Givin’ a Boat a Lift

It’s doubtful that many of the millions of annual visitors to the Door Peninsula, with vacation and relaxation on their minds, would pay much attention to the businesses that call the Sturgeon Bay Industrial Park home. They, along with many Door County residents, would be surprised to learn that the park is home to a diverse group of successful companies, many of whom are international leaders in their respective industries.dclv09i01-topside-interior-lift

One of those business leaders is Marine Travelift, the world’s premier manufacturer of boat handling equipment. Officially established in 1954, Marine Travelift has a long-standing reputation as a marine industry leader and is recognized for its tradition of excellence on a global scale. The company manufactures mobile boat hoists, marine forklifts, self-propelled transporters and other related marine lifting products.

These mobile boat hoists (a type of mobile gantry crane) are used by boatyards, marinas and shipbuilders to lift vessels out of the water and transport them onto a land-based storage or service facility. Marine Travelift also makes industrial gantry cranes as material handling solutions and production tools under the Shuttlelift brand.

The world’s first mobile boat hoist was conceptualized and manufactured in Sturgeon Bay in 1945. The founders of Marine Travelift had the idea that a boat could be lifted out of the water with less stress on the hull, safely and quickly moved around a boatyard or marina with minimum labor and then just as easily put back into the water.

Marine Travelift led their industry with the design of the “open end” straddle hoist, which permitted fast handling of high mast sailboats and flying bridge powerboats without advance preparation. Previous straddle hoists had been limited by a “gated” top beam, which had to be raised and then repositioned before the lift could be operated. From its first self-propelled, seven-ton mobile boat hoist in 1957, to the giant 800-ton units currently in service, Marine Travelift now has more than 3,000 boat hoists in use around the world, with some of the older machines still in operation after 30 years.

Speed, safety and efficiency, plus an increasing lack of waterfront space have made it imperative for most modern marinas and boat yards to convert to the mobile boat hoist system as a means of hauling and servicing a greater variety of boats in limited and ever more crowded facilities.

A Marine Travelift mobile boat hoist’s maneuverability is what allows the yard to fully utilize every square inch of its property. Operators are able to move vessels across the yard, in tight spaces and around sharp corners whenever necessary. In addition, the yard can do its part to protect the environment, since a mobile boat hoist removes vessels – and their fluids – from the waterfront.

Led by one of the industry’s most talented engineering teams, and with a half-century of experience, Marine Travelift has established a worldwide reputation for quality, reliability, performance, customer support and satisfaction that is second to none in the marine industry. It also has an extensive U.S. and international dealer network.

“We are an engineering solutions company,” says President and CEO Stephan Pfeifer. “Our job is to work with our customers to determine their needs, and then meet and exceed their expectations. We’ve been in the business for over 40 years, which means we are in tune to our customers and can deliver what they need.”

By constantly designing bigger and better machines with a growing set of standard features and custom options, the company confidently claims to build the best boat hoists in the world. They currently offer boat hoists that range from 15-ton all the way up to 1,000-ton capacity.

When Marine Travelift Inc. delivered the world’s largest mobile boat hoist to Norfolk, Virginia’s Colonna’s Shipyard in December 2009, the company effectively launched a new era in the handling of large vessels. The 1000C, capable of lifting 1,000 tons (2,200,000 pounds), has revolutionized the way the shipyard approaches its business. The 1000C system is capable of lifting many vessel types, including U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard patrol craft and specialty vessels such as casino and dinner boats.

Locally, you can find Marine Travelifts in use around many of the marinas in Door County. Yacht Works of Sister Bay, for example, has two Travelifts, with 25-ton (55,000 pounds) and 70-ton (165,000 pounds) capacity to move boats in and out of the water and across Highway 42 to their storage and repair facilities.

Pfeifer took the reins as President and CEO of Marine Travelift after buying the company in 2003. Since then, Pfeifer has assembled a powerful management team and energized the entire organization to become the leader in every market they serve. Pfeifer brought with him over 30 years of experience as an entrepreneur, engineer, and fabrication/machining expert. Under his leadership, Marine Travelift has invested heavily in product line evolutions, engineering infrastructure and customer service.

Like many successful Door County entrepreneurs, Pfeifer was a seasonal home-owner with family ties to the area. The company he owned in the Milwaukee area was a supplier to Marine Travelift. When Travelift went up for sale, he jumped at the chance to make Door County his home.

Sales revenues for Marine Travelift, Inc. have steadily increased since Pfeifer and partner Jim Ashton became company owners. In summer 2006, Governor Doyle presented Marine Travelift with a $250,000 Technology Zone tax credit allocation to support product development and business expansion. In April 2007, the Door County Economic Development Corporation presented Marine Travelift, along with sister company ExacTech, with the Door County Industry of the Year Award. The annual award recognizes a local construction, service or manufacturing business that has made a substantial impact on the community and enjoyed significant accomplishments.

dclv09i01-topside-lift-moving-boatThe facilities at ExacTech, a steel fabrication company also owned by Pfeifer and Ashton, were improved by a multi-million dollar facelift and equipment upgrade, and the addition of 18,000 square feet in 2006. ExacTech produces the heavy steel fabrication components used in Marine Travelift and Shuttlelift products, and makes similar components for other global manufacturers. ExacTech has the capacity to handle metal fabrication jobs up to 100 tons, as well as the smallest and toughest jobs.

With 155 employees, Marine Travelift is one of the top employers in the county. Marine Travelift has been, and continues to be, an important contributor to the maritime history of the Door Peninsula. In fact, visitors to the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay will find a permanent exhibit about the company, including models of the original boat hoists produced in Sturgeon Bay.

For more information about Marine Travelift and its full range of mobile boat hoists visit

Photography courtesy of Marine Travelift.