A Zip-Lock bag provides protection from the elements for an exposed fish-finder while this pontoon boat is docked between trips.
By: Dan Armitage
As many of my fellow pontoon boat club members readied their craft for the off-season, I grew intrigued by the DIY, alternative and after-market solutions some came up with for protecting their boats and related gear. Some of these non-traditional apps are put into use by my resourceful fellow boaters during the boating season as well, and are of value for those lucky pontoon boaters south of the Mason-Dixon Line who don’t know the meaning of “off” season and may enjoy their craft year-round.
For example, you will find covers intended for back yard use on chaise lounges and Adirondack chairs protecting the furniture of some members’ boats. The patio furniture covers are less expensive than semi-custom covers designed for the job, wear well under typical conditions, and the fact that the generic one-size-fits-all covers don’t fit all that tight allows air to circulate and the upholstery to breathe a bit, which can help prevent mildew in the damp environs the boats are subject to. And when conditions aren’t typical, and a loose-fitting captain’s (aka: Adirondack) chair cover goes gone with the wind, it’s less expensive to replace.
If you’ve run across any non-traditional uses for items aboard a pontoon —or any other watercraft – we’d like to see ‘em. Meanwhile, here are a few I stumbled across during a recent late-season walk around the local pontoon boat club – and one photo I snapped last winter that reminded me that going with cost cutting alternatives may not be the bargain you, well, bargained on…
By: Brad Roberts
Bennington pontoon boats are available in hundreds of floor plans with thousands of configurations, so as a buyer you can choose the layout that best fits your family.
The Bennington 22SSRXP comes from their most popular line and offers incredible seating space for a dozen in two forward facing radius benches in the bow, and two more facing aft at the stern (great for water sports with the optional Turbo Swing ski tow bar). Either location will accommodate the usable-sized and shaped rectangular table –you can actually do dinner on the boat.
One of the things I like about this layout is that it provides for a captains’ chair for the co-pilot. If you want to out for a cruise alone with your sweetheart you want them sitting beside you!
The Bennington 22SS comes standard with 25” tubes and a 115hp rating, upgrading to the Premium Performance Package or the 32” Elliptical tubes raises that to 150hp. Centre gates fore and aft, along with a port side gate, provide easy access.
Having had the pleasure of being at the helm of many Bennington models over the years, what sets them apart is their attention to quality, and the performance foils on the tubes really get them up and onto plane quickly.
Escape pontoon boats always have excellent styling – that extra flair which really turns heads. The 21 TTT is no exception, laid out in a fairly standard way, but with the details and build quality to set it apart.
Starting up forward, there are two curved benches with a
recliner on the port side. An optional teak table can mount between the benches, creating a nice space for entertaining.
At midships, the helm station with Captain’s chair sits to starboard, while a very well cushioned swivel chair complete with cup holder sits to port.
At the stern of the boat, you will find a corner bench on the port side, and a love-seat on the starboard side facing to port. All of these benches have hand-contoured upholstery for exceptional comfort.
There are gates at the forward and aft ends of the boat, and the swim ladder is on the stern to starboard. If you are looking for something different, there are a total of four different layout options, each with different uses in mind.
For those curious about what TTT stands for, it is Tapered Tube Technology, Escape-Larson’s proprietary pontoon design that creates a very stable and streamlined hull shape, which translates into a smoother and faster ride, all while reducing your fuel costs.
It’s easy to catch a case of two-footitis, even in the pontoon world, but Harris may have the cure. Their Cruiser line of luxury pontoon boats is versatile and the 180 is a great example.
You’ve got four unique floor plans to choose from on the 180. Two for entertaining, one for fishing, and one for enjoying both activities at the same time. Regardless of your choice, you’ll have plenty of room for family and friends.
The 180 is rated for a 60 horsepower outboard when equipped with the sports package. Harris loaded the boat with standard features and then added an extensive options list. You can design the perfect pontoon.
The fisherman in me wants to pick the Fish & Cruise layout, then check all the boxes for the tackle station, upgraded fishing seats and aerated live well, but that means no stereo upgrade. It’s not available with the livewell.
If you all about entertaining, the Polk stereo and lighted speakers are a great choice. You might also want to opt for the pillow-top furniture for ultimate comfort. Regardless if you fish or cruise, Harris has packed a ton of features into the 180 and possibly found a cure for pontoon two-footitis.
Lowe’s Sport SS series sits at the heart of the company’s pontoon lineup. The SS210 offers many of the features found on the higher level boats, but at a lower price point. The highlight of this model is its no-nonsense design.
Seating areas are functional and comfortable. The forward section features a chaise lounge on the starboard side. The port side settee is slightly shorter to make room for the side entry gate. The rear space has an L-shaped configuration beginning at the companion’s position and wrapping around the aft of the playpen, ending at the walkthrough to the swim platform.
Ahead of the walkthrough is the fiberglass-reinforced helm station. The captain will enjoy the supportive bucket seat with folding armrests. There’s a large aft sunpad with plenty of storage beneath.
The swim platform features a wide aluminum ladder and doesn’t feel cramped as the outboard is mounted quite far back. Lowe has 45 years of experience designing and building aluminum boats.
The SS210 might not have any standout features, but if you’re in the market for a well-built, do-it-all pontoon boat from a quality manufacturer, this might be your next boat.
Manitou’sP Oasis line offers four very different floor plans in lengths from 20 to 26 feet. The very versatile and sporty platform of the 23 Oasis SR VP is my favourite. Starting at the bow there are some classic wrap-around seating areas, ideal for when you’re sitting down to a meal or entertaining larger groups onboard.
Next, at midships, you have the Captain’s chair to starboard and another nice long bench on the port side. Once you get to the stern, you see the Split Rear, or SR. There are two large convertible seating areas, one to either side with a walkway down the centreline. This feature opens up the aft end in a whole new way. It provides excellent access to the stern with its swim platform and ladder. The unique rear seats can be upright to provide seating for four in a great conversation-style settup, or they can be reclined to create two loungers.
The VP model has the additional upgraded pontoon logs, providing a more stable platform that is able to mount up to 150 horsepower on the stern.
You’re going to have a hard time finding a better-looking deck boat than the Four Winns HD series. Deck boats often make design compromises to find a balance between bowrider performance and pontoon capacity. Four Winns has figured out how to do both, without compromise and packed this boat with features to keep the entire crew entertained.
Fore and aft swim platforms bookend an interior design meant for fun. The spacious bow seating has a pair of loungers with an icebox hidden under the center cushion. The passenger-side console hides a head compartment with a porta-potty and vanity. The helm features standard gauges and a Bluetooth-capable stereo system. The highlight of the helm is the deluxe 3-spoke tilt steering wheel, wrapped in soft-grip material.
Hurricane originated the deck boat back in 1974. They continue to be the number one deck boat builder in the world, so it’s no surprise that the SunDeck 187 OB is a solid and well-rounded boat.
The broad beam is constant over the entire length. The bow seating area is spacious with full wraparound seating. There’s a wide swim platform up front with a foldaway ladder. I appreciate a design that keeps the swimming and playing away from the drive system. It also makes beaching the boat a much easier process.
There’s a seat base for a pedestal seat that will convert the swim platform into a great spot to fish. Hurricane skipped the dedicated companion seat and went with an L-shaped seating area that starts at the port-side console and continues around the aft of the cockpit. The captain gets a bucket seat and functional helm layout with fog-resistant gauges. The aft swim platform is split into two smaller areas due to the outboard. The starboard has a swim ladder, but except for water sports, you’ll want to stick to the bow platform for swimming.
If watersports are your thing, the optional wakeboard tower and upgraded stereo system should be on your list.
Functional seating wraps around the rest of the cockpit, save for a narrow walkway to the aft swim platform. The platform is spacious, considering the allowances made for the outboard engine. Any compromises here are offset by my favourite feature, the double-wide, rear-facing seat.
I’m inclined to check the boxes for the vacuflush head, bimini top, and upgraded stereo system, but even in standard trim, this is a fine example of what a deck boat should be.
Princecraft has a new model of deck boat with their Ventura 224. Well suited for a range of uses on the water, this design has a large and flat deck, with a full bow that makes for a lot of room for a boat this size.
The layout is traditional, a Captains chair at midships to starboard, with benches either side up forward, and an ‘L’ bench just behind the Captains chair to port. A table option is available to make the ‘L’ into a dining area. The after bench folds down into a chaise lounge that spans the width of the boat, the boarding ladder is on the stern, on the starboard side.
If you plan on using this boat for fishing, it comes stocked with plenty of features designed to help reel in some big ones. There are swivel seats at each of the corners for an unobstructed cast, and plenty of room to net any that come aboard.
In the deck you will find a lockable rod rack, an aerated live well and a large icebox. Trolling motor and fish-finder options are available as well to up your fishing game.
Floating at the dock, the StarCraft 221 I/O might seem like another deck boat with a watersports twist.
It wouldn’t be until you peeked under the deck, or under the water, that you realize this is a whole lot more than a sporty deck boat. This is a serious wakesurfing machine.
Let’s start under the water. StarCraft outfitted this Crossover Surf model with Volvo’s Forward Drive. A new standard in tow boat propulsion, the Forward Drive moves the propellers under the boat, away from the surfer. The design also vents exhaust below the surface, keeping the fumes out of the surfer’s face.
Under the deck, StarCraft further refined this boats wake-sculpting abilities by installing three inflatable ballast tanks. There are also surf tabs to help shape the perfect wave. The tanks and tabs can be controlled from a touch panel on the helm.
On board the boat, the customary deck boat spaciousness is easily noticed, especially with the single console design. Passenger seating begins forward of the helm and then wraps around the entire boat and across the stern. There’s plenty of seating to get everyone out on the water, but the best place to enjoy this boat will be on a wakesurf board.
Montego Bay pontoons are proudly built in the town of Gillett Wisconsin, right alongside Mirrocraft Boats. The company offers three lines of pontoons: sport tri-toons, cruise and fishing. The standard and deluxe cruise lines come in lengths from 16 to 22 and 16 to 24 feet respectively.
The 8522 features a three-gate layout (stern, port and bow), twin-facing sofas forward, a captain’s chair and an l-shaped sofa aft set right against the stern sidewall for maximum floor and seating space. The compromise for the increased space is a lack of any rear sunpad.
With space for up to 12 guests and a maximum horsepower rating of 115, this is a family–sized ‘toon. All models are 8.5 feet wide regardless of which floorplan you may choose to customize, and all come with 25” tubes and fully-welded all aluminum transoms.
There are a myriad of options to choose from including six carpet and flooring options, and four colour choices. The 8522 features a very usable sized aft deck, complete with optional ski-tow bar (on all but the 16 foot models) and the option to choose your fuel tank size, including removable above deck tanks.
The Sportfisher 21-2S from Princecraft is a classic pontoon boat.
Rated for an 115HP engine, it is sure to provide countless hours of comfort and fun for your guests. There are plenty of seats onboard, including the benches along each side, an aft facing recliner at the stern, and two swivel chairs on the foredeck. The Captain’s chair lies to starboard, while there are access gates through the rails forward, to port and aft of the Captain’s chair.
A ladder comes standard for the spacious stern which makes for a great swim platform. There are options available to tailor the boat exactly to your wants on the water.
For those into fishing some excellent options include a range of trolling motors, fish-finder sonar, an aerated live well and rod storage. Tow sports and swimming options include a stainless steel tow bar and a privacy enclosure for getting changed out of the wet gear.
If you’re looking to extend the time spent away there are half and full camper options are available, as well as a portable head. This is a simple and truly versatile platform for fun on the water.
Starcraft Marine has a sporty, performance driven pontoon with their SLS3. Coming in at just under 24 feet in length, this platform can mount up to 250 horsepower, giving plenty of speed and power.
The floorplan is laid out in an innovative symmetrical pattern, both fore to aft and side to side. This results in a ring of benches surrounding the central point of the boat. The centre area has the Captain’s chair on starboard and another high-backed swivel companion chair to port. There is a removable table, which can be mounted at either the forward or aft end.
At each end of the boat there are open decks, each accessed by gates. The standard supplied boarding ladder is mounted on the starboard stern deck, which can be extended further if you need a little extra space for gearing up or storage.
The ski pylon comes standard, though if you are serious about your tow sports there is a Wake Tower Package available, which comes with all the bells and whistles to make your SLS3 the ultimate wake boarding platform.
The Lounger DH Sport is laid out to maximize the comfort of you and your guests, while still keeping a great aesthetic appearance from the outside. In the overall layout, there is a stern deck with a boarding ladder to starboard, and then the rest of the deck space is taken up with the fenced in seating area with gates at the bow and stern.
The chaise lounge benches wrap around the outside in total symmetry, making four great lounging spots that allow for reclining or upright seating. In the middle section there is the Captain’s chair to starboard, with a well-appointed helm station that has all the bells and whistles needed.
To port of the Captain’s chair there is another high backed swivel chair, and both of these have plenty of height and legroom. The 8522 lounger does not come specialised for any one specific interest, but there are packages available if you want to tailor the boat to your wants.
The Big Water edition is meant for those on larger lakes, there is the Salt Water edition for the coasts, and quite a few Performance packages to increase the speed and power up to a single 150hp outboard.
Stingray Boats is one of the few remaining truly independent boat builders, and as such their boat designs respond to the buyers needs and desires not those of the distantly removed corporate shareholders. And it shows! Their 192 SC deck boat is built on Stingray’s famous Z-plane hull that offers up to better fuel economy and a higher top speed compared to competitive models with the same power.
The hull design carries its’ 100” beam far forward almost to the bow for maximum deck space. Seating space is plentiful with two forward lounges set behind the large foredeck complete with a reboarding ladder under a hatch cover. My daughters would use this area to suntan very comfortably. The side console helm features a swivel chair behind a small windscreen and a well laid out dash including 2 cup holders.
To port, an l-shaped sofa brings the seating capacity up to 10 people. You’ll find ample storage under all the seat bases, and a large in-floor space for boards and skis. At the stern, four cupholders and two storage compartments flank the centre mounted ski tow bar, and there is a second reboarding ladder to starboard.
The Mirage Cruise might sit at the lower end of Sylvan’s pontoon boat lineup, but this 8520 Cruise LZ is anything but entry-level. The 8520 stretches two inches short of 21’ and has a full 102” beam.
The fore and aft seating area feature U-shaped lounges. The gate openings which divide the seating areas are 30” wide for easy access. The captain and companion will enjoy the high-back swivel seats with padded armrests.
The fiberglass helm console features standard gauges and a windscreen. It also houses an AM/FM Bluetooth stereo. Several different lighting options are available to brighten things up.
I’ve recently discovered under-deck lighting and would include them as a must-have upgrade. The underwater lighting would also be on my list. Sylvan includes a bimini top and you can option a half or full camper top to add further protection from the elements. There’s also a playpen cover available to protect the interior when moored.
The 8520 is rated for a 125 horsepower outboard, but Sylvan knows some of us might want more fun, so they’ve given us a few upgrade packages. The top-end RPT PR25 Performance Package increases the horsepower rating to 200, adds hydraulic steering, a 60-gallon fuel tank and a ski pylon. How’s that for fun?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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