Marine Travelift – The Fascinating Story Behind the Name

Imitation may be a sincere form of flattery. Yet in the world of boat yards and marinas, contrary to what some may believe, not all boat hoists are Marine Travelifts. The Travelift name has become a sort of passing term in the industry, however, Marine Travelift is a trademark belonging to the company headquartered in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, USA. They have over half a century of impressive history and reputation in the boat handling industry. The story of this essential piece of equipment’s development and subsequent widespread installation in the Caribbean is a captivating one.

It all began in the late 1940s when a man by the name of Baudouin invented the first ‘gantry type boat crane’ in Wisconsin, according to Stephan Chayer, Director of International Sales at Marine Travelift. Baudouin worked at the Yacht Club of Sturgeon Bay where the boats were getting fairly heavy and there were too many to get hauled out in time to avoid the November freeze, in which foot thick ice would inevitably crush their hulls. One day he got the idea to use two piers combined with a steel frame on four truck wheels, which also employed four chain blocks with straps; with this innovation he managed to pull a boat weighing a few tons from the water and place it on the ground without the challenges imposed by trailers at the time.

Shortly thereafter, other boat yards in the area heard about Baudouin’s invention and contracted him to build and deliver these prototypes. By 1949, the name Travelift, made by combining the words ‘travel’ and ‘lift’ was coined, and Marine Travelift was officially established as a company in 1954. Three years later the first self-propelled straddle-type mobile boat hoist was engineered with a 7-ton capacity, followed by the introduction of an open-end style unit for faster handling of boats with high masts or fly bridges. 

It wasn’t until sometime in the 1960s that Marine Travelift came to the Caribbean yards. Bobby Velasquez started his same-named marina as Bobby’s Yacht Services in 1968, since then Velasquez is believed to have purchased 14 boat hoists from the company over the years. However, it wasn’t until 2000 when Marine Travelift introduced the inspection program for their machines that they truly grew widespread as the preferred boat handling company throughout the Caribbean. 

The program took off quickly and the condition of machines went from deteriorating to top level. Boaters benefited the most by the greatly reduced risk of accidents, reduced risk of downtime and overall improved perception of the Caribbean as a first-class destination for boat repair and storage. The inspection program has put everyone on the same level as Marine Travelift publishes a list of machines they’ve inspected and approved in the Caribbean.

“Keeping up the inspection program can be a challenge,” says Chayer, who adds that Marine Travelift currently has over 4,000 of its boat hoists in operation worldwide, all supported by a global network of service technicians and dealers. “We have seen yards attempt to cut corners in maintaining their machines to lower their price in hopes of getting more customers. That is why we have maintained our inspection program with genuine Marine Travelift parts, we won’t let the Caribbean boaters and yards down. We will continue our program and do everything we can to lead boaters to first-class facilities.”

Today, Marine Travelift has boat hoists hauling upwards of 1,500 metric tons with machines operating at over 27 boat yards in the Caribbean, and many more located in Southern Florida.  The company’s long history in the industry has given them a reputation for high quality dependable machines, and as the developer of the first self-propelled straddle type boat hoist, Marine Travelifts are clearly one-of-a-kind. 

Carol_Bareuther
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.