What Is a Shiplift?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2019
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A shiplift pulls boats out of the water on a winched platform. This technology has a number of applications, which may include replacing traditional drydock and launch techniques. Firms that manufacture shiplifts may also specialize in installation and maintenance of such systems, providing a complete package to their customers. This is often necessary for custom installations designed for very specific applications and locations, where the company wants to make sure the equipment is properly fitted.

The device consists of a platform that can be lowered underwater, allowing a crew to sail a ship over it. Once the ship is in place, the shiplift can be activated, and it will rise up under the boat. Cradles and trolleys support the shift's weight evenly and stabilize it as it rises above the water level. The vertical platform can pull the craft partially or entirely out of the water to allow technicians to access the boat and perform a variety of operations.


One application is in launching. A ship can be built directly on the shiplift, and when it is time for its initial launch, technicians can slowly lower it into the water. This can be less disruptive than a more traditional launch, and allows a high degree of control for the staff at the yard. Such devices can also be used to quickly pull ships out of the water for drydock work as well. Traditionally, this process has required moving a boat into a slip and pumping to remove the water so workers can access the outside.

Another potential use for shiplift technology is in the replacement of locks used to move ships around canals and dams. Shiplifts can be faster and may confer other benefits, depending on the setting. The same equipment can be used for moving ferries as well as building supplies like caissons used at the sites of bridges and dams. Once the construction or repairs are over, the lift can be available for ship traffic.

This equipment relies on a number of heavy duty winches that can be carefully synchronized to pull a ship out of the water. The ability to time the lift is very important, as uneven winching could put the ship off balance and might damage it or the equipment. Computer systems are available to manage the winches and make sure they operate smoothly. Technicians also need to regularly clean and inspect them to ensure the shiplift will be in good working condition when they are needed.


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