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Boat Lift Motor Troubleshooting Guide


Some boat lift problems are easy to take care of, like replacing a fuse or flipping a breaker. If your boat lift stops, smokes, or starts making a horrible noise, consulting a professional is highly advised.

Extending the life of your boat by using a boat lift is generally a good investment, but what if it stops working at the very wrong time?! A boat lift is a complex structure that requires attention and maintenance. If there is a slight chance that it was installed incorrectly or used for a much larger weight than intended, problems with the boat lift will arise rather soon.

Also, boat lift motors need to be wired correctly with the proper size wires to avoid voltage drops and overheating. That includes proper grounding of the dock. It is very important that GFCI is present within your wiring. If there is a problem with undervoltage, it can literally “save the day”.

When your GFCI is constantly tripping, you need to call a certified electrician to check the problem out. Also, make sure that you do not plug in GFCI into another GFCI.

In the marine environment, it is very common to have moisture buildups within the motor, switch, or capacitor. High humidity is also responsible for the corrosion of terminals and the structure itself. With proper care, boat lifts will serve you for many years to come. Unfortunately, situations of misuse and neglect are common and they are not covered by warranty.

What to do if you get stuck with a lift motor problem? Here is a simple solution for you:

Now, let’s look at three common types of problems every  boat lift owner gets to experience once in a while:

General wear and tear

Most boat lifts are made out of steel that can rust and give you problems! Aluminum, on the other hand, has a higher oxidation and corrosion resistance (according to this source).

If you notice that corrosion is taking over your structure, there is a way to scrub some corrosion off and apply a protective sealant. Lift cables are also made out of steel and should be replaced with the first sign of rust.

You also need to make sure that your boat lift is greased properly and your belts are tight.

Mechanical issues

Who is making that noise? When your boat hoist starts making weird sounds, you know that something is wrong! But, not all sounds are created equal.

Certain sounds alert you, that if don’t take care of the problem right away, it could turn into something more complicated (like a falling lift, for example). The most common sounds produced by boat lifts are:

  • Clicking. Very often new hoists are making a clicking noise. It’s a normal operating noise that is caused by the release of pressure and should disappear at some point. If your boat lift is exceptionally noisy, you can try greasing the unit better and adjusting the belts.
  • Squealing. This is the sound that you should be worried about! When noticed, stop using the lift and find a specialist to check it out! Your boat lift could be installed improperly or not greased adequately. It is recommended to grease your unit at least two times per year or more if used heavily.
  • Humming. I will not be talking about the humming sound here, because this is an electrical issue, see below (Electrical Issues).

Electrical issues

If your boat lift doesn’t go up or down, it’s highly likely to be a motor problem. When your boat motor just dies on you while lifting, there could be an issue with the proper voltage being delivered.


A boat lift motor that starts “humming” without doing anything, could have a problem with a start capacitor or centrifugal switch. Before going crazy and getting a technician, make sure that your breakers are not flipped or fuses are not burnt.

If you are powering your DC boat lift from batteries, make sure they are not dead and connected properly. After you determine that electricity is not obstructed by anything and there is a right amount of it, you may want to have your motor checked by a professional.

Your boat lift motor may just require a little cleaning. Corrosion, bugs, and dirt are common enemies of electrical conductivity and if the motor gets cleaned in a professional manner, maybe a replacement is not necessary.

You could take your boat lift motor to the local electric motor repair shop and see if they could do something.

Drum switch

Another electrical problem could arise within your switch. Rusty circuit contacts, bad or frayed wiring could all end up keeping your boat lift not working and worst of all, unsafe.

** Warning! Electrical problems can get very complicated, especially in a humid and wet environment. Any error in wiring or a loose wire in water could lead to burns, death, and costly equipment damage.

This is why if you are not 100% sure about what you are doing, please do NOT do anything! Get an electrician to help you out!

Installation issues

There are certain specifications to how your boat lift has to be installed, which vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Also, make sure the unit is not damaged in any way before you begin the installation process.

Boat lift structures have a very carefully calculated design in order to be able to lift your boat, you cannot make any mistakes there! This means that you have to follow the instructions EXACTLY as in a manual (no creative alterations and add-ons)!

Every unit has a rating of how much they can lift. Any small adjustments on your side (like changing angles and diameters), will change the alignment and rating of your whole boat lift!

After installing your boat lift, make sure to run it up and down a few times before using it. This will ensure that all mechanical parts will be greased properly.

Make to check ALL the screws for tightness and do not do any modifications that your manufacturer would not approve. Welding unit or gear plate to the structure is also not advised and in some cases warranty will be voided.

Proper maintenance

Many mechanical problems could be avoided with proper maintenance. Here are common suggestions from boat lift manufacturers:

  1. Regreasing every six months. This is a mechanical device and while parts rub against each other, the grease layer starts getting thinner and thinner.
  2. Retighten the screws once in a while. Due to the vibrational nature of the boat lift, screws could get loose and cause all kinds of problems.

We all want our boat lifts to work when they have to, but this is life and there is a lot of friction, vibration, and moisture involved. Most problems with boat lifts are avoidable if you do yearly maintenance and take care of it in general.

It is very important to take good care of your boat lift, so it doesn’t let you down when you need it the most:

Attention! This article is for informational purposes ONLY and is NOT a replacement for professional advice! ALWAYS consult your local specialist for an appropriate solution to your problem. All statements, prices, contact information, recommendations, and reviews contained herein came from sources that we believe to be reliable, but the accuracy or completeness thereof is not guaranteed. Please contact the service provider for complete details and updates.

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