Hoisted boat on a private dock on a freshwater lake.

Boat Hoists vs. Pneumatic Boat Lifts: Which is Right For You?

Boat hoists and pneumatic boat lifts are two different types of devices used to raise boats from the water. Most hoist systems use winches with chains, cables, or gears to raise the boat, while pneumatic boat lift systems use air pressure to lift boats. Both devices have their pros and cons, but ultimately it is up to the boater to decide which device is best for them.

What Are Boat Hoists and What Do They Do?

Boat lifts and hoists are devices used to elevate boats out of the water when they’re not in use or need repair. Some types are designed for larger craft, such as fishing boats and yachts that you would see on the ocean. These large boat lift hoists are usually freestanding and are installed beside the dock. Some used in shipyards and oceanfront marinas are moveable on large rollers and can maneuver over the boat slips (pictured below).

Boat hoist at Island Harbour marina, Isle of Wight, England

Besides these large devices, there are also small boat lift hoists that are more suitable for freshwater pleasure boats like we see on our Missouri lakes and inland across the U.S. These may be stationary and bottom-mounted or mounted on pilings or docks. Others use rigging from above the craft (such as in the picture at the top of this page).

One type uses pulleys with chains or cables to raise the boat, another utilizes rails and worm gears. Their source of power can be manual winch systems or electric boat hoist motors. Others employ hydraulic systems to elevate the boat. Usually, the boat is secured to the hoist with a metal bracket, and then it is winched up by the apparatus.

Boat docked on a hoist by a dock on a misty morning.
There are small boat hoists for pleasure craft designed for saltwater, as well as for freshwater lakes and ponds.


This type of lift is very reliable and can handle large boats easily. However, boat hoists can be expensive to purchase and install.

Portable hoists can a handy option for smaller boats, and they are fairly easy to use and store. Small enough to be carried in a pickup truck or SUV, they can be handy at times. Some are even used as boat storage systems for dry dock in yards, private garages or outbuildings, or in boat storage units.


For lake applications, there are some drawbacks to hoist systems. One is that they can be dangerous if not used properly. They can also be difficult to operate, and they can also be quite expensive. Boat lift hoists also require a lot of space, which may not be available in some marinas and boatyards. 

They are generally not as fit for use where the water freezes or where the lake level can fluctuate significantly. For instance, we have a significant annual drawdown at Lake of the Ozarks during which property owners can work on repairing or installing seawalls. Plus, many years we experience frozen waters and ice floes. These conditions render bottom standing, piling mounted, or shore mounted hoists less practical.

Additionally, cables can rust and corrode, get out of alignment, or even break. Therefore it is essential to conduct regular boat hoist inspections and maintenance to ensure that the cables, chains, gears, or other moving parts are all in order.

Portable hoists tend to be less suitable in lakes, particularly where there is deep water. Plus, there’s the added hassle of setting them up and breaking them down.

Dock sitting on ice at Lake of the Ozarks
Ice floes at Lake of the Ozarks can be particularly hard on docks and boat lifts..


When shopping for a hoist system or a pneumatic lift, one must be careful to understand the nuances of the two terminologies. The words boat hoist and “boat lift” are used interchangeably in today’s market

However, the term “boat lift” encompasses a wide spectrum of types and boat apparatuses to lift boats from the water. And the term ‘boat hoist” speaks of the types of lift systems that utilize chains, cables, or gears and motors. Still, some people still use the two terms interchangeably. 

So you need to be aware of the different types and operations of boat lifts and hoists when considering a purchase.

What Are Pneumatic Boat Lifts and What Do They Do?

A pneumatic boat lift, also known as a floating boat lift, is a device used to quickly and easily drydock and launch boats. It can be attached to either a stationary or floating dock. It uses compressed air to lift a boat out of the water and lower it back in.

The watercraft rests on bunks that are mounted on a frame attached to floatation tanks or pontoons. Air is pumped into the tanks to hoist the boat and subsequently removed from them to lower and launch the boat.

These drive-on boat lift systems are beneficial because they are much quieter than a boat hoist, and are is also easier to operate.

V-hull boat floating on a lake lift, docked at lake of the Ozarks. To learn more, read our Boat Lift FAQs!
Pneumatic boat lifts are the most common type of lift used at Lake of the Ozarks.


The number one benefit we hear about is that customers feel safe using them and they find them to be simple to operate. Plus, their drive-on construction adds to the ease of use.

Since our pneumatic lifts are designed where the steel is kept above the waterline, they don’t have much issue with rust and corrosion.

Once your boat lift dealer installs the unit for you, it is fully assembled and ready for you to use immediately. And it’s definitely a low-maintenance product.

As water levels fluctuate, since the boat lift floats, it simply adjusts along with the water. So it is able to keep your boat safely out of the water.


While pneumatic boat lifts have many advantages, they also have a few drawbacks. For one, they can be more expensive than small boat hoists. Some brands require more maintenance, and others may not be as reliable in cold weather. Additionally, pneumatic lifts can be difficult to operate if there is a power outage.

So Which Is Better?

LOTO Lift is a boat lift manufacturer at Lake of the Ozarks and we have observed over many years the clear advantage of floating boat lifts over boat hoists when it comes to freshwater boating lakes.

However, there are always copycats out there who take a design and build a cheap boat lift that is an imitation of one of the better products on the market. In the push to make more money, the imitator will typically construct the lifts or hoists with cheaper parts and labor. And they normally have no thorough understanding of the necessary engineering involved. So always do your research on the individual boat lift companies whose products interest you. A cheap boat lift is cheap for a reason.

Also,remember that the names and terminologies get confused, so be sure to read up on the product you’re investigating and ask the boat lift dealer some good questions. And, as always, please feel free to contact us with your questions about our products and services.

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