There was a time when the boathouse was a utilitarian place, a building to house boats and not much else. There were hooks for lifejackets and paddles, and a musty, oily smell in the air. The better ones might have a lift, but it was just a set of slings and cables attached to an overhead beam, and a winch to hoist the boat out of the water and store it for the winter.
But now the boathouse has been completely transformed, along with the boats and the mechanisms used to lift them.
David and Kent Robson have been at the heart of that transformation, witnessing and guiding the evolution of boat lifts as the father-and-son owners of Northshore Waterfront Solutions.
David has been working around the water all his life. He used to own a marina on Lake Muskoka, and then many years ago shifted into construction, focusing on boathouses, docks and cottages. “In 2012, a customer asked us to install a platform lift,” he says. “I thought it looked really good and realized it could be a great option for other boaters.”
At the time, platform lifts were rarely seen outside Florida’s Intercoastal Waterway, where owners needed a simple way to raise and lower their boat in response to changing tide levels. The first lift that David and Kent installed was one they imported from Florida and then modified to suit this region’s needs. But it wouldn’t be long before they began manufacturing and customizing components themselves.
“We install all kinds of different lifts, including free-standing lifts that sit on the lake bed,” says Kent. “You don’t need to have a boathouse to have a boat lift. We’ve installed many lifts on Simcoe, Couchiching and Georgian Bay, where people take the dock out every fall to avoid ice damage.”
The platform lift, though, is designed to be installed on a permanent structure, and around here that is typically a boathouse.
As the name implies, the system consists of a platform and a lifting mechanism. The platform is clad with decking that complements the deck of the boathouse. A set of bunks is mounted on the platform, designed to accommodate the shape of the boat’s hull.
To dock, the boater simply drives into the boat slip and pushes a button. The platform lifts up out of the water, rising to the same level as the surrounding decking and lifting the boat clear of the water.
The boat sits securely on the bunks, ready to be lowered into the water the next time it’s needed. The whole process takes mere seconds.
Securing the boathouse
Part of the appeal of a platform lift, David explains, is that it allows the boathouse to be completely sealed on all sides.
“In the old days, the boathouse was essentially a five-sided cube – it had four walls and a roof, but much of the floor needed to be open to the water. Anyone or anything could just swim under the doors and come inside.”
That was all very well when the boat was the only thing of real value in a boathouse and the biggest pest might be a curious beaver or muskrat.
But modern boathouses contain so much more. Now it’s not unusual to have a sitting area beside the boat slips, equipped with a tv and a kitchenette, artwork on the walls and expensive furnishings. “The boathouse is being transformed into a nautical entertainment space,” says Kent. “A platform lift lets you keep all of that secure.”
In fact, a platform lift can even increase the floor space.
The mechanism for a platform lift is incorporated into the floor. So, there is nothing visible above the dock or the platform – no wires, cables, or posts. Which means that when the lift is up with no boat on it, the boat slip becomes floor space.
“You need bunks for the boat to rest on, but we have designed them to be removable when they’re not in use, so there’s nothing to trip over,” says David.
The platform also offers an enormous safety advantage. “There’s never any concern about someone accidentally falling in the water, the way there is with an open boat slip,” says Kent. “It’s safer for children, pets, and anyone else in the boathouse.”
Because the team at Northshore Waterfront Solutions fabricates many components themselves, every design can be fully customized. Lifts can be built to accommodate any size or shape of vessel, including personal water craft, rowing skiffs and kayaks. They’ve even designed lifts for hovercraft, float planes, and a rare amphibious car.
The power source is also not an issue. “Our lifts can be installed so they still work in a power outage,” says David. “And if the boathouse has no electricity, we simply install solar panels to keep the batteries charged.”
The boathouse has completely transformed, he adds: it only makes sense that the boat lift has changed too.
TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON | PHOTOS SCOTT TURNBULL