12 Important Things to Look for in a Pontoon Boat
By: Boat Test
First and foremost, a pontoon boat is about having plenty of seating space.
Pontoon boats have been among the most popular models for the past few years and there are no signs of that trend slowing down. Manufacturers are listening to consumer requests for more performance, more styling and more luxury. Regardless of whether a family is looking for a boat to putt around the lake at sunset or a do-everything model that can run fast enough to surprise some bowriders and tow watersports, there are some features that we would want in any pontoon boat.
1. Match Boat Size to Number of Guests
A smart captain knows how many people he’s going to have aboard. As boats increase in size, their passenger capacity usually goes up. For example, Sun Tracker’s Party Barge 18 DLX is 20’ long and it is rated for nine people. Step up 2’ and the passenger capacity goes up by one. In other words, it’s a good idea for a captain to know how many passengers he’s planning to have on board before deciding on a size. Most boats have a capacity plate. Check it to verify a boat’s passenger capacity. Do not exceed it.
A capacity plate is the best way to know how many passengers a boat can hold.
2. Seating Configuration
Not only should an owner know how many people he’s going to be carrying, he needs to know what his passengers want to do when they’re on board. If maximum numbers are the priority, get as much seating space as possible. If the family is made up of teenage girls who like to sunbathe, get a boat like the Regency 220 LE3 that has aft-facing chaise-style lounges. Got some kids who like to fish? Get a fishing package that has two fighting chairs up front.
What grade of captain’s chair is required? They vary wildly from the basic to the super luxurious.
Where to put the wheel chair? Pontoon boats are idea for old salts, but you will need a gate wide enough to get them aboard and then once aboard a place to lock them in place.
Sunbathers would love the aft-facing lounges on the Regency 220 LE3.
Shown here is the bow of the Sun Tracker Fishin’ Barge 22 DLX, complete with fishing chairs, rod racks and a trolling motor.
This is a pretty conventional floorplan layout for a pontoon boat with the focus on providing as much seating capacity as possible.
3. Raised Helm
A captain needs to be able to see over the passengers sitting in front of him, so we prefer boats with a raised helm like the one found on the Regency 220 LE3 Sport. The captain’s chair mounts to the elevated fiberglass console, putting the driver in a position that gives him better all-around visibility.
This helm station is raised 3” off the deck, which puts the driver in a better position to see over the people seated on the lounge ahead of him.
4. Boarding Gates
Pontoon boats are about convenience and one of their most attractive attributes is that they are easy to board. Most have a minimum of three gates, bow, stern and port ( or starboard) side. Additionally, you should also make sure that side boarding gates are wide enough (32”) to accommodate a wheelchair.
Gate latches can be easy or somewhat difficult to operate. Make sure you like the device on the boat you buy.
Side gates make it easy to board from the dock and should be at least 32” wide to accommodate a wheelchair.
5. Bow Deck
It is surprising how many pontoon boats are on the market that have no bow deck. That is to say that the fencing or superstructure goes right up to the bow so there is no deck upon which to walk to tie-up or to set an anchor. Obviously this has been done to maximize seating space and keep costs down. That is a trade-off we don’t recommend. Every boat needs a bow deck, and 12” in the minimum fore and aft for this purpose.
A small platform on the bow makes it much easier to board a pontoon and to work with docklines. The deck seen here is minimum size we recommend.
6. Provision for Storing and Setting an Anchor
Every boat should have an anchor and a dedicated place to keep it. That includes pontoon boats. Yet, virtually no pontoon boat builder makes provision for one. Obviously, one reason for this is that most users take their pontoon boats from dock to dock, or from the launch ramp, back to the launch ramp -- and don’t anchor out much.
Required for Safety. Nevertheless, there are times -- even on protected lakes when going from marina to marina -- when an anchor might be a required item of safety equipment. What if the engine fails and the boat is being blown onto a rocky shore, a marina, or the toward a dam on a water reservoir? What if the boat is being used in a river, the engine has failed, and the current is strong? The times when an anchor is a necessity are too numerous to mention.
Further, there is no boating pleasure quite so fine as anchoring in a cove for lunch, or anchoring for sundown cocktails with family and friends. How do you do that without an anchor?
We recommend that the forward, portside seat locker be used as the dedicated anchor locker. Be careful to keep the rode coiled properly and not tangles with the anchor. Most pontoon boats have small cleats for mooring lines on the two corners of the bow, and they will have to do, as we almost never see a proper anchor cleat on the bow centerline. We would like to see a stout pull-up cleat for this purpose. Alternatively, a bridle using the port and starboard cleats will probably work best.
7. Re-Boarding Ladder
The American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) guidelines call for a re-boarding ladders on all boats to extend 22” below the waterline. So that is the minimum requirement. Additionally, we’ve seen ladders made from sturdier material and larger stanchions with heavier-duty grabrails. Not everyone is an agile 150-pound teenager and having a heavy-duty ladder makes it easier for a larger number of people to use it.
There is a great difference in the ladder and re-boarding apparatus from one boat builder to the next. Check them out before buying.
This is a good example of the heavy-duty re-boarding ladders that more pontoon manufacturers are using. Notice the thick handrails that will be easy to grab and will support a large person.
8. 2 Pontoons or 3?
Recreational Pontoon boats had just two pontoons in the beginning, but 20 years or so ago builders started introducing tri-toons. Tri-toons cost more but they have many advantages when it comes to load capacity and speed.
Twin pontoon boats rarely can plane and generally are design for slower displacement speeds. They are fine for cruising around the lake at sedate speeds, and to provide a stable platform for swimming and entertaining. Putting large engines on a twin-toon boat will make it go marginally faster, but generally it will not provide satisfactory performance for towing sports.
Tri-toons, if properly powered and propped, can go as fast as most sport boats and can get on plane fast. These boats make good platforms for towing ports, but don’t expect them to make big wakes for wake boarding. However, they are fine for waterskiing and tubing.
This Sun Tracker tri-toon has multi-chambers. Note that the diameter of the toons is 26” and the center toon has a flat “pad” on the aft section of the center toon. This will aid planing and provides an ideal well for the outboard.
9. Match Outboard Engines to the Task
Twin toon boats require little power, depending on the load and the speed required. Out board engines of 50 or 60-hp can generally push an 18’ to 20’ twin toon at 15 or 16 mph. That about as fast as they will go and putting a larger engine on and winding it up will make the boat go a little faster, but it will do little more.
For those who want to go fast or tow skiers and tubers, we recommend a tri-toon with a 150-hp outboard or larger. Larger tri-toons can easily handle 300-hp engines and some models now handle two large outboards, and we have even tested a 32’ tri toon with three large outboard engines.
High-Torque Matters. All pontoon boats are hard to get moving fast and this fact places a premium on outboard engines that have high torque in the low RPM ranges. Owners who want to engage in towing sports would do well to consider 2-stroke engines or ones with superchargers. Both are well-known for creating greater torque at the low end. That, together with 4-blade props will probably provide the best performance for nearly any pontoon boat application.
This 2-stroke Evinrude E-TEC 250-hp outboard engine pushed the 25’ tri-toon pictured here at over 46 mph. It went 0- to 30 mph in 6 seconds.
10. Pontoon Tube Size Matters
Pontoon boats obviously get their buoyance from the pontoons, and the greater their diameter generally the more satisfying the experience. 23” pontoons are about the smallest diameter toons we see and they are generally on smaller tunes, those under 20’. More typically we see 24”-25” pontoons on both twin-toon and tri-toon vessels. Occasionally, on some of the more expensive boats we will see 26” toons.
In some tri-toon models the center toon is of a greater diameter. This aids in turning with a slight lean inward, as well as giving the boat the buoyancy it needs to go fast.
The greater the size of the diameter of the pontoon the more stable the boat will be and the faster it will go. All toons should have 3 or 4 air-tight chambers. This not only give the tubes more integrity but also provides a measure of safety should a chamber be punctured.
This Sun Tracker has a 24” pontoon diameter. Note how it rides with four adults and one child aboard.
11. Bimini Tops Are a “Must Have”
Virtually all pontoon boats have a Bimini top available either as standard or as an option. They are important to the guests’ comfort and we recommend getting the biggest ones available. Look for one that is easy to deploy. Some boats even have power Bimini tops. Make sure you operate the Bimini before buying as some can be aggravating to set and put in their boot when it is time to call it a day.
All boats should have canvas to protect the upholstery from UV degradation to say nothing of the soot and grit that might be in the air. Those living near highways will be familiar with the light rain of tire rubber and unburned diesel carbon that settles on everything. While a playpen-style full cover might seem like a good idea (they are certainly the cheapest), individual seat covers are much easier to deal with. Unless a boat is stored in an area where the deck can get covered in leaves or pine needles, go with seat covers.
This Bimini top provides some protection but consider the optional Bimini extensions that some builders offer.Individual seat covers are easy to handle and stow.
Individual seat covers are easy to handle and stow.
12. Comfort Amenities are Important
Consider your family and guests and ask yourself how they can et the most enjoyment out of the boat you plan to buy. Heading our list of welcome amenities is the changing curtain so that guests can wiggle out of wet bathing suits and get into dry cloths. Most builders make these available as an option, if not standard. Also, a porta-potti can be fitted in some of them, but not all.
Other convenience items worth mentioning are portable cub holders that sit on the seats and pedestal tables. Generally the pedestal tables are small and are limited to drings and snacks. Those wanting to serve dinner al fresco will need to find a boat with a proper table, and long with a grill.
These days builders of pontoon boats are providing more and more amenities. Sinks, running water, refrigerators, gas grills and more are available in the premium-level pontoon boats.
A table adds to any boat’s versatility. On most pontoons there are receptacles fore and aft for a table.
Coveted for the privacy it provides, a pop-up changing curtain is often a welcome feature on a pontoon boat. Some are large enough for a porta-pottie.
For all your accessories and/or flooring options visit our site pages. PontoonDepot.com
- Amy Cabanas
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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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15 Ideas to Make Boating More Fun for Kids
So, you want to bring kids out on the water.
And you want to make sure they have a great experience—one that will last a lifetime.
That’s a tall order. A fun day of boating can turn sour if you’re not prepared to feed, entertain and care for the littlest people board your pontoon.
If you’re bringing kids on board, then here are the fun, favorite items that I’d recommend you bring along with you.
1. Bring Playdough
Our our pontoon boat we have a small table by one of the L loungers under the shade of the bimini. It’s a perfect spot for little kids to play with toys or playdough while the adults have their fun. Having a little jar of playdough in your boat can save a parent who will otherwise spend the day trying to console their bored baby/young child who isn’t interested in getting in the water.
2. Get a Big Tube
Kids love tubes. That’s no secret, but what I’ve found is that kids are a lot more excited about getting out on the tube if you have a big tube that can accommodate 4 or 5 kids. The tubes that only hold one or two are usually a bit scarier to little kids who have to go alone.
3. Stock Up with These Fun Snack Ideas
You gotta have your boat loaded with snacks for the kids to enjoy the trip. It’s even better if you have some snacks that the kids don’t usually eat. Here are a few ideas that work well in the boat because they won’t get the boat messy while they eat, and they stay good in the heat of the sun.
- Homemade granola bars with their favorite fixings (nuts, raisins, craisins, M&Ms, etc)
- Pretzels and mini marshmallows in a ziploc bag
- Sweet Potato French Fries in a bag (Sweet potato french fries that are baked are delicious, healthy, and easy for kids to grab)
- Dried fruit
- Bread balls (my kids won’t eat bread unless I tear it into pieces and smash it into little balls. Suddenly they love it!)
4. Movie Time!
If your boat has a power supply or cigarette lighter that you can use an adapter on, one way to REALLY convince them they like boating is to watch a big movie on the boat with a projector. Hang a white sheet down from the bimini and set the projector at the bow. It’s the perfect way to end a day on the water.
5. Order Pizza to the Dock
My five year-old goes WILD when we do this! Just call your local pizza place and give them directions to the dock. Pick up some pizzas and shove off again for more boating. The kids laugh and laugh when you call and order.
6. Get a Slide
Pontoon boats are perfect for fun accessories like a slide. They can be a bit pricey but for kids it’s tough to beat. Older kids may love wakeboarding and playing on the tube, but younger kids can be intimidated by the tube and prefer something right on the boat. The Rave Pontoon boat slide looks awesome!
7. Invite Their Friends
Kids suddenly get a lot braver when they feel like they are in charge. Have each of your kids bring two friends on the boat for a day and suddenly they’ll be very popular, and your kids will love going on the boat because they’ll have other people they can tell the rules to and show how things go.
8. A Long Downed Skier Flag
My 3 year old loves going on the boat even though he rarely dares to get in the cold water. That doesn’t stop him from having fun, though. He is the “downed skier sheriff” and is responsible for waving the orange flag wildly the instant someone hits the water.
If you get a longer downed skier flag, the kids have a lot more fun with it and won’t mind a few hours in the boat.
You can put your other kids on “biff cam” duty, to video record everyone being towed behind and get good video of them falling, biffing, and otherwise splashing.
9. Bring a Rod
Kids love fishing, and it’s a fun activity to break up the day. Start or end the day fishing when the fishing is good and you’ll usually hook your kids into boating.
One thing I like to do is to watch the fishing boats during the day and see where they are. Then, when it’s sunset time and perfect for fishing, head over to those hot spots and catch a few. This way you don’t have to spend the whole day trying to locate the fish, but can still get the kids interest in fishing because the fishing’s hot!
10. Get them a Wet Suit
One of the major things that turns my kids away from boating is when the water is cold in the Idaho lakes. Get your kids a nice wet suit so they can enjoy the trip. Remember that kids get cold very easily, so be sure to keep them warm!
11. Head to the Beach for a Picnic
If you haven’t noticed a trend yet, this list is really about finding ways to break up the day. If you just get on the boat and ski all day long, it means a lot of boredom for the kids. Spend some time planning different activities you’ll be doing at different times of the day so that there is always something for the kids to be looking forward to.
At lunch time, I think it’s nice to get off the boat for the while. The kids can run around at the park or marina for a while and you can take a break from rocking up and down, go to the bathroom, and get anything else you need from the car.
12. Explain the Rules FIRST!
One mistake I made when we starting bringing the kids out on the boat was that I didn’t sit them down and explain the safety rules at the beginning. The reason this was a mistake is that I spent the first entire trip telling the kids what they were not allowed to do–not very fun for them!
I took the kids out to the boat while it was still trailered on the side of the house and we all climbed up to the boat. I then explained they needed to wear a life jacket from the second they get onto the dock until we’re back in the car–even when we’re just walking around the beach. I showed them danger zones on the boat like the bow, how they need to sit down while we’re moving but can run around while we’re stopped. When they can get in the water, and if they take off their shoes when they get in the boat then it’s okay with me if they climb all over the furniture.
Once the kids had the rules explained all at once when I had time to sit down and explain everything, they became very good at following the rules and I never have to say “no” on the boat because they already know what they can and can’t do. Much more fun.
13. Teach the Kids to Drive
I’ll admit–this one is sketchy. In my state, there is no law about age to drive a boat and I talked to the sheriff specifically and asked if it’s okay if the kids drive when they’re sitting on my lap.
My pontoon boat is powered with a 115hp engine which is no toy, but can take a full hard turn of the wheel even at top speed and we aren’t anywhere near tipping. What I do is let the kids sit on my lap and they can control the steering wheel and I control the throttle. I am in charge of lookout and can grab the wheel at any instant if there is danger, another boat in the vicinity, etc. I also never go above 15 miles per hour.
The kids love it, and with the restrictions I put on it, I don’t see any danger at all since I’m able to take over at any second.
14. Peppermint to the Rescue
Some kids get motion sickness on the boat when there’s a good chop on the water. Bring a peppermint stick for seasickness and it can rescue an otherwise unpleasant trip. Dramamine and other drugs are not okay for kids, so this is a great alternative.
I really don’t put much faith behind the homeopathic/home remedy stuff. I really don’t. But peppermint works! I was very skeptical but it did wonders for my wife when she used it for car sickness and the Amazon reviews are nearly all positive.
Get a Quease Ease and just stick it in the glove box of your boat. When you or someone you invite on your boat starts to feel nauseous, you’ll be very glad you gave it a try. The stuff works!
15. Deputize a DJ
Need another “job” on the boat to keep the kids entertained? One of my boys loves being the DJ. We have a Bluetooth stereo in the boat (you can put one in for just $100, by the way) so you can play the music remotely from a phone. I hand my phone to my son and he controls the volume and the song. When there isn’t one he likes, he is in charge and nobody is allowed to stop him from changing the song. It’s a small thing, but he loves it.
by Jim Harmer
Water Safety on the Lake | Pontoon-Depot
May is National Water Safety Month which typically applies to backyards: swimming pools, swim spas and hot tubs. But in our line of business, water safety month means being safe out on the lake. And here are some of our best tips:
One of the first things to remember about swimming at the lake is that the murky water keeps you from seeing how deep it really is. Oftentimes, when you stop to swim it's hard to judge the water’s depth unless you're on a beach, in which case you know that the further you get from shore the deeper the water will be.
Additionally, the glare from the sun on the water can cause you to misjudge distances and think you can easily swim from point A to point B when, in fact, it's too far. As such, it is highly recommended that you always wear a life jacket when swimming in a lake, since there are so many unpredictable factors involved.
Life Jacket Required
Speaking of life jackets, we highly recommend that while the boat is in motion everyone wear a life jacket, especially children under 12 or anyone who does not possess strong swimming skills. This is an important precaution while the boat is in motion, in case of a boating accident or someone falling overboard. And remember, boats should only be driven by licensed drivers and never be driven by someone under the influence of alcohol for optimal safety of all of those on board.
Caution of Currents
Understand that swimming in a lake is not the same as swimming in the more controlled environment of a pool. There are currents, even in a large lake. As well as waves caused by other boats passing by. For everyone’s safety, it is highly recommended that you swim only in designated swimming areas or just off of a shore, where most boats won’t be passing. And be sure to anchor the boat and turn off the motor completely before anyone exits to swim.
This summer, keep your friends and family safe by taking these precautions during lake boating excursions. And remember, every month is water safety month!