Nowadays, pontoon boats are no longer restricted to inland waters. They are progressively making more and more appearances on larger bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, coastal areas, and even occasionally venturing into ocean waters. However, exercising caution and discretion as a captain is essential in these expanded environments.
Factors such as sea conditions, weather forecasts for departure and throughout the day, along with distance from shore should all influence your decision to ride into larger and potentially more challenging waters. While pontoon boats can handle moderate chop effectively, experienced pontoon captains typically advise limiting wave heights to 3' - 4' for a safe and comfortable ride.
Checking weather conditions can be easily done through various websites or apps or monitored using a handheld VHF radio, a valuable tool to have on board. Regarding the distance from shore, a general rule of thumb is to stay within 1-2 miles in favorable conditions and reduce that distance in rougher waters. Additionally, captains should realistically assess their own comfort and skill levels, while always keeping in mind that passenger safety is the captain's primary responsibility.
To determine if your pontoon boat is suitable for open water or larger inland waters, consider the following points:
Quality Pontoon Boat Construction
The construction of the hull is crucial when evaluating a boat's suitability for open-water environments. Factors to consider include pontoon size, wall thickness, and engine horsepower.
Triple-hull pontoon configurations, often referred to as Tritoon, perform exceptionally well in rougher waters. Look for pontoon diameters of at least 25 inches and a minimum wall thickness of 0.090 inches. This combination not only enhances the boat's ability to handle rough conditions but also provides durability to withstand wave impact, maintain stability in rough waters, and support higher horsepower engines (typically 150 HP and above), which are essential for safe and swift returns in case conditions deteriorate.
Additionally, a pontoon configuration resembling a V-hull, such as Manitou's V-Toon® technology, can help reduce the impact of rough water and improve handling in open-water conditions.
Resistance To Saltwater Corrosion
If you plan to take your pontoon boat into coastal waters, consider the potential for salt exposure. While rust isn't an issue as pontoon structures are primarily made of aluminum, galvanic corrosion can occur when dissimilar metals (e.g., aluminum, stainless steel, copper) are immersed in saltwater.
To combat this, boaters often rely on zinc as a sacrificial metal, which corrodes slowly to protect more valuable components.
Proper Pontoon Boat Maintenance
Regular cleaning and maintenance play a crucial role in extending your boat's longevity when operating in rough waters.
Before departing from the dock or ramp, inspect your boat for signs of damage or loose fittings, especially if you anticipate encountering waves. When boating in saltwater, always thoroughly wash down your boat with fresh water at the end of the day. Use a powerful hose spray to remove salt and deposits, paying attention to hard-to-reach areas, especially below deck.
If possible, store your pontoon boat on a trailer or lift when not in use to minimize exposure to saltwater. If storing in saltwater is necessary, consider coating the tubes and lower unit with anti-fouling/anti-corrosion paint.
In closing, thanks to modern design, technology, material advancements, and construction techniques, the answer to whether you can take your pontoon boat into open waters is a resounding yes.
Now go on and create #ManitouMoment on the ocean!