I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from taking a long hard look at pontoon boats, but they certainly aren’t the end-all-be-all boat. Consider the following disadvantages to help you make an informed decision.
Pontoon boats can go over 100mph (160kph) in extreme circumstances, but most pontoon boats sit right around the 28 – 35 mile per hour mark if you have a 90hp engine or faster and an overall length under 24′. That’s fast enough for just about any towing water sport you want to do, but pontoons are not speed demons.
If you want to race, impress people, or cross a massive lake very quickly, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
#2. Rough Water
Pontoon boats offer an incredibly stable and wobble-free ride most of the time; however, in severe storms when there is heavy chop on the water, a pontoon boat is more dangerous than a traditional V-hull boat.
When large, ocean-sized waves hit the front of a pontoon boat, the pontoons can dive into the wave instead of riding over the wave. In extreme circumstances, this can cause capsizing.
It is true with any boat but particularly true with pontoons—get off the water when there is a storm approaching! Not only can the waves be dangerous, but the high profile of a pontoon can make it impossible to trailer or tie down during a wind storm.
I learned this lesson the hard way and a man nearly lost his life trying to help me. I was on my small local lake only 2 minutes from my house and enjoying an evening on my boat (it’s second outing). A storm was approaching, and I thought pretty soon we’d get a little sprinkle on us—no big deal.
We headed for the dock when we felt the first raindrops. Within a matter of seconds, the winds kicked up to over 30mph and the waves pounded the boat. We made it to the dock, but the winds pushed the boat against the dock so hard that we were worried the boat would be thrashed, so we stood on the dock pushing it out.
Another boater saw us and ran over to help. He jumped in the water (he was wet from being on a jet ski) to push the boat out from the dock–between the boat and the dock. A sudden gust pushed the boat so hard that we couldn’t keep the boat away from the dock (I was standing on the dock with my passenger, and the jet ski guy was in the water). The boat suddenly pushed toward the dock and nearly pinned the jet ski guy between the 2,500-pound boat and the dock. Would have killed him for sure, but fortunately, we pushed with all our strength and got him out.
Do not tempt fate. When you see a storm on the horizon, you should already be off the water!
3. Wake Shape
The wake on my pontoon boat is just about the last thing I’d ever think about when choosing a boat, but for some people the wake shape is very important.
The wake behind a pontoon’s outboard is very comparable to a traditional ski boat, but the pontoons on either side also make a wake. This means the boat’s wake is less “humped” and much wider than a traditional boat.
That makes it pretty tough to catch much air when being towed behind the boat, but you can still catch a little, and you are definitely going fast enough to still have an excellent ride.
The turning radius of a pontoon boat is about as good as your truck pulling a boat—not good. If you want to make hairpin turns and get performance handling, then a pontoon boat is a poor choice.
This is important not only for the serious tow watersports crowd, but also for fishermen that want to fit into a tight little channel or cove to catch some fish.
I’d estimate that the turning radius on my 22′ pontoon boat is somewhere around 25′ (7.8 meters).
5. Outboard Noise
Older outboard engines are loud, but newer outboards are very pleasant. In fact, at idle I can’t even hear if my Yamaha 115hp engine is turned on or not. When at wide open throttle (WOT), you definitely hear the motor and it is loud, but not annoyingly so.
In fact, if you’re an avid fisherman, you may want to consider investing in a pontoon trolling motor that’s much quieter.
A pontoons outboard engine is louder than an inboard for sure, but newer outboards are very nice and you won’t hear a massive difference.