Top 5 Most Common Pontoon Boat Issues
Much like cars and trucks, pontoons are susceptible to a variety of problems. And most of the serious issues you’ll encounter during your life as a pontooner are engine-related, as there are few other things that could affect the boat’s well-being quite as much. Today, we’re taking a look at the most common of these issues – how to spot them, recognize them, and what can you do to save your pontoon.
1. ENGINE IS OVERHEATING
The reason why we’re putting this one first is that an overheating engine can be ignorable at first, but will lead to the complete breaking of the engine if not taking care of. And you don’t want to realize you’re left with a dead engine with a whole party on your ‘toon 100 yards away from the dock. Make sure you’re always keeping an eye on the engine temperature gauge. If you notice any suspicious activity, check for blockages near the engine, or replenish the water in the cooling loop.
2. ROUGH STARTS
If your pontoon is making weird screeching or whining noises when you’re trying to start the engine, it might be due to a couple of issues. The first probably the most common one is contaminated fuel, which happens when gas mixes together with water. This can occur right after you fill up your tank, and the best way to protect your engine, in this case, is to wait for the fuel and water to separate. Alternatively, you might want to install a fuel-water separator between the tank and the engine to prevent this from happening.
3. ENGINE DOESN’T START
Probably the most frustrating issue of all, a non-starting engine can happen due to battery failures, corrosion, or lack of fuel. If the third one is not the case, you might want to check the battery first and recharge or replace it as needed. Other electrical components might be the issue as well, so check the ignition circuit for any loose connections as well. Another common problem that leads to the engine to starting are oil gasket leaks – and if that’s the case, you need to replace your oil gasket as soon as possible.
4. PONTOON NOT AS RESPONSIVE TO STEERING
This is the one common issue that usually doesn’t have much to do with the engine. However, if your pontoon is not as sensitive to your steering commands as it used to be, you might want to check your steering ram and grease all the fittings and swivels. Using muscle power to steer an unlubricated system will only work for so long, and you don’t want to accidentally have to row back to the dock. While this might not seem like a huge issue at first, it’s very similar to engine overheating – it doesn’t really affect you too much until it actually breaks down on you.
5. SMOKE FROM EXHAUST
Last but not least, smoke emitting from the exhaust can cause even the most experienced boater to panic. However, that doesn’t always indicate engine failure – it might also be due to contaminated fuel, fuel injector failure, too low or too high oil levels, and more. If you see smoke coming out of the exhaust, we recommend you contact a mechanic as soon as possible.
These are the top five most common problems pontooners come across when it comes to their boats. Some of these can be solved without the help of a professional, but if you’re one of the ‘better safe than sorry’ people out there, don’t hesitate to contact a mechanic if any of the above happens to your boat.
THE PONTOON LIFESTYLE | PONTOON DEPOT
WHAT IT IS
Pontoon boats have evolved beyond just a form of recreation and transportation. They have come to represent a lifestyle, one that provides relaxing days on the water, free of worry and stress.
The beauty of the pontoon lifestyle is that it can be lived anywhere. While that lifestyle may conjure up images of palm trees and the sounds of Jimmy Buffet playing on your boat’s surround sound, that slice of heaven is within the reach of every boater.
WHY IT WORKS
There is a certain sense of tranquility that comes with a trip out on the water in a pontoon boat. It can be any body of water and does not necessarily have to be an actual tropical paradise. The smooth ride will let passengers sit back, relax and enjoy the day. That kind of experience can make any body of water a welcomed sanctuary.
The setup of a pontoon boat allows guests to actually sit back and have a cocktail while enjoying some pleasant conversation. There is no need to speak over the buzzing hum of an engine and no need to worry about choppy seas. The stability of a pontoon boat can give all passengers their very own pair of sea legs.
There is always the option to throw a line in the water and catch an afternoon meal. Fishing can be done while you kick back and relax underneath the sun. Pontoon boats also offer plenty of shade, which allows passengers to stay cool on a hot summer day.
But cool is a constant theme when it comes to pontoon boats. Style combined with comfort makes for a truly unique boating experience.
There is even plenty of room on a pontoon boat to do some grilling. That kind of functionality provides everything that is needed for a day of leisure.
STARTING LIVING THE PONTOON LIFESTYLE TODAY
Boating has become a very popular pastime, but the image of speedboats and revving engines is not all that this recreational activity entails. There is a new image of boating, one that showcases a laid-back lifestyle where people can leave their troubles ashore. And at the heart of that lifestyle is a pontoon boat.
Recreational boating has changed and in a fast-paced world, the sea provides a leisurely getaway. And pontoon boats can be a vehicle that leads to that serenity. Boaters no longer have to travel to a place like Key West to enjoy that kind of atmosphere. It is right in front of them every time the set foot on a pontoon boat.
By: Pontoon Living
- Amy Cabanas
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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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Buying a Pontoon Boat or a Deck Boat?
By: Discover Boating
So, you want a versatile boat that handles easily, features plenty of seating and storage, and is designed to be able to bring along a big crew? Sounds like you may have already narrowed down your choices to two choices that are among the fastest-growing segments in the entire boating industry: pontoons and deck boats. Since the very first aluminum pontoon was introduced in 1958 at the Chicago World’s Fair (it was a Sanpan), boaters have been drawn to their unapologetically simple design, ease of use and the no-frills ability to get lots of folks aboard to get the party started. Back in those days, you broke out the folding lawn chairs, fired up the charcoal grill, and slowly putt-putted your tiny outboard to the nearest cove of like-minded revelers.
Similarly, the deck boat concept really started in 1974 when a company called Hurricane started building a fiberglass V-style hull to add better performance and handling, but still retain the a pontoon-style topside and wide-open floor plan that people loved so much about pontoons. It was so popular, in fact, that the first deck boat (called FunDeck) has been in constant production ever since. But my, how times have changed. These two boat types have come a long way and have been refined to the point that they really stack up against any other powerboat style. And today, they really go head-to-head when families are in the market for a new boat. Let’s examine the pros and cons of each.
This is perhaps the most subjective part of comparing pontoons and deck boats, and it all comes down to your personal tastes and what turns your head. Today’s pontoons are tricked out with coordinated graphics, a choice of rail skin colors, high-quality vinyl seats, and tough and attractive marine-grade carpet. But since every inch of a pontoon is built for maximum seating and storage, some folks find them a little utilitarian. Today’s deck boats are designed similarly to other fiberglass runabouts, but with the bow section carried as far forward as possible to accommodate more folks in the forward seating area. You’ll see coordinated upholstery accents, bimini tops and carpet, and the exterior graphics tend to be a little bolder. Many deck boats also have integrated wake tower options, which adds a distinct watersports profile.
With a fiberglass, V-style hull, you typically would compare the handling of a deck boat to a similarly sized open-bow boat. Look for a stable ride at all speeds, little or no bowrise, and superior turning at higher speeds. The option of outboard or I/O propulsion is a big plus for deck boats as well, depending on your needs. Even with a full load, pontoon boats (by design) are going to plane easily with less horsepower than a deck boat. Sharp turns are helped by the addition of hydraulic steering systems, but you will still cut a wider swath in a pontoon, unless you choose a performance model with triple (center) tube system, which provides extra buoyancy and stability.
Both styles of boats truly shine when it comes to the ability to do a lot of different things on the water. Fishing, watersports, cruising, camping, entertaining, etc. are all right in the wheelhouse of pontoons and deck boats. In fact, depending on your family’s needs, there are all sorts of different packages to dial in your preferred activities, such as rod holders, tackle storage and livewells for more hardcore anglers. If you’re like most folks considering one of these boats, though, you will find that the basic features will serve you well, and allow you to fish in the morning, pull the kids on tubes in the afternoon, and finish the day with a beautiful sunset cruise.
Ease Of Operation
In the world of trailer boating, you really can’t get much easier than pontoons and deck boats. With their stable platforms both are fairly easy to master when it comes to everything from launching and retrieving to cruising out on the water. Look for a raised helm or a captain’s seat that features a fold-up bolster to increase visibility. Pull-up cleats conveniently installed around the deck will make it a cinch to pull up and dock from any angle. Make sure you’ve got docking lights for bringing the boat in safely in the evening, and an all-off master switch to make sure you don’t run down your battery when you leave the boat.
For more info on the two, visit our Boat Selector Tool page.