While pontoons have long been thought of as mostly inland-water boats, today pontoon boats are increasingly found on larger lakes and rivers, navigating coastal waters, even on occasion venturing into the open ocean.
Still, captains should always use discretion. Sea conditions, weather (both when you leave the dock and predicted throughout the day), and distance from shore should all be weighed into any decision to head out into larger, potentially rougher waters. While pontoons can safely handle moderate chop, most seasoned pontoon captains would suggest limiting wave height to 3’ - 4’ to keep your ride safe and comfortable.
Weather can easily be checked on various sites or apps or monitored on a handheld VHF radio (always a good item to have on hand). As to distance from shore, a good rule of thumb is to stay within 1-2 miles in good conditions and decrease that distance accordingly in rougher waters. The captain should also be realistic about his or her comfort and skill level and remember that passenger safety is always the captain’s responsibility.
How to determine if your pontoon boat is up to the task of being on the ocean or larger inland waters? Here are several points to consider.
Hull construction plays an important role in determining if your boat is up to the increased wear and tear that potentially comes in an open-water environment.
Start by considering pontoon size, wall thickness and horsepower. Tritoon, or triple-hull pontoon configurations perform best in rougher waters. Look for pontoon diameters of at least 25” and a minimum wall thickness of .090”. This combination will not only better handle rough conditions, it also provides the durability to handle greater wave impact, offer better overall stability in rough waters and support the higher horsepower engines (think 150 HP and above) that are a must to get you and your family and friends quickly and safely back home should conditions take a turn for the worse.
A V-hull-like pontoon configuration, like Manitou’s V-Toon® technology which drops the center tube lower in the water than the outer pontoons, can also lessen the jolt of rougher water and provide improved handling in open-water conditions.
For Manitou pontoon boats with V-Toon technology, it’s the precise positioning of the center tube, along with positive angle lifting strakes, that results in the exact degree of deadrise needed to simulate the standard v-hull. Extensive research has confirmed that an inch higher or an inch lower will detrimentally affect ride quality, stability, acceleration, speed, and handling.
If you are taking your pontoon boat into coastal waters, you’ll also want to factor in the added issue of salt exposure. As much of a pontoon’s basic structure is made from aluminum, rust isn’t an issue, but galvanic corrosion is. The chemical reaction that can occur when dissimilar metals (think aluminum, stainless steel, even copper) are immersed in an electrolyte (saltwater), galvanic corrosion can do lasting harm to any boat.
The good news is that galvanic corrosion typically attacks just one of the metals in question (the anode) and actually protects the other (the cathode). It’s for this reason coastal boaters have long relied on zinc to, in effect, “take one for the team.” A sacrificial metal often found in the form of a bolt-on disc or plate, zinc is an easy target for galvanic corrosion and its slow decay over time effectively protects the boat’s more valuable components.
If your boat will frequently be used in saltwater conditions, look for the option of a package targeted for the conditions, like Manitou’s Saltwater Package. It includes zinc anodes at the stern, an additional fuel/water separator and welded keels on the pontoon nosecones to prevent saltwater from becoming trapped within.
How you clean, maintain, and care for your boat will also impact its overall longevity when you’re taking it into rougher waters.
Before you leave the dock or ramp, inspect your boat for any signs of damage or loose fittings if you’re often pounding over the waves. If boating in saltwater, always give your boat a thorough washdown with fresh water at the end of the day. Use a powerful blast from the hose to rinse and remove salt and deposits, as well as get in the many nooks and crannies, especially below deck.
Ideally, pull or hoist a pontoon boat out of the water on a trailer or lift when not in use so that it doesn’t spend excess time in the salt. If you must store your boat in saltwater, coat the tubes and lower unit with an anti-fouling/anti-corrosion paint.
Thanks to modern design and technology, as well as advancements in both materials and construction, the answer to the original question — can you take your pontoon boat into open waters — is a resounding yes. Manitou pontoon boats, particularly our triple-hull pontoon configurations that feature our patented V-Toon Technology, are more than capable of handling larger inland waters, and even venturing into the ocean.
A fact that opens up an abundance of new opportunities…and even more ways to find that next memorable #ManitouMoment.