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
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 pontoon 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.
The following story and accompanying photos were contributed by Gary Baldwin at Lakeview Marina, a Manitou dealer in Noblesville, Indiana. Gary brought a Manitou X-Plode tritoon to the 11th annual Lake Cumberland Poker Run, a large powerboat poker run, the weekend of September 8-10, 2017. Read on for his thoughts on bringing a pontoon to run with powerboats. Thanks for sharing your experience, Gary!
I work part time as a salesman at Lakeview Marina in Noblesville, Indiana. Being retired and a boat nut, the job gives me the opportunity to enjoy boating more than I normally could. Yes, I have a lake house, and yes, we have multiple boats – but of course if you are a boat nut, the more boats you get to enjoy the better.
The boats I’ve had and have are small and slow compared to what I would be up against on this particular weekend at Lake Cumberland. My home lake is Lake Freeman in Monticello, Indiana, and like on most small lakes, 95 percent of the boats are under 26 feet. Very few can exceed 50 mph. So I knew this would be a challenge.
Why bring a pontoon to this poker run?
Lakeview Marina has a history with performance boats, with many friends in the powerboating industry. As a sponsor for this year’s Lake Cumberland Poker Run, and not having a larger powerboat in stock (I sold it), we decided – with owner Jeff Lingenfelter’s nervous blessing – to take a Manitou pontoon boat. This was not your typical pontoon, but a 25 foot dual outboard with 600 HP. This would be my first time taking any boat to a powerboat poker run. I was given the opportunity to run with many 1000 HP boats, quite a few bigger boats with 2000 HP, and just for the thrill of it, seeing boats with over 3000 HP thunder across the water at well over 100 mph. The challenge for the weekend was not to keep up with these guys, but to keep myself and my passengers SAFE in the wakes of mega power and heavy cruisers on a big lake.
The pontoon is a 2017 Manitou X-Plode SWR SHP, 25 feet long with two Evinrude 300 HP G2 outboards, sport arch, joystick assist steering, and a nice big stereo. A very impressive pontoon for the small lakes in Indiana I’m accustomed to boating on. In the weeks leading up to the poker run, I was warned many times about how big and rough the event would be, how crowded it would be in many areas of the lake, and DON’T run into multi-million-dollar boats!
Challenge #1: Maneuvering the Pontoon in Tight Spaces
The Manitou X-Plode and its joystick assist steering coupled to the Evinrude outboards was such a joy. Maneuvering a pontoon on a windy day in tight spaces can be a challenge for even the most experienced pilot. Entering a marina, I would push the Command button to engage the joystick and place the pontoon where I wanted, never having to touch the steering wheel or the two shift handles. Our slip was partially blocked by a very big Fountain powerboat, and beside us were two very expensive show boats. The paint jobs on these boats likely exceeded the cost of our pontoon. More than once, I backed the Manitou pontoon into the slip, past the beak of the Fountain and beside the two other show boats.
Getting gas in a crowded marina on a busy Saturday morning was a typical task made more difficult by windy and tight conditions. I held the Manitou pontoon inline in a cross breeze, and once it was our turn to get gas, I used the joystick to spin the boat counterclockwise about 60 degrees on its center to get parallel with the dock. Then I moved the boat backwards and to the right while staying parallel to the dock to get gas. Getting out of the marina with other boats struggling to maintain “No Wake” and keep thousands of horsepower under control was a predicament. I would side shift out of line and let them pass, shifting back in line once they passed and gave us the thumbs up. This happened many times during the weekend.
On Friday afternoon, when parking at another marina to get food, my choice was either a long walk or once again docking between two boats costing many times more than our pontoon – and it was an easy choice. I went straight to the space, spun 90 degrees, and side shifted into the space. This was not as hard as the maneuvering to get gas, as there was no wind involved, but it’s still something you could not do without the joystick assist.
Challenge #2: Running at Speed with a 600 HP Pontoon Boat
On Friday, we spent most of the day running together. Running with a professional I could trust on my first day at such an event help me get accustomed to running long distances at speed in rough conditions. The Manitou with 600 HP and a V-Toon hull easily kept up with him and many other cruisers and hot boats, running up to and a little over 60 mph. In the Manitou pontoon with the Evinrude G2 outboards, I would hit the Sync button and use one shifter to control both outboards.
We spent much of the day running in the range of 50 to 60 mph. Loaded with gas and coolers, we exceeded 60 mph on clear water many times. In a heavy chop, I would do as the powerboats do, trim down, and the V-Toon hull cut the swells down for a better ride. As the swells cleared, I would trim up and enjoy the ride. I’ve ridden on many a pontoon, and this is the only one I’ve driven that reacts to trim in such a positive way.
Many of the boats we passed could exceed 90 mph on good water, so it was fun to see them catching air and a pounding trying to keep up with Grandpa in a pontoon boat that weekend. We did get a “thumbs up” from many – just not the ones holding on with both hands trying to keep up.
Challenge #3: Keeping My Passengers Safe
Manitou pontoon boats are built differently than any other pontoon. There are too many build details to go into here, but the enjoyment they give is what counts. On Saturday, with many more boats and winds getting stronger as the day went on, I put the pontoon through its biggest test all day long. Late Saturday afternoon, we were exiting the party cove with a flotilla of boats of every size.
We had miles to cover in the worst of conditions. Houseboats, cruisers, power cats, and deep v racing boats were making waves, with troughs as deep as 5 feet coming from all directions. The wind was not letting the lake settle down. With the cruisers rocking and rolling at speed, and the hot boats catching air as they crested the waves, this was not the place for the average pontoons to be. This is not the place to be crazy. This water will roll boats over, swamp your average runabout, and break anything that is weak.
I again put the trim down and used the responsiveness of the Evinrude G2 outboards to keep my passengers safe. I used the throttle to quickly change the attitude of the boat. The Evinrude G2 motors are two-stroke motors, and they respond so much faster than your typical four-stroke outboards. The Manitou V-Toon hull helped make the ride more comfortable, and coupled with the fast steering of the dual outboards, I was able to get across the bad to the little bit of good water there was. Through a lot of this, we were running 25 to 30 mph, above most boats less than 30 feet long.
I kept setting my sights on the next large boat. Watching them rock and roll, rise and fall, I would know what to expect and what to do to make the best of a dangerous crossing. Passing the last large cruiser just before entering the marina no wake zone, again we were greeted with thumbs up.
Powerboat Poker Runs: Not for the Average Pontoon Boat
So, should you take a pontoon to a powerboat poker run? I would not suggest it for the normal pontoon owner. These events create extreme conditions. You have to have great situational awareness. Running at 60 mph in a pontoon seems fast until you get passed by a boat doing 150 mph. Relax at the wrong time, and bad things can happen – and not just for you.
Would I do this poker run in any other brand of pontoon? The answer is NO. I’ve driven many different brands and know how they are built. I have trusted the Manitou pontoons in all types of conditions on our small lakes. I know they are strong and will take care of you and your passengers in rough conditions, even if you don’t know how to run through rough water. During the weekend at the Cumberland Lake Power Run, I ran this Manitou X-Plode through the worst. Now I know it is stronger than I ever thought. I pushed it at times, well above what I would do on a normal busy day on our Indiana lakes. It never flexed, as I’ve had other brands do. It never rattled or squeaked. It never submarined the nose in the worst waves on Saturday, even with all seats occupied, coolers filled, and plenty of gas on board. And I never felt like I was putting my friends or other boaters in peril.
Would I do it again in a performance pontoon? A big THUMBS UP.
Maybe next year I can do it with 800 HP.
Thank you, Lakeview Marina. Thank you, friends, for riding along. Thank you and a big THUMBS UP to Manitou for building a great pontoon.
While choosing a name for your pontoon boat may not seem very important, many boat owners consider it a critical step in getting a new boat. With all the money, maintenance, and care involved in boat ownership, and all the great times you’ll have on your new pontoon, it just seems right to give it a name. That’s why we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite names for pontoon boats that we found or made up ourselves. While some names are fit for all boat types, many on the list are fit for pontoon boats only!
Called in Sick
Dances With Waves
Dark Side of the Toon
Drivin’ Miss Lazy
Eat Drink and Remarry
Finally A Wake
Hot Air Pontoon
Knot So Fast
Knot Too Shabby
License 2 Chill
Man of the Toon
Men Who Stare At Boats
National Pontoon’s Vacation
No Plane No Gain
Over the Toon
The Incredible Hull
Thing 1 | Thing 2
Toon Much Toon Soon
What’s Knot to Like?
This article was originally posted on December 4, 2013. It has been updated to fix broken formatting and include more names.
When many people think of pontoon boats, they see a wooden platform stabilized on wooden or steel barrels. While these were definitely the start of pontoons decades ago, the technology has advanced to give people a faster, smoother, and more luxurious experience out on the water. Nowadays, pontoon boats are made entirely with fiberglass to reduce weight without sacrificing stability. Like in other types of boats, pontoons now have traditional hulls to help with steering, and furniture built into the fiberglass to maximize space and efficiency.
Luxury pontoon boats are growing in popularity because they allow families to take part in all of the activities they want. In addition to fishing, you are able to use your pontoon boat for entertainment and watersports. Newer models come equipped with fire pits, cooler space, a barbecue grill, and even a waterslide. Rather than having to slowly float on the water, a 300-horsepower engine allows you to travel up to 65 mph. Learn more about how pontoon boats are redefining boating today.