Close-up of a large rusted bolt and nut on a boat lift at Lake of the Ozarks.

Solving the “Rusty Riddle” of a Boat Lift at Lake of the Ozarks

As long-time local boat lift manufacturers in Missouri, LOTO Lift has worked on just about every kind of problem a boat lift at Lake of the Ozarks can develop. The following story details how our team solved the problem of rust and corrosion on boat lifts.

Solving the “Rusty Riddle”

By L.C. McDowell & C. Barrington Osborn

I’m going to start off with a story that we hear about boat lifts, unfortunately, all too often. As a matter of fact, I was in the office a little early this morning and the phone rang. Usually, I take that time in solace to respond to emails and write the day’s tasks on the office whiteboard. But I had some time, so I picked up the phone to speak with Marianne who was dealing with a problem at the worst possible time. 

As I talked with her she gave me her backstory. Marianne and her husband are retired, enjoying spending time with the grandkids on their new pontoon making those kinds of memories that we all cherish. Her husband usually takes care of all the “boat stuff”. However, he’s been dealing with some health issues. “No problem,” she thought, “I’ve got this!” 

So she got their boat winterized. She stowed all the dock’s outdoor furniture cushions in the shed & locked it up. Then making sure the cover was properly attached to the boat, she gave their boat lift at Lake of the Ozarks some “fresh air” by putting it in the full upright position. And she even tied off the boat for good measure. With her checklist complete, she headed back to the house to “cook dinner and tend to the baby, er, I mean hubby…” (Her words, not mine!)  With her work completed, she couldn’t help glancing at the dock and feeling very accomplished to see her dock looking neat and tidy with the boat all squared away and ready for any winter freezes

Marianne woke up early this morning to see her husband off to another doctor’s visit in Columbia and to make some coffee. While enjoying the sunrise with her cup of java, she looked toward the dock to once again admire her handiwork. To her dismay, she was shocked to see the bow of her pontoon up in the air nearly touching the roof of the dock and the outboard motor down in the water. 

Frustrated, she exclaimed to me on the phone, “I just don’t know what I could have done wrong!” Having heard this kind of story before, I assured her that I had an idea of what was happening and that this was most likely no fault of her own.  After a few photos confirmed my suspicions I had to break the bad news, which, by the way, I never like doing.

The Problem of Rust & Corrosion

Over time the galvanized bolts securing her boat lift’s tanks to the frame had rusted through and had broken loose. This caused the tanks at the rear of the lift to break loose and sink. When this happens, most of the time the frame of the lift gets bent. And other than replacement there aren’t a lot of options. Had it not been for her wisely tying off the boat it may very well have been much worse.

I cannot tell you how many frantic calls we have gotten over the past 13 years with this very same issue. Sometimes it can even start with something as simple as a loose hose clamp allowing air to escape and water to come in. This will later cascade into a similar situation.

Steel Above the Waterline

We had two primary reasons for our innovative boat lift design that keeps all the steel above the waterline. The first was our children’s safety, where getting all conductive materials out of the water was imperative. The second reason was that we believed that by getting all of our tank attachments high and dry they would be last much longer. And that would mean there would be less maintenance required for any LOTO Lift boat lift at Lake of the Ozarks which would result in fewer people finding themselves in Marianne’s situation.

We decided that this was an all-too-common occurrence. Plus, it was potentially very dangerous it needed to be addressed. “We can do even better,” said C. Barrington Osborn with regard to design improvement. “What are we missing as an industry because we all use galvanized fasteners?  Why do some rust worse than others?”

Research and Development

Then, after a good deal of research and development, coupled with a painfully boring deep-dive into metallurgy, we solved the issue! Here’s what we discovered.

Galvanizing is the most common anti-corrosive treatment for hardware because it’s cheaply done in scale. It puts a layer of heated zinc over the raw steel. 

This helps by adding a layer of naturally anticorrosive material over the untreated highly corrosive uncoated steel, thus preventing rust. (See, I warned you that it was boring!)

So the question became, “Why do these bolts keep rusting out? They are galvanized so they should be good, right?”

Well, not exactly. I mean, sure, if you took a galvanized bolt out of the box and put it in a boat lift at Lake of the Ozarks it would last a while. But that’s not what we do when we build things. We use high-powered tools in order to fasten the nuts and bolts tightly together. Then we use locking nuts to increase the friction, thus making the joint more secure. And by tightening the bolts we create friction and heat. Voila! That same heat that puts the zinc on will also take it right back off!

Eureka! We figured out the “rusty riddle”! The bolts rust because the protective layer gets damaged, heated, and removed when we tighten them. So, if you’re still reading this excruciatingly boring article on rust, you’re probably wanting to know how we solved the issue.

The X-Factor

We tried lubricants silicone, oil, grease, talcum, water, and graphite, all to no avail. Frustrated, in the end, we had to change the metal completely. We went to stainless steel. Eventually, we settled on a similar stainless steel alloy as Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket. Impressive, right?

Stainless steel has been used in saltwater building applications for years, but not so much in freshwater environments. Our thought was, “Hey, if it can hold up in space as well as in the ocean, it might even work here at the Lake of the Ozarks!”  Sure, it was a little more money, but our customers are well worth it.

A deeply corroded bolt represents larger problems with boat lift parts.
The problem - corrosion.
A stainless steel fastener on a LOTO Lift boat lift at Lake of the Ozarks.
The solution - stainless steel.

Other Rusting Components: Also Unacceptable

Upon further research, we noticed that the crimps also had a propensity to rust so we changed them as well. Changing from Zinc to a Stainless Steel crimping system not only resists rust but also allows for a tighter fit. Furthermore, it’s more anti-corrosive and also allows for heat expansion and cold contraction. This is important due to Missouri’s schizophrenic weather patterns!

So, if by some miracle you are still reading this, we’re glad to report that Marrianne is fine. We were able to get her taken care of and no one got hurt.

The Good News for Your Boat Lift

And now, back to the present day, where the really good news in all of this is that there is an extremely effective alternative to rusting and corrosion on a boat lift at Lake of the Ozarks or anywhere else in the continental United States. It’s readily available and it all started here at LOTO Lift, the leading boat lift manufacturers at Lake of the Ozarks. 

Our team’s innovative engineering has pioneered the way for boat lift technology industry-wide. So when you want the original and the best, contact LOTO Lift today and speak to one of our friendly team members!

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