Searching for your first pontoon boat doesn’t have to be overwhelming, even if it may seem like it at first. You know pontoon boats are the most versatile craft on the water, so whatever you get will be able to accommodate your specific desires. Still, you can hone in further to make sure you get the ideal boat for what you like to do, while maintaining the versatility that will allow you to enjoy other activities, as well.
Call it a “starter boat” if you want, but with all the possibilities available, you’ll consider yourself a boating veteran in no time.
What Do You Want to Do with Your Pontoon Boat?
If you plan to use your boat for skiing, tubing, and other water sports, you need to look into a model with a powerful engine and easy access in and out of the water.
Prefer lounging, entertaining, or fishing? If so, you can focus less on the boat’s power and more on its deck space, seating capacity and configuration, and specialty fishing accessories like a live well, fish locator, and fishing chairs.
Again, because pontoon boats are incredibly versatile, you won’t be sacrificing one activity in order to get another. Instead, think of it as maximizing the activities you will do most often.
For more of the basics to consider, check out Four Questions to Ask Before You Buy.
First Pontoon Boats: Get a Lot for a Little
One of the best features of pontoon boats—at all price levels—is how much you get relative to the cost. The value of a pontoon boat is unbeatable.
When looking for a starter boat, there are three Manitou models we recommend you look at right away, to get Manitou’s industry-leading performance at an affordable price:
Known as the most accessible pontoon boat on the water, the 2018 Aurora has all the craftsmanship and performance you expect from Manitou, but at the most attractive price in the line.
The most customizable Manitou line, Aurora LE, lets you choose exactly what you want while getting unmatchable performance at this price point.
Aurora Angler LE
Built for the fisherman, the Aurora Angler LE is extremely customizable and adaptable to all pontoon activities. This model gives you the fishing chairs and accessories you need to spend the day angling on the water.
Find Your Pontoon Model
Pontoon boats are versatile, accessible, and affordable. If you’re looking for your first pontoon boat, the Aurora models will give you value you can’t find anywhere else.
When you want your pontoon boat to go faster, or ride smoother in rough waters, you would benefit from having lifting strakes. But what are lifting strakes? What do they do? And do you have them already?
Chances are, if you’ve purchased a 3 tube pontoon boat in the last several years (and certainly if you bought it from us), lifting strakes were already installed and are doing their job.
As pontoon boats continue to get more versatile, allowing for owners to leisurely float, casually cruise, or play water sports like skiing and tubing at high speeds, outboard motors are getting bigger.
With bigger outboards, the pontoons need some help generating lift. Without lift, the boat would be limited to floating and slow cruising. That’s where lifting strakes come in. The strakes, welded directly onto the pontoons, produce lift at the bow by displacing water, allowing the boat to, in essence, glide above the water rather than lumber through it.
Many lifting strakes use negative angles, which can generate lift, but can hurt the quality of the ride due to increased slamming loads.
Manitou’s lifting strakes work to not only create lift, but also to make the ride smoother.
Manitou V-Toon Lifting Strake Design
Instead of using negative-angle strakes, we designed strakes that work in concert with our V-Toon technology to give boaters the speed—and the smooth ride—they want. The key is creating and maintaining balance.
Because our V-Toon tritoon boats are the most agile and predictable at high speeds on the water, we attached strakes to the inside and outside of all three pontoons of our SHP (sports handling package) hulls, enhancing the agility and predictability to keep you moving exactly as you want, whether you’re skiing, cruising, or anchoring.
Benefits of Lifting Strakes
When your strakes are installed properly and working effectively, you get several tangible benefits:
- More speed. When you’re above the water rather than trying to plow through it, you can generate significantly more speed.
- Smoother ride. Especially with V-Toon technology, the balance and lift you get from the strakes keep your ride smooth.
- Better fuel efficiency. Simple: when it’s easier for your boat to move, it requires less fuel to do so.
Lifting strakes can be retrofitted to your pontoons, but as mentioned earlier, most new models will come equipped with them. If you decide to add them to your current model, you’ll of course want to make sure they are expertly positioned and that the welding is top-notch to get the true benefits of the modification.
Are you in the market for a new (or new to you) pontoon? Strakes are a feature you’ll want for an optimal experience on the water.
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 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
Pontoon boats have evolved over time to become a serious choice for people in the market for a powerboat. The various styles, models, and constructions available today offer versatility to match the needs of any recreational boater.
Besides the size of the boat itself, one of the biggest differentiators for today’s pontoons is the number of tubes making up the boat’s hull. So, are you wanting a pontoon or a tritoon?
What is a tritoon?
A tritoon is a triple-hull pontoon boat. Instead of having two large aluminum tubes beneath the deck, a tritoon has a third tube in the center that distributes weight even more evenly over the water. This added stability and structure also means the boat can handle more horsepower than a typical double-hull pontoon boat. [Read about our patented V-Toon technology.]
What Are You Looking For in a Boat?
If you’re trying to decide between purchasing a pontoon or a tritoon, how and where you plan to use the boat will help you decide which will be a better fit.
Many consumers will want a multipurpose boat that can match a variety of lifestyles.
If all you want from a boat is a relaxing cruise on a calm lake, a twin-tube might be all you need. If you’re looking for a stylish and stable fishing boat, both pontoons and tritoons can be optimally outfitted for anglers of all ages and levels.
If you want to reach more thrilling max speeds, or your time on the water will include pulling skiers or tubers, the choice is pretty clear. A two-tube pontoon can handle some horsepower, but adding a third tube allows for more engine, higher speeds, and more exciting options for activity on the water.
Budget vs. Desired Experience
Anyone who has experienced the difference will tell you that cost is really the only reason to go with two tubes over three. Three-tube models will come with a greater price tag, but along with that comes more stability, a smoother ride, higher cruising speeds when you want them – all underscoring a more delightful experience for everyone on board.
If you are looking for a boat to use primarily on very small bodies of water, you may not see the benefit of owning a tritoon. However, in any situation where you might contend with wind, rough water, and wakes, consider the value of the tritoon’s enhanced ride.
Think of it this way: The third tube gives you better control on the water. Instead of the water being in charge with a twin-tube pontoon, the captain is in charge on a tritoon.
For the boater who does a little of everything, a performance tritoon is well worth the investment.
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.
One of the first questions to ask before buying a new boat is, “What will I use it for the most?”
It can be tough to narrow it down to only one activity. But if you’re looking for a good boat for fishing trips and a comfortable family boat with room for relaxing or entertaining, you don’t have to be torn on which of these to prioritize. With the many fishing pontoons on the market, the dilemma of fishing boat vs. pontoon can be easily solved. Why not get one boat that offers the best of both worlds, and perhaps even more?
Fishing Pontoons: The Best of Both Worlds
Pontoons provide a spacious and safe fishing experience thanks to the wide deck and the stability created by the twin-tube hull. A pontoon’s stability and shallow draft also means you won’t lose your balance moving around to fish from a different spot on the deck – so you won’t scare fish as easily as you would in boats that tend to rock. For all of these reasons, pontoons can be great for teaching kids how to fish.
With the right boat, a morning of fishing will easily transition into a day of relaxation – or active recreation – with family and friends. Pontoons make it easy to create a living room vibe on the water. The stability, deck size, and comfy furniture create a safe and family-friendly atmosphere for kids who might get antsy in close quarters. Depending on the boat’s size and layout, guests will have plenty of space to relax on cozy couches and lounge seats.
Whether you’re fishing or cruising, the pontoon’s bimini cover will provide welcome shade on sunny days.
Pontoon Fishing Boat Setup
Pontoons are also great fishing boats because they have ample room for stowing your gear and customizing a setup for your optimal fishing excursion. Many run-of-the-mill pontoons can be adapted for your preferred fishing setup, but angler pontoons have these essential features built in, or easily added on:
- Two or four-corner fishing seats
- Fishing rod holders
Pontoon Fishing Boat Layouts
If your idea of a fishing pontoon is a small square deck on barrels, allow us to blow your mind. Depending on what you plan for your boat’s primary use, you can prioritize seating for entertaining or for maximum fishing capacity.
Our fishing pontoon models (Aurora Angler, Oasis Angler, and Encore Pro Angler) have two roomy layouts to choose from: Standard (four-point fishing) and Full Front (two-point fishing). The best layout for you will depend on how you’ll use the boat most, and whether you’ll do mostly solo fishing or prefer to bring a group.
Not Your Typical Fishing Pontoon
Pontoons have a reputation for not handling well in choppy waters, but we’ve addressed that with our patented V-Toon hull. Our luxury tritoon fishing boats include a third tube that increases stability and mimics a v-shaped hull. Whether on two tubes or three, add the right horsepower and you’ll have a high speed pontoon – so when you’re not fishing, you can enjoy a thrilling day of cruising and watersports.
Worried too much engine could scare away your potential catch? You might opt to add an electric trolling motor to the front so you can make a quieter approach. Our angler models include the option of a half door and a trolling motor outlet. (Browse fishing pontoon optional features.)
Not all fishing pontoons are made equal, and not all pontoons have the best layout for entertaining. Whether you’re a diehard angler or a family weekend fisher, Manitou’s angler pontoons offer an optimal experience for versatile boaters.