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Near-Tragedy Inspiration | Pontoon-Depot

Near-Tragedy Inspiration | Pontoon-Depot


Scott Smiles’ 42-foot boat sank in 50 seconds, leaving him, a friend, and their two PFD-clad young sons clinging to a cooler and EPIRB—the only items he had time to grab. The harrowing experience inspired Smiles to develop Life Cell, a completely new approach to safety equipment storage.

Life Cell from Life Cell Marine Safety is a self-contained buoyant device that holds user-supplied safety and survival equipment. Best of all, it provides flotation assistance for up to eight adults, depending on the model.

Life Cell is simple to use and easy to access. It can be thrown or, should the boat sink, will float off its included mounting bracket. The high visibility Life Cell doesn't rely on its watertight compartment for buoyancy; its flotation is built in. Life Cell models start at $299 with a two-year warranty and are available in orange or white.

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E15 Fuel Year-Round? | Pontoon-Depot

E15 Fuel Year-Round? | Pontoon-Depot


The nation’s largest advocacy, services and safety group for recreational boaters, Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS), reacted negatively to the recent news of the Administration’s plan to permit the sale of E15 (15 percent ethanol) fuel year-round.

E15 is prohibited by federal law for use in recreational boat engines, voids many marine engine warranties, and is currently banned for sale in many states by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during summer months over concerns that it contributes to smog on hot days. Under the Administration’s new proposal, however, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would grant a waiver to the Clean Air Act to permit the sale of E15 in all 50 states year-round at the same roadside gas stations where most recreational boaters refuel their trailered vessels.

The BoatUS released this statement:

“The proposal to permit the sale of a fuel (E15) during the peak summer boating season that is both harmful and illegal to use in marine engines is a major concern for boat owners. The nation’s 11 million recreational boaters want fuel that is safe for their boats, however, this proposed EPA policy change will increase the chances that boaters could inadvertently put engine-killing E15 into their tanks. Unlike the physical barriers that prevent misfueling between gasoline and diesel fuel-powered vessels, just one small orange warning label on the fuel pump is all that stands between a boat owner making a misfueling mistake that could lead to expensive, warranty-voiding repairs and catastrophic engine failure.”

At the core of the issue is the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). When it was passed in 2005, RFS assumed that America’s use of gasoline would continue to grow. Since then, however, gasoline usage has not increased as forecast, which today forces more ethanol into each gallon of gas. To keep up with the RFS mandate, in 2010 the EPA granted a partial waiver to allow E15 into the marketplace – which they are now expanding regardless of market demand and infrastructure constraints. Only fuels containing up to 10 percent ethanol (E10) are permitted for use in recreational boats.

The more than half-million-member boat owners group is a member of Smarter Fuel Future and supports fuel choice, including smart biofuels development such as biobutanol, and the availability of ethanol-free fuels that most boat owners prefer.

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Fun in the Sun: 5 Deck Boat Tips for Summer

Fun in the Sun: 5 Deck Boat Tips for Summer

By: Better Boat

The weather has warmed up, and so has the water—summer is here!

Ready to make the most of the sunniest months of the year? I’m going to introduce you to some handy deck boat tips to keep your favorite ride humming all through June, July, August and then some.

When I purchased my first boat, I did so in the spring (around mid-April) with my eyes on the prize—heading out onto the lake in the summer. I wanted to get out there ASAP, with friends, family and anyone who wanted to join.

The mistake I made in that moment was trying to rush that very process. If I had given myself a little bit more time and made a list (like this one), I might have prepared better (and not have forgotten a few things—like a cooler!). That’s why, as we uncover some of my best deck boat tips, it’s going to be all about patience.

Keep your head straight, your eyes on the prize (just as I did) and enjoy some of the best deck boat tips to help you prepare for summer in style.

5 Deck Boats Tips for Summer

1. Give Your Deck Boat a Thorough Inspection

If you’re bringing your pride and joy out of storage for the summer, or even if you live somewhere warm and are simply taking it out for the day, it’s always beneficial to start with a dry run.

Rather than rushing into the water and hoping for the best, give your pride and joy a thorough spring boat inspection. It’s much easier to complete a general cleaning and equipment maintenance check while still in storage or on the trailer.

Debris removal and small improvements will be easier to do out of the water, but if you uncover anything unsavory—like boat pests, for example—you can handle it right then and there (particularly if it involves your engine) on dry land.

If you put your boat away in storage, it should already be dry. However, especially in the summer after you finish each ride, you should make sure everything is clean as a whistle (and dry as the desert) before you head out again.

2. Set Your Deck Boat Party Rules

One of the biggest advantages we know about deck boats is that they’re made for entertaining. They’re the absolute perfect place to host shindigs. Everyone loves those good times out on the water.

Keeping this in mind, one of the best deck boat tips I’ve ever received is this: Give guests a rundown of the rules before they ever step foot on the boat.

If you’re planning a big day out on the water, put together a basic list of guidelines. Set some ground rules for your friends to let them know what to bring and how to act when they’re out on the water. This can be accomplished by through an email chain, a WhatsApp group or a Facebook message.

These rules can include general safety tips, like ones related to alcohol consumption, and even some fun things, like a BYOB policy or requesting favorite snacks.

Set the ground rules early and you’re more likely to avoid headaches later. Putting safety first on your boat is important, both because it keeps people from getting hurt, and it keeps you from getting in trouble with the law.

When you pre-plan your party, and people know what to expect, there’s less chance of them breaking the rules and making a mess (of your boat, or your boating record).

3. Choose the Perfect Deck Boat Environment

This harkens back to my previous point about patience. If you want to know one of the best tips for taking your deck boat, or any boat, out on the water, it’s this.

Choose your weather conditions and destination spot wisely! This means keeping an extremely close eye on the weather for the day, especially if it’s going to be your deck boat’s first time out on the water in months.

Make sure you go out on a warm, crisp day, with relatively still waters. The last thing you want is to have your engine die in the middle of a storm, or in strong winds, which is especially true of more tropical climates where flash storms are common.

In addition, try to reserve your first ride to smaller bodies of water, which generally make maneuvering a deck boat easier. Shallow waters and narrow creeks give deck boats trouble. They’re a wider size with platforms that make them not as agile and zippy as their runabout counterparts.

The conditions you choose to go out on will determine the quality of your ride, and for the first of the season, it helps to ensure everything is in your favor.

4. Bring Along Deck Boat Accessories

Especially if you rely on your deck boat for entertaining, this tip is all about the importance of planning ahead for the next time you invite friends on board.

If you want to make the most of your fun in the sun, you’ll need the proper accessories. When you own a deck boat, that’s especially important—you have more room, and more functionality, to have a better time.

This can be as simple as ensuring you have the proper cooler mounts to keep things from shifting.

Bimini umbrellas are a useful, simple addition for particularly sunny days.

A misting system may be worth the investment if there are people in your party who are known to get overheated.

You could also invest in fishing mounts, or even a deck boat for fishing altogether. You can even accessorize with fun inflatable water tubes or water skiing equipment.

The last thing you want to do is to be running to the store to purchase things for your deck boat, hours before you’re set to hit the high seas. If you plan ahead, and keep your guests in mind, you’re going to be way happier—and they will be, too.

5. Consider the Space for Guests

One last tip! When preparing your deck boat for summer, know when purchasing a larger deck boat—or upgrading from a small two-person boat—becomes the right decision.

There are plenty of proven and reliable deck boat brands out there, and buying a more spacious deck boat might be the perfect way to enjoy having more people out on the water.

I started off in boat ownership with a small little fishing boat. It was perfect when me and my buddies wanted a weekend away, but we soon started getting girlfriends, then families, and eventually wanted something large enough to take everyone out on the water. That’s why a deck boat, with its luxurious amount of space, is typically considered tops when it comes to that very experience. They run anywhere from 18 to 28 feet and have upholstered seating that can sit up to 14 guests!

The best tip I can give? Know when to get a larger boat, and don’t wait until it’s too late. If you could be having fun out on the water with your wife and kids a couple years earlier, wouldn’t you want that? Don’t procrastinate and regret not making that upgrade. Start considering the advantages sooner than later.

If you want more space, agility and acceleration, a deck boat might be the best move for you. Honestly, the best deck boat tip you might receive today is to just—in general—get better acquainted with them.

Ready for the Summer?

Keep these deck boat tips in mind for the summer and you’re bound to have less headaches, less mechanical issues, and way more fun out on the water.

You can thank me later. Until then, let the good times roll!

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The unsinkable pontoon market | Pontoon Depot

The unsinkable pontoon market | Pontoon Depot

‘Tricked out’ and beefed up, the versatile, stable and affordable family boats continue to set the pace in sales


The pontoon segment continues to make big gains year over year as builders add power to the boats, broaden dealer networks, add options for saltwater markets and continue to attract entry-level boaters.

The segment’s popularity also seems to be growing among grandparents, who are trying to draw adult kids and young grandkids to on-the-water gatherings. And sales data show that pontoon owners own second boats or personal watercraft at higher rates than those in many other segments, using the boat as a mother ship for gatherings — similar to what a yacht owner might do, but on a much more manageable budget.

The versatility of the boats also continues to be a huge selling point, as higher-horsepower outboards give families the ability to day-boat, fish, pull tubes or skiers and add other toys, such as floats and slides, to create water playgrounds.

“This has been the fastest-growing segment over the past decade and the only segment that has exceeded pre-recessionary levels,” says Jack Ellis, founder and managing director of Info-Link Technologies, the Miami company that tracks boat registrations. “Everyone has jumped in and started making pontoons, and they’ve done a better job of appealing to a younger audience. The things they put on those boats are extraordinary: dual and triple engines, bars, barbecues — I wouldn’t be surprised to see a satellite dome, like you see on large yachts. They just get more and more tricked out.”

Of the 250,000 new boats sold last year, new pontoons were the second-highest-selling category, with 48,564 sold in 2016 — a 9.4 percent increase from a strong 2015, according to data from Statistical Surveys Inc., another company that tracks boat sales. The only category ahead was the expansive outboard fiberglass boat segment, which captures data on boats from 11 to 50 feet (50,087).

This year pontoons had a particularly strong April as sales rose 11.2 percent, to 3,236; in May, pontoon sales rose 7.5 percent from the previous year, to 4,741.

“Those pontoons just continue to go up,” says Ryan Kloppe, sales director at Michigan-based Statistical Surveys. “We were up over 45,000 units last year, and we’re going to be above that this year.”

Pontoon devotees say there’s no better way to get the whole family out on the water for a day of fun.

The mother ship

Fort Myers, Fla.-based Juli Kern and her husband, Kevin, are lapsed PWC owners — “We sold them as soon as I got pregnant because we knew we wanted to have a boat with a baby” — and bought a Sea Ray 185 Sport, Juli says. Eight years and two kids later, they traded the Sea Ray in for a 25-foot Bennington tritoon 2575 with a 300-hp MerCruiser 350 sterndrive. That was in 2014 and they haven’t looked back.

“Pontoons are like floating living rooms, and down here everybody wants to have the convenience of that and be on the water,” Kern says. “Kevin wanted a fast boat. I wanted the pontoon because it’s easier for the kids and the dog and all their stuff. It also can pull up closer to the beach so we don’t have to wade through the water to get to the beach.”

The Kerns also scuba-dive and tube, so the pontoon is perfect for holding their gear, as well as getting in and out of the water without tripping over each other, she says. It has storage for chairs, floats, noodles, snorkel gear, sand toys for the couple’s 9- and 10-year-olds, towels and umbrellas.

“It’s the mother ship, for sure,” Kern says. “We have a couch tube, as well, that I love because it doesn’t flip over and the kids can relax and have fun, rather than hang on for their lives.”

The Kerns used to go out with their next-door neighbors and their two PWC, but the neighbors — also in their early 40s with school-age kids — loved the Kerns’ boat so much, they sold the PWC and bought a pontoon instead, Kern says.

Second boats and toys

Still, more than 40 percent of pontoon owners own another boat or PWC, Ellis says, with 15 percent owning one or more PWC, 10 percent owning freshwater fishing boats, 9 percent owning jonboats and 10 percent also owning fiberglass runabouts (roughly three-quarters of those are tow boats).

“We ran a similar evaluation on multi-boat ownership among all boat owners, not just pontoon, and confirmed that secondary boat ownership among pontoon boat owners is definitely higher than average — but not extraordinarily so,” Ellis says. “As you might guess, large cruiser and yacht owners have an even higher incidence of multi-boat ownership — the second boat is often a tender — but I don’t think this detracts from the fact that pontoons often serve as mother ships, not unlike a yacht.”

It’s not uncommon for boat owners to have a second boat, says National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich. “It’s interesting that pontoon boat owners have a second boat at a higher rate than others, but I think it’s fairly common for boat owners to have a second boat.”

There are 11.5 million registered boats and 8.5 million households that own a boat, Dammrich says, meaning, on average, there are 1.5 to two boats per boat-owning household.

Ellis wonders whether pontoon dealers are taking advantage of the fact that many pontoon owners also own either another boat or PWC, and typically, a slew of inflatables and other toys. “We refer to the pontoon sometimes as the mother ship,” says Ellis, who has watched the trend during the past couple of years.

“These are arguably higher-value customers for the boating industry because ... typically they are buying other boats to go with it,” he says.

People aren’t generally coming in to buy two boats from Sun Tracker and Regency pontoon dealer Grand Pointe Marina in Lansing, Mich., says owner Chris Stevens. “But do they have an older boat? Yeah, some do. For the people who have a cottage, everybody has a pontoon. It’s nice, relaxing, stable, there’s a lot of walking-around room, it’s wheelchair-accessible and good for families with young kids. It’s like a playpen in there. Everybody feels safe. The gates are two to three feet high, so there’s no fear of accidents.”

The pontoon appeals to many because it is “the big gathering area where people can jump on jets or fishing boats, but a pontoon is kind of the compromise to do everything. It can’t do one specialized thing super-well,” says Jason Westre, who also sells Sun Tracker in St. Cloud, Minn., at Westre’s Marine and Sport, as well as Regency and South Bay. “A jet ski or fishing boat is more purpose-built. A pontoon is a general way to get onto the water, and then, if someone in the family’s interests are fishing or skiing, they buy a second boat to fill that gap.”

Westre Marine doesn’t sell personal watercraft — “so I probably wouldn’t be the best person for that information. There are definitely people who still keep their fishing boat and add a pontoon to what they have,” he says.

Westre says he’d love an opportunity to sell PWC to his customers, but the PWC manufacturers often tap their motorcycle or ATV dealers to sell those. “Jet skis are a lot closer to a boat than a motorcycle, but people who manufacture them are power sports companies, and naturally they want to keep that business in their dealer network.”

Sun Tracker offers its pontoons standard with limited options, helping the company keep up with demand, and that gives Grand Pointe Marina an advantage, Stevens says. That also means his buyers are often drawn to the affordability factor. But “there’s a ton of aftermarket stuff we can put on,” Stevens says. “I would say that Tracker carries the best price point in the business. Their main concern is affordability and getting on the water, and after they’ve had the boat for a bit, they start adding some accessories. Grills, and a lot of tow sport stuff they’ll add afterward.”


 Kevin Kern is shown aboard his Bennington tritoon with daughter Kayli, 9, and son Dayton, 11.

Appealing to all ages

The platform appeals to a variety of ages because it’s easy to use, easy to move around in and is safe — exactly what the Kerns were looking for. “It’s more the entry-level boaters and younger people looking at smaller pontoons, as well as the tritoons,” Westre says, adding that he is seeing buyers of all ages. Ten years ago pontoons accounted for about 20 percent of his sales; this year, he says, it will be closer to 40 or 50 percent.

“Pontoons are a pretty hot segment,” says Stevens in Michigan, the state that sells more pontoons than any other, with 5,800 sold last year — up 15 percent from 2015 and almost 2,000 more than the next-biggest pontoon state, Minnesota. “A lot of younger families are doing it because the whole family fits very comfortably. People feel safe, and there’s a lot of square footage. With the bigger-horsepower motors to do more recreational stuff, they’re just finding that it’s really versatile and really economic, compared to a same-size fiberglass boat.”

At the same time, baby boomers are also gravitating to pontoons in droves. Tow-boat owners typically get to a certain age, in their mid-50s, when they usually sell that tow boat and either already own a pontoon or buy a pontoon, Ellis says. “There are price points for everybody. It fits every type of user, every demographic.”

“This is something fun that’s going to engage the kids and grandkids to visit. They’re excited to go to grandma and grandpa’s because they got a new boat,” Kloppe says.

Ellis says today’s grandparents are much more involved with their grandkids than in previous generations and are more likely to take the youngsters out boating. “Clearly, I think grandparents today are younger,” Dammrich agrees. “What’s the saying? Sixty is the new 40? They’re much younger than my grandparents were, so they’re much more active, and more likely to get their children and grandchildren involved in boating even as they retire.”

The grandparent economy is being seen in all industries, Ellis says, with grandparents making purchases even as their grandkids are the ultimate consumers. Lori Bitter, author of “The Grandparent Economy: How Baby Boomers are Bridging the Generation Gap,” said in an interview with (part of that the trend was born when grandparents stepped in to help their adult sons and daughters during the Great Recession.

“This new generation of grandparents stepped in to help their adult children and grandchildren in ways that redefined grandparenting,” Bitter told the publication. “They changed spending patterns, became revolving-purchase influencers and sparked a return to old-fashioned multi-generation households.”

“Today’s grandparents are more of the opinion that … instead of leaving an inheritance, they want to enjoy that stuff with the kids and grandchildren while they’re alive,” Ellis says.

A ‘living room’ on the water

The addition of horsepower and options — saltwater options, towers, customizable options — “that’s why you’re seeing that market continue to grow,” Kloppe says. “Versatility and horsepower.”

That was precisely the reason Kern was able to talk her husband into trading the Sea Ray for the Bennington. They did some research and found the Bennington with the MerCruiser 350, giving it the ability to go faster than pontoons had in the past — “so he got his cake and is eating it, too … and we’re all happy. Also it is nice to have room to bring other people and not trip over everybody, like we did in the other boat.”

Pontoon sales have grown about 20 percent every year for the past five years at Grand Pointe Marina. “I think it’s about ease of use, family time, everybody can fit, everybody can relax — I just think it’s a hot trend, especially if you have a place on the water,” says Stevens. Some of his customers elect to buy more budget-friendly options, but $100,000 pontoons are becoming commonplace, as well, he says.

“With the advancement of technology, the motors are super-quiet; it’s like being in your living room,” Stevens says. “Just with the advancements, it’s comparable to a fiberglass runabout, but for much less money. Cost is a factor there.”

Another draw is how easy the boats are to use, Stevens says, and people love Tracker’s 10-year warranty. New boaters are increasingly coming in because of that ease of use — and have learned about them from a neighbor or friend who has a pontoon — similar to the Kerns’ neighbors.

John Benchimol, owner of Harborside Marina and Yacht Sales in Connecticut, says his customers choose Bennington because “they want to have something that’s very easy to own, accomplishes a lot as far as your abilities to use a boat, and they are safer, easy to get on, easy dock, and they use outboards. The ease of ownership is unbelievable.”

Benchimol, a Chris-Craft dealer for 20 years, picked up the Bennington line about four years ago because “it was the only thing I kept seeing at boat shows that I felt fit the lifestyle of what my clients like to do. The [pontoon] boats are super-comfortable, easy to own, easy to get on and off of, easy to dock, and are not super-expensive.”

A foothold in saltwater

Benchimol’s only hesitation was the scarcity of the boats on Long Island Sound. “I was curious how they were going to do in this environment — it’s salt water, which is inherently where they’ve not been popular,” he says.

He took on Bennington “because it’s the premier line” that could withstand the harsh environment, and he says this has been the best year thus far, but it is taking time and a lot of demos to show that the pontoons are capable of handling open water.

“I have all my boats overbuilt with thickness of aluminum, as well as the saltwater packages,” Benchimol says. He avoids options that won’t work well in salt water. “The idea of this was make it an easy boat of ownership.”

He’s selling between 14 and 20 a year, and the boats usually run around $70,000. “If you go to Florida you see pontoons in salt water, as well as fresh. I think eventually it will be really good.”

The Kerns operate their Bennington in brackish water and salt water, launching in the mangroves and making their way through the maze to San Carlos Bay, and then to the Gulf. Juli Kern says spotting pontoons in their saltwater areas is common. Indeed, the rate of sales in the state has grown to 3,000, making it the fourth-strongest state, just behind Minnesota at 3,990 and Wisconsin at 3,021.

“I think eventually things will change and you’ve got to think about the future and think saltwater is the future for these boats,” Benchimol says. “If you go to any lake, like Lake Winnipesaukee, all the rich people own pontoons, probably most are Benningtons, and many probably have a boat next to it. Those dealers are selling Benningtons against other pontoons. I’m selling against Grady-White or something else. It’s a whole different mindset.”

The ones that do choose pontoons in his market could afford to buy whatever they want, but are sold on how many people they can put on the boat, the lower price point and the fact that they can still take it from Connecticut to Newport to Norwalk, he says.

“I’m putting the time and effort in now, and I’m hoping that in a couple of years it’s going to pay off,” Benchimol says. “About 85 percent of the population lives coastally. That’s an untapped market.”

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