Lifting a 20,000-pound boat out of the water smoothly and seamlessly? Piece of cake. For a real challenge, try putting a 28-foot boat into a 24-foot boat slip and closing the door behind it.
That’s the kind of situation the team at Northshore Waterfront Solutions really enjoys. “We love the fun stuff!” David Robson says with a grin.
The company made its mark manufacturing and installing platform lifts, a kind of boat lift that was simply unknown in this region before David and his son Kent Robson introduced them nine years ago.
“Every installation is unique,” says Kent. “Let’s just say that some are more unique than others.”
Too much boat
A boat that’s too long for the boat slip is a case in point. It’s actually not an unusual situation for a cottager to find themselves in – they buy a new cottage and discover that the boat they currently own won’t fit in the boathouse, or their growing family needs a larger boat. Typical solutions might include renovating the entire boathouse, storing the boat outdoors, or just limiting the size of the boat.
But there’s a much better way. “We’ve run into this a couple of times, and we came up with a creative solution,” says Kent.
With a typical platform lift, the boat is driven into the boat slip, usually with at least a foot between the stern of the boat and the boathouse doors. The operator pushes a button on the controller and the platform rises up out of the water, lifting the boat straight up. The boathouse doors are closed, and the entire boathouse is secure.
When the boat is too long for the slip, Northshore’s solution is to build a combination of lift and railway. The lift raises the boat while part of the stern is still sticking out of the boathouse. Then the boat rolls forward into the boathouse, allowing the stern to clear the doors.
“We’ve done that a couple of times. It’s an interesting challenge,” says David. “And there’s simply nobody else that does that.”
Executing this level of custom installation draws on a wide range of skills – engineering, design, construction, fabrication and more. One of the key players in the custom work is Tom Kaufmann, a metalwork specialist who has just become a partner in Northshore Waterfront Solutions.
“My background is in high-end architectural welding and metalwork,” says Tom. He has 30 years’ experience in the trade, and used to run a large custom fabrication shop in the city. Architects and designers would come to him with sketches and designs for anything from custom light sconces to spiral staircases, which he would craft from aluminum, stainless steel, bronze, or any other metal.
The best jobs were those times when a contractor would ask Tom to help solve a problem. “There are lots of people who say, ‘give me your design and I’ll fabricate it.’ But I really like to say, ‘give me your problem and I’ll design and build a solution,’” he says.
That approach was a perfect fit with Northshore Waterfront Solutions: when Tom began working with David and Kent, they all realized they shared a similar design philosophy.
“Anything is possible. If the client wants it, we’ll make it happen,” says Kent.
That might mean designing a system that will lift a sailboat – with its deep keel – on a range of different lifts. Or accommodating an exceptionally heavy boat, or one with an unusual hull shape. Or even creating lifts for things that aren’t big boats at all: the team has built platform lifts for hovercraft, kayaks, float planes, and even a floating Amphicar.
Platform lifts are typically installed in boathouses or boat ports. But Northshore also offers freestanding lifts that are installed beside docks.
“On Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe we do a lot of freestanding lifts,” says David. “It’s an excellent way to secure the boat, lifting it above even the largest waves on those big lakes. When fall comes and the boat goes into storage, the lift can be taken out with the dock or lowered down to the bottom, depending on the design. Either way, it keeps it safe from ice damage.”
The power needs for even the biggest lifts are surprisingly modest, meaning lifts can be run from batteries that are connected to a solar panel – a superb solution for docks without hydro. They can even install fully manual lifts.
“The goal is to keep our clients’ boats and belongings secure, to build them a system that looks great, and that works seamlessly every single time,” says Kent. Working with the endless variations is simply part of the fun.
TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON | PHOTOS ANDREW FEARMAN