With fall temperatures under way, it's only a matter of time before you start prepping your boat for a well-earned winter's rest. There are plenty of things to consider as you lay up your boat for the winter, including how you'll keep your boat elevated while it's in storage. Cradles and jack stands are the two most common tools for keeping your boat high and dry as its being stored. Both offer their own unique set of advantages and disadvantages.
Pros and Cons with Jack Stands
Jack stands offer several advantages when it comes to dry boat storage. For starters, they're usually the most affordable option available for avid boaters, with most stands costing $100 to $200 each, according to boating expert Peter d'Anjou. They're also relatively compact in size, meaning they can be stored in various nooks and crannies until they're needed. Most jack stands can also be used for a wide variety of boats, although some stands may have unique design features for supporting certain types of boats, including powerboats and sailboats.
However, with jack stands, it's easier to damage a boat through poor placement and improper support. This could lead to stress cracks and other hard-to-spot damage to the boat's structure. In addition, steel jack stands are highly vulnerable to rust, while wooden jacks can deteriorate with time and constant exposure to humid, salt-laden environments.
Keep in mind that jack stands aren't meant to support the boat's entire weight. Instead, these devices are meant to balance the boat so it doesn't tip over, while the support blocks carry the brunt of the boat's weight. Strips of plywood should also be placed under each jack stand to prevent them from sinking into the ground. Last but not least, never fasten the boat's winter cover to the jack stands or its support blocks, as strong winds can catch the cover and rip the boat's supports from underneath it.
Boat Cradle Pros and Cons
Instead of using jack stands, many boaters rely on boat cradles to keep their vessels above water. Unlike jack stands, a typical cradle does a better job in supporting the boat without damaging the hull. Not only are there more supports built into a boat cradle, but the support spans are also spread out to help balance the vessel's weight along the ground. Most cradles are made from durable steel or rust-resistant aluminum, although there are a few made from wood.
Custom-made cradles offer the best possible support, since the cradle is usually built to conform to the exact profile of your vessel. Unfortunately, this same benefit often proves to be a curse when dealing with more than one boat. Custom-built cradles can only be used for the boat they were designed for, making it rather limited in its use. In addition, a high-quality boat cradle can cost significantly more than a set of jack stands.
Another issue with boat cradles involves what to do with them after winter's long gone. While a set of jack stands can be tucked away in a quiet corner until they're needed again, finding an empty spot for an unused cradle can be a bit problematic if space is at a premium.
Which Works Best for Your Boat?
In the end, it's up to you to decide which option is best for storing your boat over the winter months. Jack stands are simple, effective, and relatively affordable for most boaters, but they're prone to rust formation as well as balance and support issues. Boat cradles can easily get the job done without damaging the keel, but cost and after-use storage issues can easily make boat cradles a non-starter. Your dockmaster or local recreational boating expert can help you find the right tools for long-term boat storage. You can also consult companies like Sentry Mini-Storage Inc to see whether they have some good ideas for you.