The Business of Hoist
An Old-Time American Helps to Keep Utila Boats Dry

October 1st, 2009
by Thomas Tomczyk


Dock Rails with his latest hoist.

Dock Rails with his latest hoist.

“If I need something… someone else needs that something too,” says John Humason, known by just about everyone on Utila as “Dock Rails.” This is how Dock got into the hoist business in the first place. He got tired of manually lifting his Utila boat out of the water and ordered a hoist kit from US and customized it. Since assembling this first hoist in the mid 1980s, Dock has become Utila’s official “hoist installer.” There is hardly a boat with an electric hoist that hasn’t been installed by Dock, and there might be 50-70 of them. In 2008 he installed 12 hoists, this year only one.

Dock rides Utila’s main drag in an aluminum golf cart, wearing a hat made out of folded palm leaves. Since coming to Utila in 1971, Dock Rails has become one of the island’s most recognizable figures.

Dock made his fame and money designing custom made teak wood water skis in the1960s, selling and designing custom ski boat equipment and in 1970s and in 1980s, and organizing water shows across the US. “We did shows for five million people in one year,” says Dock.

On Utila, Dock is in the hoist business to keep busy, not to make money. Whenever he runs out of hoist parts – motors, chains, bearings, etc. – he contacts his US supplier, American Power Hoists.

The typical ‘Dock Rail’ hoist design incorporates ordered parts, locally purchased elements, and recycling. Dock uses plastic Coca Cola bottles, still bearing Coca Cola logo’s and filled with concrete, to serve as weights. They assure that the bands fall vertically into the water and allow the boat to easily slip in and out of them.

Hally Whitfield, Dock’s newest client, says that he saves around 22-23 minutes per every lowering or hanging of his boat. Dock explains that the reasons for installing an electric hoist, or switching from chain to electric hoist, are not purely to save time or energy. “It’s a fisherman’s status symbol to have an electric hoist,” explains Dock.

While most of his hoist are meant to lift dories that ply Utila’s bay, the Cayos and venture as far as La Ceiba, his biggest hoist so far could lift a 13,000 pound boat. However, his customers don’t need a warranty on the simple mechanism. “I haven’t had one break yet,” says Dock. [/private]

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