Last Updated :
January 31, 2023
The instructions below are for the Tilt-Up Rails. Click here if you are looking for the installation instructions for the Cross-Deck Models.
Our Tilt-Up Rails are designed so you can install them without having to take your houseboat out of the water. You can do it right where it is.
If you can handle a battery drill and 12-volt wiring, you can install the Rails. It can be done by one person, but it is much easier with a helper.
If you are not comfortable with installing the Rails yourself, consider these options:
- You can ask another houseboat owner to help you. This is especially desirable if they also want to install PWC Rails on their houseboat. You can help them, and they will help you.
- Almost every young man who works at the marina will be experienced with a drill and 12-volt wiring. Ask around. Offer to pay them $100 after-hours to install it for you...with you helping of course. Most of these guys will jump at the chance to earn the extra cash. Refer them to this page so they can review the instructions and know what is involved.
- You can ask a marine mechanic to do it, but they will charge their normal hourly rate which will add up pretty fast. Installing PWC Rails doesn't require a mechanic, so most people don't hire a professional to do it.
We will include an abbreviated printed version with your Rails.
Click here for loading and unloading instructions.
Click here to see a unique custom installation. If your installation is not straight-forward, let us know and we will help with any customization that is necessary.
You are responsible for the safe and secure installation of your PWC Rails.
Your Rails come with stainless steel bolts and Nylock nuts. Stainless steel threads tend to “gall” from the heat generated while turning the nuts. To prevent this, we suggest using anti-seize or squeezing a little dish soap, or scraping some bar soap or Vaseline into the threads of the bolt. Even Chap Stick, or sunscreen will work. If you use a ratchet, turn it slowly so the threads don’t overheat…no faster than if you were using an end wrench.
Always wear safety glasses or goggles when drilling or doing other jobs with hand or electric tools.
IMPORTANT: If you are installing your PWC Rails over water as most of our customers do, always tether your tools and especially the Rails themselves. It is easy to accidentally kick them off the swim deck. This is even more important when you are getting ready to mount the Rails to the Frame because most of the weight of the Rails will be beyond the edge of your swim deck. We recommend that you tie a rope around the curved end of your Rails and run it up over the railing on your top deck, and down to your work space. This serves two purposes: 1) It secures your Rails from accidental loss into the lake, and 2) It allows you to control the level of the Rails as you are experimenting with mounting them at the proper angle, as determined by which set of holes in which you bolt them.
We also recommend placing a floating mat under your work area so that if you drop a nut, washer, bolt, or tool, the mat will catch it.
In addition to the Frame, Rails, and Winch, your PWC Rail kit includes all the hardware and parts you will need to install your Rails unless your mounting location is unusual. If there are special structures under your swim platform, you might need longer bolts from any hardware store.
There are 5 basic phases to the installation:
1) Mounting the frame to your swim platform wall (4 bolts, 3/8” x 1.25”) The 1 ¼” length is long enough to go through the mounting Frame, your swim platform walls and/or floor, and framing on the other side. But if you need to go through any extra thickness, you might need to get longer bolts which are available at Home Depot, Lowes, or any other hardware store.
2) Affixing the rails to the frame (two 1/2" bolts, washers, and nuts)
3) Mounting the winch and stiffener angle bracket (2 bolts, washers, and nuts)
4) Installing the lift arm (mounting brackets and hardware)
5) Wiring to your 12-volt source
Each of these 5 phases is described in detail below. We recommend that you read the loading and unloading instructions before reading the following installation instructions. It will help give context to the installation steps.
Primary Tools needed for installation
- Battery Drill (do NOT use 110 volt power tools around water)
- 1/2, 13/32, and 3/16 inch drill bits
- 3/8, 1/2, and 9/16 end or ratchet wrenches
- 3/8, 7/16, 1/2, 9/16, and 3/4 end or ratchet wrenches
- Tape Measure
- Black electrical tape
Tools needed for wiring
This will vary depending on where you connect your winch wiring. If you connect directly to a battery, then you will need a tool that fits the terminals on your battery, probably a 7/16 or 1/2 inch end wrench.
Please review the wiring section below to determine what you will need in terms of tools.
Unpacking your Rails
The kit is shipped with the Rails bolted in the Frame shipping holes that are only used for shipping. The winch box is secured inside the frame between the Rails. The lift-arm(s) are wrapped to one of the rail-tubes. The nuts, bolts, and other attachment hardware is in a winch box, or in the holes where they will be used. While the powder coating is very durable, you will want to be careful not to drag the Rails or scratch the paint during unpacking and installation.
Choosing a Mounting Location
There are several considerations as to where to locate your PWC Rails. If your houseboat does not sit level in the water (starboard to port), you will want to mount your PWC Rail on the “high” side if the layout of everything else allows that. Remember, with the Tilt-Up Rails, you can mount them right over your ladder because they won't be in the way when tilted up. You can also mount them close beside a slide as shown here. If your houseboat is not level after your Rails are installed and your PWC is loaded you will want to offset the new weight with some cement blocks or other suitable weight in the opposite front corner of your basement. This is a common solution, even done by the houseboat factories on new boats.
For your consideration, relative to the down-force stress on your swim platform, it is strongest near the sides where the "skin" of your hull forms a "gusset support" up to the underside of your swim platform. If you think your swim platform might not be strong enough to support the down-force of your PWC, click here to read how you can strengthen it.
You need to get in the water and look behind the vertical wall of the swim platform, armed with your tape measure (keep it dry). Make sure there is no framing that will interfere with the mounting bolts and nuts. To be sure, you want to go through framing, but not into the edge of an angle piece. If there is, you can move the Frame a little to one side or the other. If that doesn’t solve the conflict, you can drill a new hole in the Winch Frame to the side of one of the existing holes. If possible, you DO want one or more bolts to go through a structural support as opposed to just the aluminum skin.
If your houseboat has a rub-rail along the top of the forward wall of your swim platform, you can cut a section out of your rub-rail with a hacksaw, or just mount our Frame against it with 2 bolts* going through the forward wall, and 2 bolts down through the floor. *Depending on your rub-rail thickness, you might need to get longer bolts. Click here to see a cut rub-rail.
Hard Side Railing
If your houseboat has hard side aluminum railing that is flush with the forward swim platform wall, you might need to use spacers between the Frame and the wall because of the stiffener piece that bolts on the back of the Frame using the winch-mounting bolts. Of course, if you have a rub-rail and mount the Frame against it, then the angle stiffener won't be any problem.
Mounting the Frame
Hint: When drilling aluminum, if you have a 2-speed drill, set the speed to low. A slower speed will be more efficient.
The PWC Rail Frame is secured to your swim platform with 4 bolts. The most common option is 2 going through the forward wall of your swim platform as high as possible (we include several holes to choose from) and 2 going down through the floor using the most rearward holes. This actually increases the support strength of your swim platform by using the Frame as a "gusset" between the forward wall and the swim platform. This is especially helpful if you can position the Frame so the bolts are going through support framing. It will also work if all you can do is put 4 bolts down through the floor or 4 bolts through the forward wall. ***See the last paragraph of the next section before mounting your Frame.
If you mount against carpet, press the PWC Rail Frame down into the carpet and against the forward wall of your swim platform as firmly as possible to compress the carpet throughout the drilling process. Use a 13/32” to drill these holes. Insert a bolt through each hole as you drill them to assure that the frame doesn’t move while you are drilling the next holes. After you have drilled all 4 holes, remove the Frame and vacuum or sweep away the aluminum shavings. Then bolt the Frame in place. If you don’t have anyone to help you, you can tape the bolt heads to hold them in place while you go under your swim platform with the nuts, washers, with a 9/16” end wrench or ratchet wrench. Remember to lubricate the bolts and turn the nuts slowly to avoid seizing. This is where you will want to have a flotation mat under the work area to catch anything you might drop.
If you mount the Rails in the lowest position which might be necessary if your swim platform is low to the water (see the next section***), you will want to use the inner floor holes so the Rails rest flat on the floor of the Frame when lowered. If you were to use the outer floor holes, the bolt heads will prevent the Rails from lowering all the way and will likely dent the bottom of the Rails.
Tighten the nuts as tight as you can get them with the maximum leverage of your end-wrench. It is difficult to get good leverage while in the water, so brace yourself as best you can and get them as tight as possible. After you use your Rails a couple of times, we recommend trying to re-tighten the nuts. You should check them once a year after that.
Attaching the Rails
When you move your rails into position to attach them, be sure to tether them with rope so they are not accidentally knocked off into the water. All it takes is a split-second slip or mistake and they can disappear. You can also place a towel on the edge of your swim platform to avoid scratching the Rail tubes as you adjust them.
Determining the Correct Angle
You will be mounting the Rail tubes into a pair of the square holes in the sides of the Frame using the 1/2" bolts and a 3/4" end wrench or ratchet. The ideal angle is when the rear of your PWC is 3 or 4 inches out of the water when loaded, and the tips of the Rails are also out of the water. Achieving this depends on more than one variable. You have to take into account how much your houseboat will lower in the water when the PWC is loaded. This will depend on the weight of your PWC and the size of your houseboat. Longer and wider houseboats won’t be affected as much as smaller houseboats. It will also depend on whether or not your gas tanks are full. Another variable is how low or high your winch is mounted in the Frame (see loading instructions), and if you direct the cable to wind up toward the top or bottom of the drum which changes the height of the bow and stern of your PWC. You will have significant control over this when winching up your PWC.
So choosing a rail-angle is a little bit of trial and error. There is nothing wrong with choosing an angle that is your best guess, loading your PWC, and if you don’t like the loaded angle, changing it…it is only a matter of changing the 2 bolts that connect the Rails to the Frame (keep them lubricated).
We suggest that you begin with an angle so that the bottom of the entry-end of the Rails is about 3 inches above the water. If you have a smaller houseboat, you might start with 4 inches above the water. Attach the Rails with the 1/2" bolts through the outside of the Frame and through the holes in the front of the Rails. Secure with a washer and nut using a 3/4” wrench. Remember to lubricate the bolts and turn the nuts slowly to avoid seizing. Tighten them until the plastic spacer can barely be rotated by hand. Tighten as described in the accompanying picture.
***If your swim platform is low to the water, or if it slopes downward, you will probably want to mount your Rails in the very bottom pivot holes. If so, use the inner set of floor holes in the bottom of the Frame to mount it to your swim platform. If you use the outer holes, the head of the bolt will interfere with the Rails. This is only an issue if you are mounting the Rails in the very bottom set of holes and not using a spacer discussed in the next paragraph.
Some swim platforms are very close to the water, or they slope downward toward the water, or the weight of the PWC might lower the rear of smaller houseboats such that the tips of the Rails or the end of your PWC might be in the water. If you mount your rail tubes into the bottom holes and the tips of the Rails are still touching the water, you can easily solve this by adding a spacer under the Rails tubes where they pass over the rear edge of the swim platform...essentially raising the rear of the Rails higher. The spacer can be as simple as a piece of treated 2x4 or 4x4 or a composite deck board as shown in this photo. It should be screwed to the underside of the Rails so it tilts up out of the way along with the Rails and doesn't become a toe-stubber. Some customers have painted or covered their spacer with carpet.
Don't make the mistake of leaving the tips of the Rails or your PWC in the water thinking you will bring a spacer or make an adjustment the next day or worse yet, the next trip to your houseboat. Some lake water can stain the Rails and/or your PWC overnight. If your swim platform is low to the water, plan ahead and bring a couple pieces of 2x4 (at least 16 inches long) that you can temporarily lay on your deck under the Rails until you get a more permanent spacer. Click here to see more details about adding a spacer.
Mounting the Winch
Mounting the winch is very simple. The winch is mounted to the frame with just 2 bolts, with the angle piece on the back side of the Frame. There are multiple sets of height-holes to choose from. The lower you mount the winch, the higher the rear of your PWC will be out of the water, but you might have to push down on the nose of your PWC as you winch it in the last couple of feet. There is nothing wrong with changing the winch height if you find that you have mounted it too low or too high. We suggest you begin with the second set of holes from the top.
Notice that the winch is offset a little from the center. This is so the rope will coms off the side of the drum in the center of the Frame.
Attach the winch with the two supplied stainless steel bolts (already in the winch) through the winch and Frame, and secured with the supplied nylock nuts using a 13mm or 1/2" wrench.
Test-loading Your Rails
At this point, you need to test-load your new Rails. For this test, just open your engine hatch and temporarily connect the wires to a battery or use a battery jumper box. Use the loading technique shown here.
Test-loading will let you know if you have chosen the correct angle. For instance, if the rear of your Rails or PWC are touching the water, you will want to LOWER the front of the Rails in the Frame. Depending on how long your swim platform is, raising or lowering the pivot position 1 hole up or down (1.5” between the holes) will make an even greater difference at the rear of your PWC which is 9 to 13 feet long.
DO NOT move to the next step until you have tested the angle, loaded your PWC, and are sure this is the final angle.
Attaching the Gas-Filled Lift Arms
When you are satisfied with the Rail angle, proceed to the next step. There is no rush. You can use your Rails for a weekend or two without the lift arms to make sure you like the Rail angle.
The gas-filled lift arms are designed to help lift the Rails and to help hold them in an upright position when you are using your swim platform. NOTE: You must also tether them when upright as shown at the bottom of these instructions so they don't accidentally get pushed down and cause any harm. The mounting positions let the Rails rest firmly on the end of your swim platform when down, then, with a little bit of 1-handed lifting effort, they can be tilted up. The higher they are tilted, the greater the angle and power leverage of the lift-arm. If you are installing 12-Foot Rails, you might want to keep a rope attached to the end of the Rails to help lift them since they are a lot heavier. You can just let the rope lie in between the Rail tubes when your PWC is loaded.
There are 9 round holes along the edges of the Frame for installing the bottom of the lift arm(s) with the rectangular brackets. If you attach your Rail tubes in any of the bottom 3 holes (they are in the 3rd hole up in these pictures) attach the lift arm brackets in the lowest position as shown. If your Rail tubes are mounted in higher positions, then attach the bottom lift arm bracket just under the Rail tube in the same relationship you see in this picture. You would NOT want to attach the bottom of the lift arms lower because they would have too much leverage and wouldn't let your Rails rest in the down position.
Secure the rectangular bracket to the Frame using the supplied 1/4-20 flat head Phillips bolts and nuts using a Phillips screw driver and 7/16” end wrench. Then attach the rod-end of the lift arm with a 5/16” nylock nut using a 1/2” end wrench. You will want to hold the hex-portion of the ball-stud with a thin wrench, or needle-nose pliers as you tighten the nut. Then snap the other aluminum bracket ball stud into the cylinder-end of the lift arm.
With the Rails fully tilted up, temporarily tie them or have someone hold them in the upright position hard against the Frame. With the rod-end of the lift arm attached to the rectangular bracket that is attached to the Frame, and the other aluminum bracket attached to the cylinder-end of the lift arm, align the aluminum bracket parallel to, and within about 1/8” of the top edge of the rail tubing (forward edge while Rails are tilted up) and mark a hole as shown below. Punch a dimple into the side of the Rail to help you center the bit. You can use the supplied self-tapping screws to make the hole if you have a socket driver that you can connect to a drill, but it is much easier if you pre-drill the holes with a 3/16” bit, then you can use a ratchet wrench to self-tap the screws tightly into place.
With the bracket secured tightly with the top screw, remove the lift arm by raising the clip on the cylinder end as shown below so that you can move the lift arm out of the way of the bottom-hole in the aluminum bracket. Be careful not to raise the clip too far...just enough so it will release from the ball stud.
With the lift arm out of the way, punch and drill the bottom hole and secure it with the second screw. Slide the clip back in place and re-attach the lift arm by pressing it over the ball until it snaps into place. It is now ready for operation.
We recommend that you check these screws for tightness from time to time. They generally hold very well on their own.
Note: The manufacturer of the lift arms recommends that you remove them during the winter and store them inside WITH THE CYLINDER END UP. This keeps the seals lubricated.
A basic understanding of 12-volt wiring is necessary to connect the winch to a battery power source. If you aren’t comfortable with that, you can ask a friend for their help, or most marinas have employees who are very comfortable with wiring.
Most of our customers connect directly to a battery. It is permissible to connect to another 12-volt source such as a fused connection that controls another device that would not be used at the same time as your winch, but it should be able to handle at least 50 amps which would be indicated by the fuse rating and be fed by at least 8 AWG wire.
In this PWC Rail application, the winch will never “dead-load” like it might if it were used on an off-road vehicle winched to a tree. So it should never require its maximum amperage. Still, if you connect it to a power source other than the battery, the recommended wiring leading to that source should be at least 8 gauge.
The $320 upgrade Falcon Winch that we are including FREE if you place your order in
January comes with 18 feet of sheathed 8 AWG 12-volt wiring with ring terminals on the end that you can connect to your battery. If you don't need all 18 feet, we also include a pair of ring terminals so you can cut off the excess and crimp the ring terminals on the end.
The mounting Frames have three optional-height 7/8” holes, through which you can run the wire. You will need to drill a matching hole in your swim platform wall. Most common bit sets have up to a 1/2 ” bit. The ring terminals on the end of the 12-volt wiring are just a little larger than 1/2". So you will need to enlarge a 1/2" hole by angling the bit from one side to the other, or using a file to "ovalize" the hole a little.
There will be several support beams under your deck above or beside which you can secure the wires as high as possible away from the water. Click here to see an example of the underside of the deck and outdrive area.
If you are replacing existing rails with our Rails, you might already have wires under your swim platform to which you can connect our winch. That will reduce the length of wire needed, and avoid the need to drill a hole into your engine compartment. As an example, one of our customers replaced his older rails with a pair of ours. He connected both winches to his existing terminal that was already mounted behind a step. While both winches are now connected to the same terminal feed, he only uses 1 winch at a time, so the amp-draw is never over loaded.
If you do need to go through your engine compartment wall, you might be able to find an existing pass-through that has enough room for you to feed the winch wires through. If not, drill a hole as high up as possible. If you are installing 2 PWC Rails, we recommend you route the wires from each winch to one hole into your engine compartment. Locate the hole so that you have a good path for the wires to reach your battery or other connection location. You will want to drill through from inside the engine compartment because it will be too high to do it if you are in the water under the swim platform. Of course, you will have to get in the water to route the wires into the engine room. This drawing shows a general way to route the wires following the dotted line.
It doesn't matter which battery you connect to. All the batteries in your engine room are connected to a charging system, and you are only using battery power when your PWC Rail winch button is being pushed. So you can connect to the closest battery or 50-amp terminal. I have had a couple customers who don't run wiring to their engine room at all. They just use a portable battery jumper box. But that is an extra hassle when it comes to unloading and loading. Still, it is an option that some prefer.
When you have run all the wiring and are ready to connect it to your battery, connect the positive side first, then the negative side.
Using the Sunbrella Winch Cover
The winch cover protects your winch from direct rain. It has a mesh bottom that drains any rain that makes its way into the cover. COVER THE WINCH WITH THE SUNBRELLA COVER AT ALL TIMES, NOT JUST WHEN YOU ARE GONE. Keeping direct rain off the winch is critical to its longevity. The only time the cover should come off is when the winch is winding up or letting out. It should be covered in between unless you are there and absolutely sure there will be no rain.
Click here to see the best way to fit the Sunbrella cover over the winch and still use the blue Winch Tether.
Winterization or Other Extended Periods of Non-Use
Although the winch is sealed, moisture in the air and long periods of non-use are the enemy of winches. It is important to REMOVE YOUR WINCH during the winter and store it inside a dry environment. Click here to see how easy that is.
You should also remove the lift arms and store them inside with the cylinder UP and the rod DOWN. You can remove them be prying the ball joint clip out-and-up as shown in the Installation Instructions. Be careful not to let the clip fly off and be sure to put the clip back in place for storage.. The Rails need to be UPRIGHT when you remove the lift arms, and tied securely in place for the winter.
There are two kinds of tethering that we STRONGLY recommend:
1) The lift arms will hold the Rails upright, but they can still be accidentally pushed down. When tilted up, ALWAYS hook the winch line around the cross member and to the back of the Winch Frame and tighten it with the “IN” button and the clutch knob engaged. Or, secure it to another solid object on your deck. This will prevent unintended lowering of the Rails which could cause serious damage or injury.
2) When your PWC is loaded and winched up, we recommend that you add the secondary Synthetic Winch Tether shown here and below. That page shows how to tie it the first time. We are including this $20 option FREE if ordered in
As you install your PWC Rails, if these instructions don’t match your installation, or if you come up with any suggestions to make these instructions clearer, please share them with me and include any pictures that can help in the explanation.
If you have any questions about installation, please don’t hesitate to ask. You can reach me personally at
937-476-1298 or send an email.
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