What Is a Pontoon Boat?
Pontoon boats are a lake-lover’s dream. Invented in 1951 by Ambrose Weeres, a farmer from the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” aka Minnesota, he came up with the concept for a motor-propelled, large, flat deck held up by bouyant barrels on each side which allowed users greater space to stretch out and enjoy themselves on the water.
It was quite the change from your typical flat-bottom fishing boat or canoe that really only allowed one or two people to sit. And while Weeres original idea was a bit crude in design, the concept proved to be a popular one.
Since then, the pontoon has been improved on many times over making it the popular luxury craft it is today.
Why Do People Love Pontoon Boats?
One could list at least a dozen reasons why pontoon boats are so desirable. Below are but a handful:
Increased Deck Space
Pontoon boats let you move about freely allowing for greater socialization. They also provide a lot more room for accessories like lounge chairs, BBQ grills, fishing gear, coolers, or even a standing bar.
Shallow Water Navigation
Rather than cut through the water, pontoons are designed to sit on top of water and smoothly glide through it. This allows them to navigate easily in shallow waters. There is far less risk of running aground with a pontoon boat, and that also means less risk of damaging the bottom of your boat.
Early pontoon boats may have been slow and sluggish, but modern designs offer a great deal more creature comforts, including speed. Today’s pontoon boats can tow water-skiers or tubers behind them. They can even be outfitted with water slides.
Most pontoon boats are constructed using high quality marine-grade aluminum which requires little maintenance. There’s only one caveat. While perfect for freshwater adventures, aluminum does not stand up to saltwater and will quickly corrode. If you have a pontoon boat ocean outings with it will require some extra work.
Can I Take a Pontoon Boat Out in the Ocean?
The short answer is yes, but before you rush to action, you need to be aware of the risks and considerations with any pontoon boat ocean activity and act accordingly.
Check the Weather
Never, ever take your boat out if there is inclement weather in the forecast. This is really common sense behavior for any type of boat, but especially for pontoon boats! They are simply not designed for rough waters. Also keep in mind that foul weather can come up in very short order, so don’t venture out too far from shore. You’ll want to get back quickly if a storm starts brewing.
Protect Your Pontoon Against Galvanic Corrosion
As noted earlier, while aluminum is a convenient lightweight material, when introduced to saltwater, it is also highly susceptible to galvanic corrosion. So if you’re going to put your pontoon in saltwater, you’ll want to protect your investment by applying an anti-fouling and anti-corrosion paint to the bottom.
The American Boat and Yacht Council recommends treating aluminum boats with an anti-fouling paint that provides a high electrical resistance barrier between the aluminum and water.” This type of paint also protects your boat from marine-based organisms such as algae, slime and barnacles that can negatively impact the speed and fuel consumption of your boat.
Consider Your Boat’s Construction
Pontoons are great fun, but their flat, lower-to-the-water design isn’t constructed for traveling on the high seas. That being said, pontoons of medium width and length with three tubes (tritoons) are less likely to capsize than those with a shorter, dual-tube design.
If you do encounter rough waters, that normally appealing flat deck construction is going to be a handicap. Water can easily flow over the front bow and onto the deck. The best thing to do in this situation is head to shore by riding into the waves steering your boat at about a 45 degree angle. Also, maintain an even speed as you go over those waves as you want to try to keep your bow a bit higher over the water.
Maneuvering a pontoon boat through heavy wakes is not a good time to find out if you can manage it, so be sure you know how to do this ahead of time. A good way to “test the waters” is to try out your pontoon boat in a bay or on an intracoastal waterway. The waters are calmer, and you’ll get a good feel how well your boat and you can handle ocean waters.
If visibility becomes a serious issue, slow your speed and turn on all your lights. Make sure you and your passengers put on their PFDs and sound your horn regularly. If you can’t see well, other boaters are likely to be experiencing the same problem.
Remove Unsafe Accessories
Cookouts are usually fun events that bring together family and friends of all ages for a good time. Just imagine how much more fun one can be when the cookout takes place on a pontoon boat! It bears noting, however, if you’ve outfitted your pontoon as a BBQ boat waves can create a serious danger on open ocean water. When taking your pontoon boat on the ocean, remove the BBQ and save it for a calm day on the lake or for dry land. For that matter, one should also remove any piece of equipment that might make your pontoon boat top heavy. The idea is to avoid throwing off your boat’s center of gravity.
Distribute Weight Evenly
Be it your passengers, your unsecured cargo, or your installed equipment, if the weight on your deck is distributed unevenly, there will be increased risk of your pontoon boat capsizing in rough water. As noted earlier, if yours is a BBQ boat waves can destroy or move the BBQ around unsafely and cause injury to your passengers. The same can be said of V-bows and tow bars, fishing gear, lounge chairs, bars and any other item with weight. For maximum stabilization, keep your equipment to a minimum and make sure the body weight of your passengers is evenly distributed.
Make Sure You Have the Right Safety Equipment Aboard
Always follow the safety guidelines provided in your owner’s manual, and keep on board any required safety equipment. It is especially imperative that every passenger has a properly-fitting PFD any time they are on board a vessel–on the ocean or otherwise. Additionally, don’t exceed the maximum number of passengers allowed.
So Should You Go For It?
All things being equal, pontoon boats are really made for calmer waters, and any saltwater adventures should probably be limited to calm, sunny days on a protected bay. That being said, it’s your boat. If you’re going to go for it, make sure both you and your vessel are well prepared for whatever the waves may bring you.