A Zip-Lock bag provides protection from the elements for an exposed fish-finder while this pontoon boat is docked between trips.
A question I’ve been asked a few times over the last year is if there are any pontoon boat brands to avoid. It’s understandable, as even a used pontoon boat is going to cost you a fair whack, so you don’t want to end up making a mistake.
But here’s the thing; I personally would not avoid any of the current pontoon boat brands.
Virtually anything that has been manufactured in the last couple of decades will have been engineered to the highest standards and passed the relevant safety ratings.
Where pontoon boats will truly tend to differ will be the quality of the fixtures and fittings plus how they have been constructed overall.
It’s very easy to get distracted by all the shiny functionality you see on the deck. When looking at a pontoon boat, don’t just take in the seating, carpets, accessories, tech, and gear that gets thrown in.
You need to do your own due diligence by looking under the console and deck to see what the workmanship is like.
As an example, some pontoon boats will have rails and decks that have been screwed in. Other will be bolted through. Through bolting will give you a much better boat that’s going to last a lot longer, possibly with a reduction in overall maintenance costs.
Another thing to look at is the brackets on the pontoon tubes. The M shaped brackets are much better. But don’t stop there, also look at how the welding has been done, and on used boats, look for signs of damage and patching.
These are just a couple of tips; there’s a lot more to it.
You will need to do a lot of research before deciding whether a certain pontoon boat brand and model is one that you avoid or choose to go with. That includes talking to other pontoon boat owners.
To help you with your decision-making process, I’d like to refer you to some of the more in-depth content on Pontoonopedia that I encourage you to read in full before you pull the trigger on a purchase.
Must-read buyers guide for buying a new pontoon boat
If you are looking to buy new, and don’t know what pontoon boat brands to avoid, then this buyer’s guide won’t tell you that, as all brands make great models. What it will do is give you some insight into:
I suggest reading the entire buyer’s guide in full before you start your search this year.
What to look for when buying a used pontoon boat
I’ve put together a checklist of questions and things to avoid when buying in the used market. This includes aspects such as:
To read the guide in full so you know what pontoon boats to avoid when buying used, read the full used buyer’s guide.
Some pontoon boat basics
If you’re still undecided on whether to take the plunge, you might want to get to grips with some pontoon boat basics. I have listed advice on:
For more detailed information on each point, go check out my pontoon boat basics 101.
Making your final selection on a pontoon boat
There’s also a lot more information you need to get to grips with on how to make your final selection. This selection guide includes advice on:
And finally, if you are family-focussed, and looking for something to suit your and your brood, I’ve put together a guide specifically for this market. Tips include:
Read my family-friendly guide to choosing a pontoon boat if you have kids.
So there you have it. If you’ve read through all those guides you will now be in a far better position to choosing the best boat and brand to suit your needs. As mentioned, currently I wouldn’t say there were any pontoon boat brands to avoid. It all comes down to suitability, budget, and your individual needs.
Boatyards, marinas and clubs are waking up after a long winter’s nap, and boaters have begun preparing their vessels for the season. While the boat needs to be looked at and readied for a summer of fun, so does your safety. The BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water says that doing these four free or low-cost things now will help ensure a summer of safe boating.
1. Get a free Vessel Safety Check: Where else can you ask a professional to go over your boat to ensure it’s safe and has all the required safety equipment? And if the boat is not up to snuff, you won’t be penalized in any way and will instead get some welcome, friendly advice on how to improve. That’s what a Vessel Safety Check does, so schedule a Vessel Safety Check now. Offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the U.S. Power Squadrons, Vessel Safety Checks are completely free, and you may be surprised by what they find.
2. Register your DSC-VHF Radio to get your MMSI number: Digital Selective Calling (DSC) VHF radios can greatly reduce rescuer response times – but only if you have taken the time to register the radio and request your vessels’ unique Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number. If it’s not registered, or still registered to the prior boat owner, you’re not helping yourself and could likely waste valuable response time in an emergency. BoatUS offers DSC VHF radio registration to the public for $25 or free to BoatUS members.
3. Inspect and prep your life jackets: Inflatable life jackets need to be opened up every season to ensure they are in good shape. Regular (noninflatable) life jackets need to be brought out of hiding, inspected, and placed in locations aboard the boat that make it very easy for passengers to access. Life jackets are no good (and not legal) if they are buried at the bottom of a storage compartment and not “readily available.”
4. Take a free boating safety course: The numbers don’t lie. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that 81 percent of boating fatalities occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction. Recognize the upshot of these statistics and get instruction now at BoatUS.org/Free. The free online BoatUS Foundation state boating safety course easily fits into busy schedules, allowing course takers to stop at any time and pick up again later where they left off. It could also earn your state’s boating safety certification. BoatUS membership is not required.
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?