Can You Take a Pontoon Boat on the Great Lakes?

Based in Lansing, Michigan, we’re lucky to be located near the Great Lakes. Whether you share that good fortune or are considering taking a trip with your boat to the area, you probably want to know if pontoon boats are suited for large bodies of water. In short: Yes.

Manitou 25 Legacy LT Dual Engine Pontoon Boat

You can take your pontoon boat into any of the Great Lakes, but you’ll have to consider a few additional precautions as compared to when you spend your time on inland lakes.

Because of the immense size of the Great Lakes, they vary a lot from inland lakes. On an inland lake, for instance, you’re always close enough to shore in case you need to retreat from weather. Waves can get a lot bigger on any of the Great Lakes, and the water is almost always rougher than an inland lake, even in mild conditions.

Since the Great Lakes are all freshwater, you won’t need to worry about the extra harshness of saltwater that you need to consider if taking your pontoon boat into the ocean. Still, a lot of the same general safety guidelines apply:

  • Check the weather before venturing out. If conditions are going to be rough, or the waves are going to be too high, you’ll want to stay closer to the shore than normal—if you go out at all.
  • Stay close enough to the shore to be able to get back safely in case the weather changes. Generally, on calm days, you’ll be safe within a couple miles of shore. On less calm days, plan accordingly.
  • Make sure you have all the proper safety equipment on board, which you should be doing for all trips anyway.


What is a Safe Pontoon Boat Size for Great Lakes Boating?

Our tritoon boats are more stable than a conventional two-tube pontoon boats, and that advantage is amplified in the rougher conditions of larger bodies of water. You don’t need a tritoon boat on the Great Lakes, though. As long as you have large tubes (at least 25 inches in diameter), you should be okay to go into the Great Lakes.

Also consider the thickness of the sheet aluminum used to make tubes, as this can help with durability in rough conditions. Our tubes, at a minimum of .090 inches thick, are some of the most durable in the industry.

Finally, the more horsepower you have, the better. In case you need to cut through waves or return to shore quickly, having adequate power while on the Great Lakes is important. We recommend at least 150 HP when you’re out in open water.

Activities on the Great Lakes

Depending on the day, you can do pretty much anything on any of the Great Lakes that you can also do on an inland lake, but here are some of the best things to do on each of the five Great Lakes:

Lake Michigan at Sunrise
Lake Michigan at Sunrise
  • Lake Michigan, especially on the Michigan side, possesses some of the best beaches in the country. It’s perfect for beaching your pontoon and spending a day enjoying the water.
  • Lake Huron has a lot of boat traffic and also gives you easy access to many campgrounds along the east coast of Michigan. Just north of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, Mackinac Island sits in Lake Huron.
  • Lake Ontario has perhaps the most recreational boat traffic of any of the Great Lakes and is also one of the best for fishing. You may see several of our angler boat models out there with you.
  • Lake Erie is the warmest, making it ideal for skiing, tubing, or swimming as you cruise in your pontoon boat.
  • Lake Superior is one of the best for sightseeing, but as the coldest and largest, is also the lake you need to be especially prepared for if you plan to pontoon on it.
Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior
Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior

A pontoon boat is one of the most versatile crafts on the water, and being able to take it onto the five lakes that make up the largest body of freshwater on earth is just one of the many perks. As long as you’re prepared and cautious, you might find yourself taking the pontoon boat out into the Great Lakes more and more often.