Did you know that May 19-25, 2018, is National Safe Boating Week? We take safety very seriously here at Manitou, and we wanted to share some statistics and tips to to promote pontoon boat safety—not just this week, but throughout the year.
In 2016, there were over 4400 recreational boating accidents, which resulted in 701 deaths, along with an estimated $49 million in damages. Of these accidents, 120 injuries and 47 deaths were reported to happen upon a pontoon boat. Don’t become a statistic—make safety your top priority to ensure a fun, secure trip for everyone!
Top Reasons for Boating Accidents
According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s most recent Recreational Boating Statistics Report, the major contributing factors to boating accident fatalities in 2016 were all related to operation of the vessel. The top 5 contributing factors for fatal accidents were:
- Alcohol Use: 282 Accidents, 87 Deaths
- Operator Inexperience: 480 Accidents, 62 Deaths
- Operator Inattention: 597 Accidents, 45 Deaths
- Excessive Speeds: 360 Accidents, 39 Deaths
- Improper Lookout: 475 Accidents, 20 Deaths
Machinery failure was also the #3 contributing factor to all reported accidents, resulting in 323 accidents and 9 deaths.
Boating accidents don’t need to be fatal to be devastating, as accidents can also cause significant injury and property loss. Do your part to ensure safety on the water, whether you’re the captain or a passenger.
Pontoon Boat Safety Tips
- Always have enough age-appropriate life jackets on board for every person in your party. Accidents happen in the blink of an eye, meaning life jackets are better worn than stowed when out on the water. As drownings can occur even when life jackets are worn, make sure to regularly inspect the condition of your life jackets.
- Know your pontoon boat’s capacity so you don’t overload your vessel and risk sinking.
- Create a float plan for each trip—or at the very least, tell someone where you are heading and when you plan to return.
- Make sure your passengers are seated and wearing proper safety gear before taking off.
- Be an attentive and informed operator in all circumstances. If it’s been a while since your last boater safety course, consider brushing up on what you need to know. When using your pontoon for water sports, designate another passenger as your extra set of eyes on the water.
- Don’t drink and boat; just like on the roadways, driving under the influence on the water is illegal.
- Use an anchor when you want your boat to remain stationary.
- Keep an eye out for weather changes. Knowing how to manage your vessel in heavy winds or other intense circumstances is always a smart choice.
- Stay up-to-date with routine maintenance on your boat.
Boat Safety Checklist
Avoid accidents and injuries by keeping a safety checklist, including all of the equipment you need in the case of an emergency. Ensure your pontoon has a fire extinguisher, ring buoy, and first aid kit so that you are prepared. In addition, perform routine maintenance on your pontoon so that the engine, navigation lights, and other systems run smoothly. Before taking out your boat, consider putting together a safety kit that includes items like a pocket knife, radio, battery charger, and extra food and drink.
Download and print our Boat Safety Checklist and to keep as a reminder throughout the season:
The power and performance of pontoon boats is becoming less of a secret and more of an expected feature for potential buyers. Nobody wants to give up the social aspect of the floating living room, but as engines get bigger and designs get sleeker (particularly with our V-Toon technology), pontoons—already the most versatile vessels on the water—are even more versatile.
Add More Speed
The maximum speed of your pontoon boat is affected by several factors, mainly the size of the engine, the number of tubes beneath the deck, and the amount of weight the boat is carrying.
[Related reading: How Fast is a Pontoon Boat?]
If you’re looking for a faster pontoon boat, the easiest way is to lighten the load. That is, fewer people, fewer coolers, less furniture, etc. One of the best aspects of a pontoon boat is its versatility. While socializing with large groups of friends and family is a great way to spend time, you can also grab just a few friends, some tubes, some skis, and spend the day on the water with speed.
Increasing the power of your engine will also add speed to your boat. Most performance pontoon boats come with engines that provide plenty of power for speeds of 18-30 MPH, which is enough for tubing and skiing, but if you have a less powerful engine and are ready to speed things up, you can look into adding more horsepower.
Increase Performance with V-Toon Technology
Our V-Toon technology is designed to act like a v-hull boat. With a center tube sitting lower in the water, the tritoon design can lift and plane like a fiberglass boat while maintaining the stability of a pontoon boat.
Pontoon boats with V-Toon hulls give you quicker acceleration and higher overall speeds.
Reduce drag from splashing water by adding underskinning, and reduce wind resistance by lowering the bimini cover. By making sure your pontoons are clean below the water line, you increase the smoothness of the boat’s movement through the water, with the end result being a faster pontoon.
By keeping up with necessary maintenance and adapting your boat to the needs of the day, you can maximize its performance to the exact purpose of that day. Slowly cruising with friends is just as accessible as waterskiing. It’s completely up to you.
[Check out our performance pontoon boats for the best of both worlds!]
One of the most confusing topics in all of boating, pontoon or otherwise, deals with gasoline—particularly ethanol. Can you use it? If so, what percentage of it is okay to use in your boat engine? We’ll try to alleviate the confusion by breaking down the essential points.
What is Ethanol?
Ethanol is added to fuel to diminish pollution. Acting as an oxygenate, ethanol—which is essentially 200-proof grain alcohol—reduces hydrocarbon emissions. We should note that ethanol used for fuel is not safe to drink.
The most common ethanol-blended fuel is E10, which means the fuel is made of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. E15 (15% ethanol and 85% gas) has been the source of much debate in Washington, D.C. lately, with the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) lobbying hard against the sale of E15.
Is Ethanol Gas Bad for Boat Motors?
This is where it gets confusing. E15 is not good for boats. Do not put E15 into your boat’s motor. Using E15 in your boat’s motor can cause unfixable damage. You could find yourself with complete engine failure and all the safety risks that come with using a fuel incompatible with your boat’s engine.
However, E10 is good and compatible with all marine engines built in the last 10 years or so. Because a fuel’s ethanol content is not always obvious at the pump, it’s important to make absolutely certain you’re using E10 before filling the tank. This confusion, and the potentially damaging effects of putting the wrong amount of ethanol in your boat, is just one of the reasons the NMMA is so adamantly opposed to the sale of E15.
If E15 is So Bad, Why the Controversy?
The fight is over whether to allow the year-round sale of E15. Because there is more ethanol and less gasoline than in E10, E15 is better for the environment, and proponents also say selling E15 all year would lower prices. Further, a demand for a more environmentally-friendly fuel might help the industry work to produce even better fuels.
Currently, E15 cannot be sold all year largely because it can’t be produced all year. Its fuel volatility in the summer months is too high, leaving too great a risk to produce it.
The NMMA’s worry is that year-round sales of E15 will add further confusion to the issue and potentially lead to accidental and unnecessary destruction of recreational boaters’ vessels. When boaters fill their tanks, they don’t always thoroughly check to make sure their fuel is E10, and one mistake can lead to complete engine failure.
As the NMMA continues to lobby for recreational boaters and the industry, it’s important to know how to keep your own boat safe when fueling.
- Given a choice between E10 and E15, always use E10. However, certain engines may require other fuels, so be sure to consult your owner’s manual first.
- Make absolutely certain you’re filling your tank with E10. Check at the pump. It’s easy to make a mistake, as some gas stations will have E10, E15, or even another type of fuel, so double (or triple) check before fueling.
One of the absolute greatest attributes of a pontoon boat has always been its versatility. There is no other boat on the water that lets people do as many things as a pontoon boat does.
Fishing, of course. Cruising with family and friends (and fitting a lot of them comfortably), yes. Socializing, swimming, dining—pontoon boats are floating parties, sanctuaries, or anything you want them to be.
And yes, you can waterski behind a pontoon boat.
Well, not every pontoon boat. Obviously, you need enough speed to be able to ski behind a boat, and to get speed, you need enough horsepower in the engine. Many people don’t associate horsepower with pontoon boats, but it’s time we change that belief.
Fun Skiing, Not Competitive Skiing
Let’s get this out of the way first: If you’re a competitive waterskier or wakeboarder, buy a ski boat. Serious skiers will want the wake generated by and maneuverability of a ski boat. For families and friends who enjoy tubing, skiing, or wakeboarding for fun, a pontoon boat could be exactly what you’re seeking.
Horsepower and Speed
In general, for someone to waterski or wakeboard, the boat needs to be moving at least 20 miles per hour, usually closer to 26 or 27. Tubing doesn’t require quite as much speed, and you can start to have fun at around 15 miles per hour.
A pontoon boat with a 70 horsepower engine is plenty for tubing. At that level, you might be able to get up on skis too, but 90 HP will serve you much better. After that, the more HP in your engine, the more adventurous you can get with your water sports.
It’s important to note these numbers are generalities. For example, if you’re entertaining 12 people on your boat, it’s going to be harder to reach speeds ideal for skiing. Ninety HP with 12 people on the boat moves a lot more slowly than 90 HP with two people. And 90 HP might be enough for a 20-foot boat to pull a skier, but you’re going to need more engine to ski behind a 26-foot boat.
Differences Between Skiing Behind a Pontoon Boat and Ski Boat
There is no doubt you can have fun wakeboarding, skiing, and tubing behind a pontoon boat, adding water sports to the long list of activities pontoon boats can accommodate.
As noted before, though, the shape of the wake won’t be what you traditionally think of in waterskiing. Essentially, this means you’ll have less rough water to play with on your skis. Likewise, pontoon boats generally aren’t as sharply maneuverable as a ski boat, so you won’t be flying side to side as much as you might on a boat designed specifically for sports; but for most people, a pontoon boat’s larger turning radius is plenty for a good time on skis. Only experienced, serious skiers will notice much of a difference.
Pontoon boats continue to get more versatile, more powerful, and more fun. Skiing, wakeboarding and tubing are just three of an ever-growing list of activities you can enjoy on your pontoon boat.
If you’re looking to invest in a new boat, there are several factors to consider. Many people narrow their options to choosing between a pontoon boat and a deck boat. Which is right for you? Obviously, it depends on what you’re looking for in a boat.
Consider these factors:
In general, a deck boat will be more expensive than a pontoon boat. However, more luxurious pontoon models will begin to approach a similar price point to a deck boat. And, depending on what type of engine you choose for either, that alone could cost up to 50% of the price of the boat itself. Obviously, prices vary among both styles of boats, but in most cases, a deck boat will cost more.
Size and Space
The actual size can be quite similar from a deck boat to a pontoon boat, so if this is your deciding factor, consider the purpose of your boat. Deck boats can usually accommodate up to 12 people, but the more-spacious layout of a pontoon boat can comfortably and safely fit up to 16 people on large models.
Pontoon boats have always been known as one of the best values on the water because of their ability to hold so many people at such an attractive price point.
With deck boats able to entertain up to a dozen people as well, you’ll want to consider what type of space you’re seeking. Most deck boats have all seating facing forward, which is especially nice when cruising at a high speed, whereas pontoons have the flexibility to face any direction, even re-arranging furniture while entertaining friends or family on the lake.
Both types of boat will have a fair amount of storage space, but generally speaking, a pontoon boat will have more.
Hull, Stability, and Ride
The decks of most pontoon boats lay flat across the two pontoons (also known as a multi-hull design), which makes them ideal for socializing. The flat hull keeps the boat steady in the water, both while moving and sitting still.
Deck boats, however, use v-hulls, which cut through the water while moving, allowing deck boats to accelerate more quickly than traditional pontoons. A pontoon boat trying to reach the same speed as a deck boat will require more fuel to do so; however, pontoons are much more fuel-efficient overall.
The downside of the fiberglass v-hull comes from its central axis, which leads the boat to rock with wind, waves, or movement of the passengers on the boat.
You no longer have to choose one or the other, though. Manitou’s V-Toon Technology, available on many of our models, mimics a traditional v-hull in shape while maintaining the stability of traditional pontoons.
Generally speaking, because of the different types of hulls, deck boats are better for slicing through the water, but pontoon boats keep you steady, whether you’re in motion or not.
With the recent increases in power on pontoon boats (again, depending on the type of engine you select), the disparities between what you can do on a deck boat as compared to a pontoon boat are shrinking, especially when you consider V-Toon performance.
For instance, a pontoon with a 150-horsepower engine is plenty for tubing or water skiing; however, it’s worth noting that if you’re an experienced tuber or skier, you may not catch as much air as you’d like. Deck boats are still superior in that respect, as they slice through the water and give you some wake to navigate.
If your water sport of choice is fishing, a pontoon boat is the way to go. Not that you can’t fish from a deck boat, but the stable platform and additional room on a pontoon boat will definitely be to your advantage as you try to reel in tonight’s dinner.
As with any watercraft, it’s essential to keep your boat clean and in working order. This requires effort on both deck and pontoon boats, but the difference here is most noticeable on the hulls. The aluminum pontoons are far easier to clean and maintain than the fiberglass hull of a deck boat, which needs to be wiped down after every day spent on the water. If you don’t wipe the gelcoat meticulously, water spots become ridiculously difficult to remove later.
Which is Right for You?
Pontoon boats remain the best value on the water and continue to advance, both in style and power, without losing the essential wide-open spaces perfect for entertaining socializing. Deck boats give you a little less space for socializing, but in many cases will move you through the water faster, even if you have to sacrifice a little stability and keep up a meticulous maintenance regimen. And if you find yourself wanting the best of both worlds, explore Manitou’s performance pontoons.
Pontoon boats are ideal for inland lakes and rivers, but that doesn’t mean they’re not fit for ocean waters. In fact, they’re often used on the ocean, though generally close to shore and in inter-coastal areas such as bays and inlets.
A pontoon’s seaworthiness and safety on the ocean depends on the boat’s size, performance, and construction. Is it built to withstand the harsher conditions of salt water?
As the performance and handling of pontoons and tritoons continues to improve, people are starting to venture farther out. In addition to the quality of the boat, how far to go away from shore is up to the captain’s discretion and depends on the weather conditions. The captain should take into account how quickly they can navigate back to the marina or harbor if bad weather were to arise. (With dual engine models, this can be done pretty quickly).
Another brand took their pontoon boat from Florida to Cuba last year, and we do not recommend nor promote this as something you should do with a pontoon. We often say that on calm days, you can be safe within a couple miles of shore.
Construction and Performance Considerations
With larger bodies of water can come big waves, but the right construction makes a difference. While the greater stability that comes with a triple-hull pontoon can help, larger tubes – at least 25” in diameter – are also recommended for venturing onto bigger waters.
The pontoon tube thickness should also be considered for boating in ocean conditions, as in the sheet aluminum used to make the tubes. We make some of the thickest pontoons in the industry, beginning at a minimum of .090”
Having adequate horsepower to overcome waves when you need to is also important. The larger the better here, with 150 HP being the bare minimum we’d recommend for traveling any distance away from shore on a pontoon.
Protect Your Investment
Aluminum pontoons will react to salt water by corroding. Before going out on the ocean, extra care should be taken to protect the boat, including coating the tubes with an anti-fouling bottom paint. Equally as important is rinsing the hull thoroughly in fresh water after it has been exposed to salt water.
Finally, before you decide to take your pontoon boat out into brackish or sea water, be aware of the terms of the pontoon boat manufacturer‘s warranty. It may not protect your boat from corrosion due to salt water.
Bottom paint (also called antifouling paint) is one of many recommendations for maintaining recreational and commercial boats. So do pontoon boats need it? The short answer: It depends on where and how you use the pontoon.
Pontoons that are moored in freshwater for the season will benefit from bottom painting. Without it, the hull is susceptible to algae buildup, which can inhibit the boat’s speed and performance over time.
For pontoons moored in freshwater for shorter spans, or stored on a lift, trailer, or in dry storage between freshwater uses, bottom paint is not necessary as long as the pontoons are pressure washed thoroughly after each trip to remove any potential hitchhikers.
If the pontoon will be used in seawater or in brackish water like estuaries, bottom paint is absolutely necessary to protect the aluminum pontoons from corrosion below the waterline.
How Bottom Paint Works
When bottom paint is applied to a boat’s hull, it discourages salt, algae, barnacles, and other aquatic organisms from attaching to the surface. The paint includes a biocide as the “active ingredient,” which intentionally wears off over time and through activity in the water, thereby keeping organisms and deposits from collecting on the hull over time.
Once bottom paint has been applied to a boat, it must be maintained and reapplied as recommended by the manufacturer to keep the pontoons protected.
Antifouling Paint for Aluminum Pontoons
Different antifouling paints are recommended for saltwater and freshwater, and for various types of boats. Whether you apply it yourself or have your dealer or a boat service technician do the work, make sure that only paint created specifically for aluminum hulls is used.
Many bottom paints contain a copper oxide, but pontoon owners should avoid these. Unlike metals do not react well with each other, and a bottom paint that contains copper will end up eating away at the aluminum – similar to how salt would pit or corrode the hull over time if it hadn’t been protected in the first place. An alternative to copper is a metal-free biocide called Econea.
Protect your investment from the hull up with a bottom paint that’s designed specifically for pontoons.
Source: Top Ten Antifouling Paint Buying Questions from West Marine
Manitou’s flagship model is destined to become a modern classic.
BY ALAN JONES
Manitou is one of the builders that has made twin-outboard pontoons more mainstream than anyone would have imagined a few years ago, which makes sense given the pontoon’s similarities to catamaran hulls that often have twins. Unlike twin-outboard monohulls that have their motors close together on the transom, the 25 Legacy LT has its twin engines placed far apart on the outer pontoons, making those horsepower more useful than just for propulsion. Spreading the engines far apart helps with maneuverability at speed and around the dock, but it also opens up the center for getting in and out of the water using the stout stainless steel boarding ladder with swimming pool–style grabrails.
The setup allows the swim platform to be pushed far back in the middle, because there’s no engine there, delivering more real estate exactly where it’s needed. Manitou cleverly solved the riddle of how to integrate the ski tow and the ladder in the same location. It made the standard stainless steel ski tow large enough that any passenger can board and enter the water within its perimeter, a configuration that also keeps the tow line from chafing the engine cowlings, even during the hardest skier cut.
Eschewing the ubiquitous aluminum fencing/rail exterior used on most pontoons, Manitou uses an all-fiberglass exoskeleton to give the boat a bold look and an intricate molded shape that aluminum-clad pontoons can’t achieve. While Manitou offers some of the industry’s boldest color choices, such as the metallic lime green model we tested last year, the top-of-the-line Legacy LT takes a different approach. The four color choices for the center panel are more conservative, as are the four different color choices for the surrounding fiberglass. For a little extra panache, buyers have a choice of four colors for the powder-coated rubrail and its stainless steel protector.
The model I tested took the current hot trend of gray to the extreme, incorporating a two-tone automotive paint job on the exterior that was a perfect match with its Yamahas. Inside, the upholstery was dark and light gray with black piping. It exuded classiness. The bow entry gate is cut from one piece of billet aluminum and was powder-coated to match the boat’s color scheme. It’s heavy, so Manitou wisely designed it to lock into place, whether open or closed, for extra security.
Manitou will rig its boats with any outboard brand, a smart move to satisfy customer preference that’s made even smarter by the fact that in certain areas of the country buyers might only have one outstanding dealer nearby. The dual-engine options on this boat range from 150s all to way to Mercury Racing’s new 400R, but the cost for the alpha dog package — the Mercury XL Carbon Edition with twin 400R outboards — is an additional $101,475.
Our test boat featured Yamaha F300s, which add $66,075 to the base price of $92K. Buyers can take the Yamaha option all the way to a pair of F350 V-8s, but the additional 402 pounds, not to mention the extra $16,275, make the F300s the Yamaha sweet spot. The acceleration was breathtaking, giving the 25 Legacy LT a time to plane of 2.1 seconds and a time to 30 mph of four seconds flat — one of the quickest times we recorded during testing for 2018, regardless of boat type. Top speed was an un-pontoon-like 63.3 mph.
Wisely, Manitou offers only one tube configuration for the Legacy LT, and that’s its industry-changing SHP (Sport Handling Package): twin 25-inch logs on the outside and an oversized 27-inch center tube that’s been dropped so it’s 5¼ inches lower than the outer tubes. The arrangement results in a pontoon that mimics a V-hull and leans in noticeably during hard turns — despite having positive-angle lifting strakes on both sides of all tubes, which we’ve learned tend to “push back” in hard corners and normally result in a flat cornering attitude. Despite being nearly 27 feet long and weighing 4,310 pounds, the 25 Legacy LT was very nimble and stayed hooked up even when I turned the wheel all the way to it stops.
The 25 Legacy LT is a good choice for boaters who live on large bodies of water and need the buoyancy the big center tube and six lifting strakes generate. The tubes are tipped with what Manitou calls Barracuda nosecones. Saber-sharp and reinforced, they effortlessly cleave through larger waves.
Twin engines make docking easier, especially when they are spread as far apart as they are on the Manitou. Our test boat took it to the next level with joystick docking, though it’s the only Yamaha-powered joystick boat I’ve seen that didn’t use the Helm Master system. Instead, Manitou offers SeaStar Solutions’ Optimus 360 system ($16,250), which worked very well. With it, drivers can walk the pontoon sideways. Remember, though, to let go of the joystick control before reaching the dock, because the outboards can reach outside the protection of the pontoons and get their cowling dinged.
Our test boat was fully rigged for watersports, including an optional Sport Arch ($10,000) that was color-matched to the exterior and had a Bimini top, a ski tow — combined they give the Legacy LT two tow points than can handle any watersport — and an optional in-floor locker set deep into the 27-inch center tube ($1,500). The boat had an optional forward Bimini ($1,100). A pop-up privacy booth was set into the port bow recliner.
To enhance the entertainment factor, the 25 Legacy LT might have one of the best standard stereos I’ve ever seen: an 800-watt JL Audio system with a subwoofer and six lighted speakers, including two on the transom that fire rearward, for some tunes while swimming. The only stereo option is a pair of coffee cans on the Sport Arch that cost $1,875.
The 25 Legacy LT features quad loungers with fiberglass frames that continue the overall theme. The two in the stern are slightly shorter. Perhaps the best option on the boat is the upgrade to a companion bucket seat called Aqua Lounger that includes a kick-out footrest ($250). Standard features abound, so buyers won’t have to check very many boxes on the options list. At the helm, there’s both a standard Simrad Evo 3 smart screen and a seven-inch Murphy display that allows the driver to control any of the boat’s systems. Our test boat had the optional Yamaha CL seven-inch smart screen ($550), which replaced the Simrad unit. Manitou offers a choice of beige or gray vinyl flooring as standard, but 13 options range from $1,250 to $1,300.
The standard 25 Legacy LT is well lit with both interior and exterior lights, and items such as speakers and cupholders glow blue. For refreshments, Manitou offers several custom cooler options, including an Orion 45 Super Cooler ($561) that has a Manitou-logoed top pad or a more modestly priced soft-side carryon ($63). For on-the-water dining, grab the Magma grill option for $388.
Purchased by Steve and Marilynn Myers, Denver, N.C.
Purchased at Foothills Marina, Mooresville, N.C.
WHAT WE LIKED
Fit and finish/Attractive styling/Rough-water handling/Turning ability/900-watt stereo/Power Bimini top
WHAT WE WOULD CHANGE
I would like to have gone with the twin-engine option but my budget ran out at one 250 hp outboard.
WHY WE BOUGHT IT
We have had the same Correct Craft ski boat since 1980 and a twin-tube Sweetwater pontoon we bought in 1994. We had no intention of buying another boat until we went to the Charlotte Boat Show and fell in love with the Manitou Legacy. We loved its styling and realized it could replace our two older boats. We live on Lake Norman, which is large, and visiting someone across the lake could take an hour on our old pontoon and we worried about weather kicking up. With the Manitou, we can make it in 25 minutes. We were tempted by the twin-engine version, but the Yamaha VMAX SHO 250 pushes it really well. On our first trip, we had 11 people on board and one of our guests wanted to go slalom skiing; we were surprised when he got up easily. We have four grown kids and a 5-year-old grandson, and they like to go sightseeing, tubing and skiing. The buying process at Foothills Marina was great. I told them what features I wanted and what I wanted to do with the boat, and they made sure it was properly equipped. After the sale, they went to great lengths to make sure my
For many people, pontoon boats are associated with Grandpa’s old ‘toon idling lazily around the lake with the grandkids fishing off the side. Early pontoons were not fast enough for watersports and had few of the modern conveniences that cuddy cabins and bowriders could provide.
In the late 1980s, manufacturers like Manitou Pontoons from Lansing, Michigan saw the potential of a faster pontoon boat and started designing models that could handle bigger engines. When 115-hp outboards appeared on the back of pontoons, customers that once said they would never get a pontoon took a second look.
The addition of a third tube to pontoon designs increased structural stability and buoyancy, and opened the door to even heavier, higher-horsepower engines. The increase in power allowed pontoons to pull skiers and tubers, and created a boat that was more appealing and versatile.
The 2018 Manitou X-Plode XT is a shining example of pontoon potential. With the X-Plode, Manitou set out to change the pontoon stereotype of a party barge into that of a fast, colorful, full-featured sportboat that could outperform many of its V-hulled cousins. The Manitou X-Plode XT accomplishes that mission with style and ease, while carrying more passengers, too.
A 70 mph pontoon?
When someone invites you to go for a ride on their shiny new pontoon boat, the last thing you expect to need is a pair of goggles. But goggles were the one thing I was missing when I met Greg and Tim from Manitou Pontoons at Duck Lake — about 20 miles south of Lansing, Michigan — to go for an afternoon cruise.
Manitou has built pontoon boats at their headquarters in Lansing for more than 30 years. They use Duck Lake for testing because it has a clean, predictable bottom free of prop-eating obstructions and submerged surprises that might create an unpleasant situation if struck at 70 mph.
Yes, that’s correct. Seventy mph. Seven, zero. And yes, on a pontoon boat.
Sitting at the dock, the 27-foot X-Plode XT looks like it’s straining at the lines. The boat comes in several color combinations, including more tame options like black or white. Customers who want to stand out from the crowd can choose a bright orange or electric lime green X-Plode.
Manitou works closely with several outboard manufacturers to ensure their engines are installed to the highest factory specifications and to offer their customers power options that best fit their needs. Our test boat featured twin Mercury 400-hp engines, but twin 300s are the most popular choice for the X-Plode series. Customers can also choose from smaller or single engine configurations.
Manitou takes their manufacturing standards to the extreme. With finished storage compartments, built-in seating hardware, one-piece aluminum safety doors, and engine mounts built to withstand the power and weight of twin outboards, Manitou’s workmanship, fit and finish are exemplary.
The Manitou X-Plode XT is offered in several floorplans, including the new-for-2018 27-foot RFX layout. All of the structures from the deck up are fiberglass. Vinyl seating and non-skid vinyl decks with snap-down covers resist stains and damage, making the entire boat easy to clean with a boat brush and a hose.
Felt-lined storage compartments are hidden underneath the seats, and a hatch in the floor allows access to the interior of the center tube. This 6-foot storage space is great for stashing longer items like skis or covers, and also includes an automatic bilge pump to ensure the contents stay dry.
Loud and proud
Creature comforts such as LED accents in the cupholders, around seat bases and on the sport arch are just plain cool. JL Audio is a standard feature with an amp, a subwoofer and LED-lit speakers throughout the boat. A color-matched Bimini and mooring cover are also included. A pop-up privacy station allows guests to change out of wet swimsuits before dining at the standard aft table.
Electronic options from Manitou’s engine partners are a nice touch. Systems such as Mercury’s joystick controls and VesselView provide engine feedback and precise handling in tight spaces. Manitou’s own Smart Touch screen gives the captain control over lighting, entertainment and navigation features.
Manitou recognized the benefits of the third pontoon early on. Structural integrity is improved with the extra tube, but Manitou went a step further and created a patented V-Toon design. The result is a faster, better handling pontoon boat.
With precise placement of the third tube and the addition of scientifically designed lifting strakes, Manitou has create a pontoon hull profile that mimics a V-bottomed boat. The design climbs up on plane with minimal bow lift, rides softer and more stable in rough water, and takes a hard turn with the same control and feel as a V-hull.
With Tim at the wheel and Greg up front, we went for a ride down the lake. I didn’t really know what to expect from a 70 mph pontoon boat. As we began to climb in speed, I was very glad I remembered what it was like to fly across open water and had taken off my glasses before they were ripped from my face.
When we hit just under 70 mph carrying three big guys and a full gas tank, I understood why a dog hangs out of a car window with his cheeks flapping. I had to fight the urge to grin like a cartoon character and let my tongue hang out.
Turning back, I was really impressed by the stable feel as the boat leaned into turns like a V-hull. We climbed back up to full speed again before criss-crossing our own wake and that of another boat. The ride was always dry and smooth.
Best of both worlds
The Manitou X-Plode XT is difficult to label. It’s a hard-charging, smooth-riding dayboat that reminds you it’s a pontoon when 15 people can find comfortable seats. With the sport arch, it could be mistaken for a ski boat and easily tows adult wakeboarders and tubers. The best classification I could come up with is “high-speed aquatic entertainment platform.”
We ran the X-Plode XT back toward the dock, then stopped and idled up the lake for a while so we could talk. As I tried to think of any last questions or clarification I might need, we all grew quiet, enjoying the fall air and beautiful view. After riding in silence for a few minutes, I turned to Tim, and with a silly grin I said, “Do it again.”
Tim’s grin matched mine as he leaned forward and pressed his glasses securely onto his face. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Greg grab one of the handrails as the twin Mercury 400s started to wind up, and we tore off down the lake like a rocket.
One thing is certain: This is not your grandpa’s pontoon boat!
Generally speaking, pontoons can handle much better in choppy water than other recreational boats since they have at least two hulls, providing more stability to the boat than one hull could. If a pontoon (with two ‘toons) is more stable than a monohull, imagine how much better a tritoon’s third tube can make it!
Of course, while a pontoon boat itself is generally safe, a little common sense goes a long way on the water. Besides ignoring common sense, what can get you in trouble on a pontoon is not knowing how to handle the boat when the water gets rough.
Can a Pontoon Flip Over?
Sure, it’s possible to flip your pontoon. It certainly has happened. But it’s highly unlikely if you’re being responsible. While forces of nature cannot be controlled, there are steps you can take as a boat owner and captain to make sure you reduce the chance of these types of accidents on the water.
Here are a couple factors to keep in mind:
Keep an even load on board. This applies to cargo loads, as well as loads of passengers. Consider how weight distribution can contribute to safety on choppy waters. Make sure your passengers know the importance of maintaining balance on board, especially in rough conditions. Keep in mind that any modifications you make to the boat can also affect its balance or center of gravity. For this reason, “Double decker” pontoon boats with a second level, while they offer additional options for fun on the water, are much more prone to tipping.
The bigger the boat, the more weight the elements have to contend with, and the larger the pontoons, the greater the boat’s stability. If your pontoon is on the smaller side, you’ll want to make sure conditions are safe before going out on the water.
Keeping Your Pontoon Stable in Rough Waters
To keep your pontoon safe in rough waters, the key of course is to keep the pontoons above the water and avoid the risk of burying the nosecones. If you’re cruising straight into big waves, and you slow down before hitting a trough, chances are you’re going to dip the pontoon’s nose below water and will take some of that water on board when it crashes over the bow. Depending on the force of the waves, this can cause damage to the pontoon’s playpen, which can cost a considerable amount to fix. Rather than slowing down when riding into the waves, trim up just before hitting the wave. This will help lift the boat’s bow more.
Adjust your course so you’re riding properly into the waves. When possible, rather than riding head-on into the waves, cruise so the waves are at a 30 to 45 degree angle from the center of the boat. Taking the waves at an angle will allow you to keep your bow high more consistently. At this angle, one of the tubes will also ride high, allowing the boat to glide into and out of the waves’ crests and troughs more smoothly. There is still potential to dip the corner of the boat, however.
It is possible to get a special handling package on your boat to handle the elements better. For instance, our Sports Handling Package (SHP) allows higher horsepower and includes power assisted steering, positive angle lifting strakes, and barracuda nosecones, all of which are better for handling rough waters. Underskinning can also help reduce drag from water splashing up beneath the boat.
Watch the Weather and the Water
This is obvious, but you should always check weather and marine forecasts before going out on the boat. When you are on the water, keep an eye on the skies and look for any changes in the water. If conditions start to turn, it’s always better to prioritize safety over pushing for a little more time on the lake.