15 TOP PONTOON & DECK BOATS FOR 2018
By: Brad Roberts
1. Bennington 22SSRXP
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.
2. Escape-Larson 21 TTT
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.
3. Harris 180 Cruiser
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.
4. Lowe SS 210
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.
5. Manitou 23 Oasis SR VP
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.
6. Four Winns HD 240 OB
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.
7. Hurricane SunDeck 187 OB
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.
8. Princecraft Ventura 224
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.
9. StarCraft 221 I/O
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.
10. Montego Bay Cruise 8522
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.
11. Princecraft Sportfisher 21-2S
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.
12. Starcraft SL3
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.
13. Sunchaser 8522 Lounger DH Sport
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.
14. Stingray 192 SC
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.
15. Sylvan 8520 Mirage LZ
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?
For all your accessories and/or vinyl flooring visit Pontoon-Depot's shop site.
- Amy Cabanas
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Tiki Bar Inspires Couple to Go Afloat on a Pontoon Houseboat
Sitting lakeside at your own private tiki bar, sharing drinks and steaks with your loved ones.
How can life get any better?
Jeff and Julia Kloeckner of Laingsburg, Michigan asked themselves that exact question one afternoon, and Jeff decided what the tiki bar needed was a houseboat.
I sat down one sunny afternoon recently to talk to the Kloeckners, my friends and neighbors. We sat on their back deck and enjoyed the view of the lake and their pontoon.
Jeff proudly talked about his pontoon and the story behind it, while Julia grabbed her photo album and displayed all the pictures documenting her husband’s boat creation.
The Pontoon Houseboat JourneyThe 1987 Manitou Pontoon was built at the original Delta Township factory, not far from Kloeckner’s home. It was sold to a family who took it up north to Gaylord, and they enjoyed it for many years, until the Kloeckners bought it from them in 2009.
When the Kloeckners purchased their pontoon, the recession was affecting gas prices so much that they soon found they used the boat less and less.
Their 18-foot, ’87 Manitou Pontoon had been sitting idle at the dock throughout the summer. The more it sat, the more Jeff pondered over what he could do with it.
He wanted to be able to use his pontoon for fishing and floating. Better yet, to turn it into a houseboat to enjoy at their location on Round Lake and take it to other lakes too.
Round Lake is known as Al Capone’s hideaway spot. The current Lakeview Banquet Center on the lake used to be a dance hall with big bands and bootleg booze.
Today Lakeview is a busy reception hall for weddings and other gatherings. Locals on the lake boat out near the hall to watch wedding ceremonies, listen to the music and take in the occasional evening firework displays.
Fireworks, beautiful sunsets and star-filled nights are just a few more good reasons a houseboat would be fitting on Round Lake.
Not only that, but Michigan has over 11,000 lakes to explore. There are so many different things to do in and around Michigan lakes. You can check out the “Lake Effect” at Pure Michigan.org and discover the endless opportunities of fun things to do and enjoy.
If you’re looking to camp on your pontoon or conversion pontoon, check out this pontoon camping guide.
The Kloeckner’s have known firsthand what lake life is all about and were ready to discover new adventures with their houseboat on Round Lake and other lakes up north. Thus, they began their own DIY pontoon houseboat project.
How to DIY Your Own Pontoon HouseboatLuckily, Jeff had the capability to configure his own houseboat design and structure.
His 30-plus years of construction experience and a jack-of-all-trades know-how gave him the confidence and skill to tackle this type of DIY project.
Less experienced DIY folks may want to use a kit to transform their pontoon. There are hundreds of ideas—some crazy!—that you can find online.
However, you really need to sit down and decide what you want for your houseboat, what will work for the size of your boat frame and the budget that you have to work with.
The possibilities can be endless!
What about adding a bathroom? Or a hot tub? Or even a second deck with a slide down into the water? The sky truly is the limit for just about anything you can imagine for your own houseboat.
Need some ideas? Go to Pinterest, type “conversion pontoons” in the search bar and you’ll discover an endless stream of pictures of the most amazing pontoon houseboats, and houseboats from around the world.
Once you choose your style, whether it’s simple or a floating Jimmy Buffet theme, build it with passion and keep safety in mind.
Some Takeaways: Consider Safety, Weight, Capacity and Insurance
Conversion projects like this bring up a number of questions on transforming a pontoon into a houseboat. One question for converting into a houseboat would be the framing structure and weight distribution.
The Manitou pontoon’s initial construction is ideal for strength and dependability. When you’re adding weight and height to the framework, you’ll just need some guidelines to keep it safe. The United States Coast Guard has a booklet to calculate your precise weight and capacity limits.
Manufacturers place a weight and capacity limit sticker on the boat at the factory. I called a Manitou dealer in Michigan and they recommended staying within the limitation that’s posted on the boat, for safety. Adding weight and height to a boat frame can make the boat unstable.
Another question would be insurance. Do you keep the same coverage for your boat as you would for a houseboat? I highly recommend contacting your own insurance agent to make sure you have the best coverage suited for your needs.
How to Expertly Use Recycled MaterialJeff created his houseboat using recycled material. Lansing’s Cooley Law Stadium, home of the minor league baseball team the Lugnuts, had just undergone major updates and Jeff was able to use the steel sides from the outfield storage unit.
The steel sheets were used as the sides of his 8′ x 10′ houseboat construction. He used steel studs for the framework to keep costs and weight down on the pontoon.
He also wanted the boat to be self sufficient, so he designed a way to use solar energy to power a Minn Kota Electric 55-lb thrust trolling motor. Jeff added a ceiling fan to the interior for cooling, installed sunglass material for the roof and placed house windows on the sides to also allow light and air flow.
A screen door in the front adds to the charm! And the inside has room for their queen-size air mattress (for when the fish aren’t biting) and storage for fishing equipment.
On the front of the boat, Jeff has two spots to insert fishing seats. He and his wife can comfortably sit, dangle their feet in the cool lake water and fish to their heart’s content!
What’s in a Name?
On the side of the boat Jeff added the boat’s name, Lily pad.
Fitting for floating on their small lake like… a lily pad! Jeff cut and designed lily pads from a steel metal sheet, painted the boat’s name on them and then attached them to the side of their houseboat.
When I asked them what they love best about the boat, they both replied that “it’s one of a kind!” Jeff loved working from his own ideas and how the solar unit helps keep their Lily pad self sufficient.
If you’re looking for recycled building material for your pontoon conversion, check out Habitat for Humanity. It’s a great place to look for recycled items for your project and help your community at the same time. Habitat stores are filled with building material, cabinets, furniture and so much more.
Think outside the box and find new treasures to go afloat!
- Amy Cabanas
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Pontoon Boat Prep: Before the Season Starts…
If you’re like most pontoon boat owners, you’re itching to get back on the water once the season starts. If you don’t live somewhere with year round warmth, you may have stored the boat away for winter—but that doesn’t mean you can’t start preparing for the spring and summer season now!
Read on to see a few things you can do to get your pontoon boat ready for fun once the warmer weather rolls around.
As boat owners, we’re always looking for ways to make our next trip even better than the last. This might mean making improvements to your pontoon boat that make it more enjoyable for everyone on board. If you’ve been thinking about adding features such as a ladder, slide or tent cover to your boat, now is a great time to do it. By the time the season starts up again, your pontoon boat will be decked out and ready to go!
Clean up your pontoon boat and make necessary repairs
There are, of course, practical issues you may need to take care of during your offseason time. If there are any repairs you need to make on your pontoon boat, now would be a good time to check those out and pick up the necessary parts you may need. If all your boat needs is a bit of freshening up, devote an afternoon to cleaning it up and getting it back to looking like new.
Plan your next adventure
A fantastic way to keep yourself and your family occupied during the winter months is to plan your next adventure. Whether this is to a local spot or a bona fide vacation destination, everyone will enjoy having a say in the planning process. It’s also a great way to keep your mind focused on the water fun you’ll be having—without actually being on the water.
Give it a name
If you have not yet given your pontoon boat a name, do it this winter! Every boat needs a good name, both for practical reasons—so help on the water can find you easily, should you ever need it—and fun ones. Every pontoon boat has its own unique personality, just like the people who use it, so be sure to give yours a name that sticks.
Purchase your new pontoon boat
Like many boaters in search of a fun alternative to traditional powerboats, you may be considering purchasing a brand new pontoon boat this year. Why wait until the season’s already underway to do it? The winter months are the perfect time to think about the style and design you want and get your new boat ready for fun on the water in 2018.
If you fit into this category, get in touch with us today! We can make your pontoon boat wishes a reality in time for the season ahead.
Can’t wait to get back on the water? Try these ideas and hold on just a little longer—you’ll be seeing fellow boaters on your favorite waterways in no time at all.
- 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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