typically three styles. Center lifts support pontoons and are typically made of sturdy materials coated in vinyl to protect the underbelly of your boat and pontoons. Bunk cradles are more stable and act like the bunks on a boat trailer. Sling-style lifts work best for deeper water, lie flat against the ground, take up less space than other docks, and support the pontoon weight from above rather than below. 

Other Boat Lift Criteria

One other thing that pontoon lifts have in common with other boat lifts is that choosing and installing them is about more than just the boat itself. Of course, having a lift that works with your boat should be a top priority, but here are other factors you should consider as well.

  • Whether you want electrical or manual lift operation.
  • Appropriate permits, rules, and regulations in your area, such as your HOA or state.
  • Whether you have salt or freshwater.
  • How constant (or not) your water level is.
  • The width of your slip.
  • How strong the winds in your area are.
  • The amount of traffic your water gets.

These factors can affect lift choices like the materials it’s built from, the style, whether you need an accessible power source, or whether you’re allowed to have one at all. Make sure that you do your homework before buying a lift. Even if you’re not sure what you need right away, all of this information will help your local dealer pick out something that’s ideal for your needs.

ShoreMaster Pontoon Lifts and Accessories

ShoreMaster’s pontoon boat lifts are designed for today’s pontoon owners. The benefits of a pontoon boat lift include providing ultimate functionality, usability, and dependability. We over-engineer our boat lifts and the accessories that go with them out of aluminum, and we build them to withstand the elements in all waters. We also test our boat lifts to ensure that we’re selling a great product, and we use our engineering and waterfront expertise and spirit of innovation to make improvements when we need to. For more information about our pontoon boat lifts, recommendations on what works with your waterfront and budget, or even installation help, contact a local ShoreMaster dealer.