Tips for the Pontoon Captain | Pontoon Depot
By: Restore Pontoon
At first glance, the difference between driving a car and steering your pontoon boat may not be immediately obvious. Both have steering wheels, throttles, and an expectation that vessels will pass each other on the left side, just like on the highway. However, even though the official rules of maritime navigation are informally called the Rules of the Road, these rules make it clear that there are great differences between steering a pontoon boat and driving an automobile. A responsible pontoon captain who is attentive to safety will want to familiarize themselves with the Rules and conduct themselves accordingly on the many waterways that they’ll travel and explore in their pontoon boat.
The Rules of the Road, officially called the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, were written in 1864 during the time of the Civil War, when steamboats were gaining popularity. The Rules were updated several more times over the past century and a half. Although times have certainly changed on the waterways since the Civil War, many of the rules have not. The most current version of the Rules has 38 items that govern turns, maneuvers, and other sorts of signals required of maritime craft, including pontoon boats, operating in American waters. The primary purpose of the Rules is to help avoid collisions between maritime vessels. Every state in the union has adopted these U.S. Inland rules. In theory, anyone operating any sort of maritime vessel—from a small pontoon boat to a massive luxury cruiser—is expected to abide by the Rules. However, only a few of the Rules have direct applicability to pleasure craft such as pontoons, so here we’ll only cover the Rules that directly apply to pontoon boat operation and navigation.
The most important Rule is called the “Rule of Good Seamanship” and is at the heart of the rest of the Rules. “Good Seamanship” has never been strictly defined in the Rules, although there are seven broad generalities. The first is to obey the Rules unless extreme circumstances necessitate departure from them. Second, you should take whatever action necessary to avoid a collision. Third, if you cannot avoid a collision, you should attempt to alleviate possible damage of the collision by maneuvering to take a “glancing blow.” Fourth, you must know how to use a radiotelephone and be able to use it to communicate with other vessels. Fifth, sensibly enough, you need to keep a proper lookout at all times. Many pontoon boats offer wide, unobstructed views, but if, for whatever reason, the captain does not have a 360-degree view of the horizon, he or she must enlist a crew member as an additional set of eyes and ears to be alert to the sight or sound of other vessels. Sixth, you must insure that other crafts can see your pontoon boat by using proper lights. Seventh, your boat is equipped with a radar device; you must use it at all times. Although they are not specifically covered in the text of the Rules, court decisions over time have added additional items to the definition of “good seamanship,” such as proper training for crew and equipping of your pontoon boat with appropriate navigational charts.
However, the general and important rule of “Good Seamanship” has a caveat, called the “General Prudential Rule” which states that any of the Rules can be ignored if circumstances warrant extreme action. For example, a pontoon boat should ignore a Rule if it would cause them to collide with another craft. There may be occasions where it is impossible to obey a Rule, such as navigating near rocks or in shallow waters. Also, there are situations that are not covered by the Rules, such as when three or more craft are involved. When more than two craft are involved, none have right of way and all must yield and be sure to execute all maneuvers to avoid collision. Finally, if circumstances warrant, both vessels can agree to not follow the Rules if they have communicated and decided that this course of action is necessary, but this is extreme and has legal perils, since a miscommunication can lead to disastrous consequences. As you can see, the Rules depend on commonsense, good communication, and a general understanding of how vessels are expected to interact during maritime encounters.
The Rules articulate specific requirements for maneuvers involving the interaction between two vessels. When two craft approach each other, neither has the right of way and both are expected to pass each other on their left, or port, sides. If one vessel is coming up behind another, or overtaking it, the slower vessel has right of way. If the slower vessel does not want to be overtaken, it should sound five long whistle blasts and the faster vessel must steer clear and wait for another occasion to pass. A faster vessel must always steer clear of the slower one. If the direction of vessels involved is neither head-on, nor overtaking, they are referred to as crossing. In a crossing situation, the vessel that is approaching another on its starboard side must slow down or alter course to avoid collision, while the other vessel maintains course and speed.
The Rules explain specific methods for audible communication between vessels by using “whistle signals,” that are, in modern times, sounded by air or electronic horn blasts. Although many small pleasure crafts, such as pontoon boats, often fail to use whistle signals, the Rules require that all maritime vessels use audible means to indicate their maneuvers and how they will interact with other vessels. These “whistle blasts,” similar to Morse Code, are structured in series of short and long blasts. A short blast is a sound of about 1 second. One short blast means that your pontoon boat wants to pass on the port side of the other craft. Two short blasts indicate that your pontoon boat is attempting to pass another craft on its starboard side. Three short blasts means you are operating your pontoon boat with its engines in reverse. Five short blasts mean your pontoon boat is in danger or is unsure of the intentions of a different craft. A long blast lasts around 5 seconds. One long blast would be used to announce the location of your pontoon boat to other crafts, such as when leaving the dock. However, weather conditions, such as rain, fog or other adverse situations, can alter the meaning of these signals. In these situations, one long blast every two minutes is expected from your pontoon boat so that other vessels are aware of the presence of a power-driven vessel. Two long blasts communicates that your pontoon boat is adrift or otherwise not progressing. One long blast and two short blasts are required of special vessels, such as sailboats, fishing boats, and tugboats; other power-driven craft (such as pontoon boats) are expected to give right of way to these kinds of special vessels. If you anchor your pontoon boat in adverse conditions that affect visibility, you must ring a bell for five seconds every minute.
Obviously, there are no speed limit signs posted on rivers or other open waters, but the Rules do have some guidelines for proper speed on the water. They require that all vessels, including pontoon boats, maintain reasonable “safe speeds” that can insure the avoidance of collisions between craft. When there are no other vessels on the waterway, “safe speed” might be full open throttle, while “safe speed” during dense fog conditions might be slow enough so as not to produce any wake. Pontoon captains must factor in a variety of variables so as to determine the safe speed of their pontoon boat: the state of visibility, the density of other vessels around, the maneuverability of your craft, the strength of the waves or wind, the depth of the water relative to your hull, and, at night, the background lights on the shore that could obscure the lights of other vessels and your own. In short, the “safe speed” of your pontoon boat is relative to the prevailing conditions.
The Rules, while appearing complicated, are really designed for one single purpose; to avoid dangerous or deadly collisions between vessels. If you use a bit a caution, commonsense, and alertness, you’ll fulfill the spirit of the Rules and ensure fun times on your pontoon boat.
THE PONTOON LIFESTYLE | PONTOON DEPOT
WHAT IT IS
Pontoon boats have evolved beyond just a form of recreation and transportation. They have come to represent a lifestyle, one that provides relaxing days on the water, free of worry and stress.
The beauty of the pontoon lifestyle is that it can be lived anywhere. While that lifestyle may conjure up images of palm trees and the sounds of Jimmy Buffet playing on your boat’s surround sound, that slice of heaven is within the reach of every boater.
WHY IT WORKS
There is a certain sense of tranquility that comes with a trip out on the water in a pontoon boat. It can be any body of water and does not necessarily have to be an actual tropical paradise. The smooth ride will let passengers sit back, relax and enjoy the day. That kind of experience can make any body of water a welcomed sanctuary.
The setup of a pontoon boat allows guests to actually sit back and have a cocktail while enjoying some pleasant conversation. There is no need to speak over the buzzing hum of an engine and no need to worry about choppy seas. The stability of a pontoon boat can give all passengers their very own pair of sea legs.
There is always the option to throw a line in the water and catch an afternoon meal. Fishing can be done while you kick back and relax underneath the sun. Pontoon boats also offer plenty of shade, which allows passengers to stay cool on a hot summer day.
But cool is a constant theme when it comes to pontoon boats. Style combined with comfort makes for a truly unique boating experience.
There is even plenty of room on a pontoon boat to do some grilling. That kind of functionality provides everything that is needed for a day of leisure.
STARTING LIVING THE PONTOON LIFESTYLE TODAY
Boating has become a very popular pastime, but the image of speedboats and revving engines is not all that this recreational activity entails. There is a new image of boating, one that showcases a laid-back lifestyle where people can leave their troubles ashore. And at the heart of that lifestyle is a pontoon boat.
Recreational boating has changed and in a fast-paced world, the sea provides a leisurely getaway. And pontoon boats can be a vehicle that leads to that serenity. Boaters no longer have to travel to a place like Key West to enjoy that kind of atmosphere. It is right in front of them every time the set foot on a pontoon boat.
By: Pontoon Living
- Amy Cabanas
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How to Lift Your Pontoon Boat off the Trailer Bunks
PROCEDURE FOR TEMPORARILY RAISING PONTOON BOAT OFF TRAILER.
This is a proven method for lifting your boat off the trailer bunks for temporarily working on your pontoons. Cleaning, restoring and protecting your pontoons when your boat is still on the trailer is difficult. You can’t get to the bottom of the pontoons so they stay dirty and covered in marine growth plus the cleaners are likely to damage the carpeting and wood on the bunks and can damage the paint on the trailer. Following is a safe and easy way to lift your boat off the bunks by about 6 to 8 inches so you can protect your trailer with plastic and get to the bottom of the pontoons. If the boat were ever to slip off the blocks, it only has a few inches to fall back onto the trailer so there is no damage. Still, it’s important to work safely.
1. Hydraulic Bottle Jack of a capacity that meets or exceeds the weight of your boat.
2. 9 to 12 cinder blocks or wooden blocks 8" x 8" x 16"
3. 2” x 8” planks cut to 16” length pieces. You will need a minimum 3 pieces, but more may be required.
4. Wooden shims as required
CAUTION: This is a safe procedure when done correctly and with care. If
you do not feel confident in your abilities or equipment to handle heavy
weights, do not lift your boat in this way, get professional help
1. Place the boat and trailer on a firm, level surface [Diag.1].
2. Lower the tongue of the trailer to the ground to elevate the transom. [Diag.2]. You may need a friend to help keep the tongue down.
3. Block the transom using cinder or wooden blocks [Diag.3]. Make sure that there is a 2”x8”x16" wooden plank between the pontoons and the blocks to prevent damage to the boat. If the blocks and wood do not fit between the ground and the boat, you may have to use additional pieces of 2”x8”x16" wooden plank to compensate for the difference.
4. Place a hydraulic bottle jack under the tongue of the trailer and raise the front of the trailer [Diag.4]. When the jack extends as high as possible, you may have to place blocks and wooden plates under the front cross member to support the boat. Then lower the jack and use wooden plates under the jack to give you additional height. Continue jacking up the trailer. This procedure may have to be repeated several times to gain the necessary height.
5. Continue raising the front of the trailer until the boat is level or slightly bow high. Place blocks with a 2”x8”x16" wooden plank on top, under the front cross member to support the boat. [Diag.5]. Start lowering the jack until the weight of the boat is supported on the three columns of blocks and plates. Make sure that the boat is well supported on each column and is stable.
6. Lower the bottle jack. Extend the trailer jack to support the tongue and remove the bottle jack [Diag.6]. The boat should be well supported and stable on all three columns and the bunks of the trailer should be about 6 to 8 inches lower than the bottom of the boat. This will give you clearance to clean and polish the areas normally supported by the bunks.
7. Do not remove the trailer. It will act as a safety device to catch the boat in the event that it slips off the blocks or if one of the blocks breaks or the ground becomes infirm and the blocks sink.
8. Do not proceed to work on the boat until it is well supported and stable.
9. To reseat the boat on the trailer, reverse the above procedure.
Spring Boat Preparation | Pontoon Depot
Getting the boat ready for the season is a lot like getting the boat ready to sell. You want it to look good and operate without any problems. That means you need to do a little preparation before you take it out on the lake for the first time. The last thing an owner wants to do is experience an engine failure or even worse, a fire on the first boating weekend of the season!
This is a basic list that is used on canoes to cruisers and everything in between. To make sure the first flotation is good for the family, let’s talk about a little spring season preparation. Breaking the springtime maintenance into about five different steps makes it seem easier. There is no way we can go over all the details necessary but I’ll try to give you a pretty quick run down. Each boat is going to be different, along with each boat owner and what they feel comfortable undertaking.
Do a general cleaning of hull, deck and topsides using a mild detergent or vinegar and water. At the same time check to make sure all the drains and scuppers are clear of debris and flow freely.
This is also a good time to put on the coat of a good quality carnauba paste wax. Okay, if you don’t want to use a paste wax, use a good quality liquid wax. Whatever kind of wax you decide to use, it is important to get a good coat on the gel coat to protect the finish. Gel coat will oxidize and develop a chalk-like coating. Gel coat also breaks down over time due to the UV rays. Waxing the surface helps to prevent UV damage. If there are any small spider cracks, wax will help to seal the cracks to moisture. Plus the boat looks better and has to go faster, because the surface is so slick.
This is also the time to look into repairing any chips or cracks in finish. Small nicks and scratches can often times be polished out with a cordless power buffer or even a cloth and polishing compound. If you don’t have any polishing compound you can always do a temporary polishing with a tube of original Crest toothpaste. The fine abrasive in the toothpaste will help smooth out the scratches and imperfections.
If the scratch is deep enough that it needs touch up, buy a gel coat touch up kit or simpler yet, use finger nail polish to hide the scratch. Finger nail polish is not a permanent solution but it is an easy way to cover a scratch and the color choices are almost unlimited.
If you have any big nicks or blisters that need to be filled you can use gel coat to do the job. One thing you will have to do is carve or grind the edges of the nicked area back to remove any loose gel coat and bevel the edges so the filler can bond to the underlying fiberglass. The edges can be beveled with a razor knife or even a Dremel cordless tool. If fiberglass repair is not your specialty, take the boat to a shop and have them touch up the nicks. One thing you don’t want is holes, blisters or chips allowing water get under the gel coat.
If you have an aluminum boat you look for dents, dings and signs of loose rivets (black soot around the rivet). Dents just slow the boat down (not much if they are small) and loose rivets need to be re-set to make sure they do not leak.
If you leave your boat in the water for the season, make sure your barrier paint and anti-fouling paint are in good condition. This is the time to do any touch ups.
Of course, this is also the time that you will look over all the fittings. Check cleats, stanchions, and brackets to make sure they are tight and do not have sharp edges or corrosion. Any damage to the fittings can catch clothes or skin and damage ropes.
Most new boats have reduced the amount of wood and carpet used on the exterior of the boat, but if you have wood or carpet look for chips and tears. Wood should be sanded or smoothed to prevent splinters and catching of skin and clothes. A good wood sealer or teak oil should be applied to the wood to help protect the surface from the elements. Depending on your location you may need to add a coating to the wood again later in the year.
Carpet should be kept vacuumed with a good wet and dry vacuum. Clean, dry carpet lasts longer and has less opportunity to build up mold and mildew.
Each boat is different so the list can get quite long. That’s why it is best to start on the outside of the boat and just start working your way around it. By going slow and taking your time inspecting everything you will have a better chance of catching even the smallest of details. And don’t forget to look at items like rub rails, swim platforms, boarding ladders, sacrificial zincs and even running lights.
While you are inspecting the exterior of the boat make sure you look for soft areas of the deck. Many boats use a core material between two layers of fiberglass. This core gives the boat strength without the weight required if it was all glass construction. But the core is often made from a porous material such as balsa wood or foam. The core can become damaged by moisture that seeps in through holes, cracks or seams. Once the core is saturated it gains weight and loses its strength and integrity. If you have ever walked on a deck that felt spongy, that’s probably from a damaged core. Soft or damaged cores are usually not an easy or cheap fix. Making sure the fittings, stanchions, blocks or any other items mounted to the deck are sealed and tightened appropriately.
If you happen to be the owner of a sail boat you will also have the additional inspections of the standing and running rigging. Make sure you look for corrosion, bends or wear spots. The sail track should be cleaned and lubricated with a dry lube. Don’t forget to check the spreaders and boots so that they do not have damage that can ruin your sails.
Cleaning the interior includes not only the fabric and carpets, but also checking for leaks or signs of damage to the hull, hatches and port holes. Most interior fabrics can be cleaned with any household fabric cleaner. Dedicated vinyl cleaners are available for cleaning and protecting the vinyl seats and cushions.
This is also a time when any wood trim or joinery should be cleaned and protected with an appropriate material such as teak oil, polyurethane, etc. If your boat happened to develop moisture during the storage, you may need to remove a little mold and mildew from the surfaces. It’s a good idea to wipe all the surfaces down with an anti-bacterial cleaner anyway, even if you don’t see mold spots.
Once the basic interior is cleaned it is time to look into bilges, under engines and at storage tanks. Clean the bilges by checking for any debris or oil that might have dropped or seeped into the area. If there is oil in the bilges you have to find the leak before putting the boat in the water. You will also need to check the bilge pumps for operation. Make sure you check both the automatic and manual operation if necessary. If you only have one bilge pump you may want to take the time to install a backup. If you leave your boat on the water for the season a backup pump can be a lifesaver during a heavy rain.
Of course, while you’re digging around in the bilge areas, check, test and lubricate all the seacocks. Make sure you inspect any hoses and clamps. It’s highly recommended that any hoses that are below the waterline get a little extra protection by being double clamped. This might also be the time to make sure you have a few appropriately-sized wooden plugs as emergency stoppers for through-hull fittings.
Depending on the size of your boat the systems could include the head, water galley and electrical components, all of which need to be inspected, cleaned and tested.
If your head is a portable system the checking is pretty simple: make sure the tank is cleaned out, you have chemicals on board and it works.
If you have a permanent system, it’s really not much different. The system needs to be cleaned and lubricated for smooth operations. The tanks need to be cleaned and maybe even flushed if possible. If you have chemical treatments make sure you have a supply on board and accessible. If you have to have your own dump hose for the marina, make sure it’s accessible and not damaged or leaking.
One other thing: if your boat has a Y-valve make sure it is working, labeled for the correct operation and secured in the appropriate position.
The water system is pretty basic. The storage tank needs to be flushed to clean it out. If it was sitting with water in it, you’ll need to run a sanitizer through it. In fact, you should sanitize the tanks even if you had antifreeze in it. Using a pool or spa chlorine will remove bacteria and clean the tank. Once you add the chlorine to the tank, let it sit for a while and then run the water through the system so that the chlorine gets a chance to pass through all the fixtures and drains.
While running the chlorinated water through the system, inspect the hoses, clamps and pumps for leaks. At the same time you can test the water heater to make sure it works. But remember: don’t run the water heater without water in it.
After testing the water system you should inspect, clean, and operate the refrigerator, freezer, stove and any other appliances. Depending on your individual situation, this might include operating the appliances on the shore power, battery power or “gas” (like propane). Any gas fittings should be inspected for dirt, damage and leakage. A small bottle of bubble blowing liquid works great to find leaks in gas line fittings.
The electrical system inspection and preparation can be quite extensive depending on your specific boat. Typically you’ll have batteries that need to be inspected and charged.
If you have a fishing boat you may have the addition of a cleaning station and live wells. The live wells should be checked for operation and leakage. Many boats also have a deck freshwater shower or spray system that needs to be tested.
It doesn’t matter if you have an inboard or outboard engine, the basics are the same. If you didn’t change the engine oil before parking the boat, now is the time to do it. Oil is the life blood of an engine and needs to be able to efficiently lubricate and cool the engine. Oil is also cheap when compared to an engine overhaul. Reference your engine service manual for recommendations as to the recommended oil change intervals.
If your engine was winterized and treated for storage, you will need to clean or replace the spark plugs and change the fuel filters. It is easiest to just replace the old spark plugs with new ones. But if you are saving a few bucks, you can also clean and re-gap the old ones. All you need is a small stiff-bristled wire brush and gapping tool.
Don’t forget to change the fuel filter before you head out on the water. Also make sure you have the tools and extra fuel filters on board before you go out for your first run. Many a boater has made it out on the water just far enough not to get back and had crud plug the filter, stopping the engine.
Cooling systems should be checked and the fluid replaced or added as necessary. All hoses, wires and belts should be inspected and replaced if dry or cracked. It is a good idea to carry an extra belt or two with you along with the appropriate tools to change the belt. Belt tension should be adjusted per the factory service manual’s recommendations.
Transmission fluid, hydraulic fluids (power steering, power tilt) and oil injection tanks should all be inspected and refilled. While you are at it, check the bellows on the stern drive, packing or stuffing boxes hinge points, U joints etc. Fittings, cables and connections should be lubricated. Many of the components will have grease fitting so that they can be lubricated using a grease gun.
The lower unit, drive shafts and propellers should be inspected for nicks and damage. Basic aluminum propellers (especially on lower horsepower engines) can have minor nicks filed by hand. Paint can be touched up with a spray can of paint from a home supply or auto parts store. But if you have brass, stainless, adjustable blades or any other type of high performance propeller, don’t take the chance of trying to fix it your self. Take the propeller to a good prop shop and have it repaired and balanced. Make sure that when you remove the propeller that you lubricate the shaft to prevent corrosion and assist in removal in the future. It is always a good idea to have a back up prop on hand along with the appropriate nut or cotter keys.
Trailers should be checked before use as well. Being parked on the side of the road because of a flat tire or a bad wheel bearing really puts a damper on the weekend boating excitement. Lubricate and inspect the hitch coupler. Safety chains might keep the trailer from getting away from the vehicle when the coupler comes undone, but why have that happen in the first place? The coupler needs to be free to move but at the same time fit tight over the trailer hitch ball.
Check the air pressure and inspect the tire treads and sidewalls for cracks. Low pressure can cause the trailer to start swaying and potentially cause the loss of control.
Inspect the bearings and repack if necessary. Don’t rely on just pumping more grease into the hub. The bearing should be cleaned and repacked at least once a year or so. Bearing greasers do help keep water and air out of the hub, but over time the grease gets heated and hard and doesn’t provide the lubrication it needs to. The only way to prevent damage is to clean and repack the bearings. If you use the trailer in salt water, check to make sure you can flush the hubs and brake to prevent corrosion.
Also test all the tail and back-up lights and the wiring on the tow vehicle. Additionally, if there is rust or corrosion on the trailer frame it should be cleaned and repaired. Any damaged rollers or pads should be replaced or repaired also.
Extras are personal flotation devices, safety equipment and paper work. Remember, don’t leave home without it means more than the boat. Make sure you have enough personal floatation devices for the rated number of the boat or at least for the number of people that you take with you.
You’ll want a safe and dry place to keep the registration and insurance paperwork. You also want to make sure that all of your fire suppression and extinguishing systems are fully charged and in working order. If there are inspections required, make sure they are done before you head out on the water. One other thing to think about is having a good marine first aid kit.
Again, this is just a very brief overview of the preparation a boat owner needs to go through to get ready for the season. Each boat will be a little different depending on the specific systems. If any of this seems like something the boat owner doesn’t want to undertake, call the boat service center and have them get the boat ready.
Before you take the boat to the water
- Exterior inspection
Wash, wax and repair
- Fitting and cleats
- Clean and patch cushions and carpet
- Clean and protect wood
- Bilges, tanks and through hulls
- Oil change
- Fuel systems
- Cooling systems
- Drive units
- Tires and wheels
- Fire protection
About The Author
Scott “Sky” Smith is the author of “Ultimate Boat Maintenance Projects” and an independent agent insuring boats, custom vehicles, drones and aircraft nationwide. Sky@SkySmith.com. Follow on Twitter@scottskysmith.
- Amy Cabanas
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