My wife and I did not come from boating families, so when we decided it would be fun to get into boating, we started from scratch.
My wife didn’t like the fishing boats because they were unsteady and didn’t offer much for the little kids who get bored with fishing after 30 minutes. I didn’t like getting a dedicated ski boat because it’d be difficult/weird to fish from.
We went to a small boat show and sat in a few boats we both thought would be okay.
But then we boarded a pontoon boat for the first time. She got that little smile, turned to me and said, “Okay, this could be kinda fun.” For my wife to show that level of interest, this was a big win! My wife enjoys boating with the family, but just doesn’t get as excited about it as I do, so I knew something had clicked for her.
So what peaked her interest? Mostly, the family-friendliness of a pontoon boat, but I’ll explain with the following 7 advantages.
#1. Perfect for Families with Kids
When you have little kids, they often get bored on a traditional boat because they can’t run around and are constantly told where they can’t be. That doesn’t make for an enjoyable trip.
On a pontoon, there’s room for them to run, jump off the couches (we don’t allow shoes in our boat so the kids are free to climb), play with play dough on the table, wave the down-skier flag, fish, ride the tube, etc.
My 3 and 5-year olds love going out on the boat. The highlight of my 5-year old’s week is when we go out on the boat after school and have pizza delivered to the dock.
Older kids want to be with friends, which means they often don’t spend much family time—unless you have the king of all toys (a pontoon!). Unlike traditional boats, which usually have limited seating capacities, pontoon boats commonly hold 11 or more passengers. If you’re going out on the lake on Saturday, your kids can invite several friends over for games. Your kids suddenly become very popular, and you get to spend time with your kids and see what their friends are like.
#2. The Ultimate Fish/Ski Boat
When you go to the boat shop, the first question is “What do you want your boat to do?” If your answer’s “a little bit of everything” you’re about to see a lot of compromise boats—nice ski boats with awkward front trolling motors and fishing boats with awkward ski platforms (and a tow bar that constantly gets in the way).
However, a pontoon boat’s platform adds something to fishing and skiing that makes it an excellent ski boat and fishing boat.
For skiing, a pontoon boat fits as many people as you want to invite.
For fishing, a pontoon boat is stable so it doesn’t spook fish, has ample room to walk all around the boat to fish in different locations, and can even have full enclosures to fish through the cold winter months with a heater inside.
#3. Ease of Use/Maintenance
Pontoons are made of quality aluminum, so they dent much easier than they tear. If you commonly boat at a lake or river with rocks or shallow areas, you can just expect that sooner or later, you will get a hole in the hull. With pontoon boats, it’s much less likely to happen, and usually cheaper to fix when it does (because you don’t have to fix the gel coat).
Also, pontoon boats sit high in the water and high on a trailer. I’ve damaged the lower on an outboard when I forgot to trim up the engine when trailering. On a pontoon boat, it’s good practice to trim up when trailering, but there’s usually so much clearance, even if you forget you wouldn’t even come close to dragging your lower up the ramp.
Another advantage that makes pontoons easy to use and maintain is cleanup after an outing on the water. The ski boat guys have to towel off their boats after every use, because water spots on the gelcoat paint are very difficult to remove. Pontooners can just trailer and drive away. It’s nice to simply pack up after a day on the water when everyone’s tired and ready for grub.
Pontoon boats are a fantastic project boat. When your boat is 15 years old and you have holes in the furniture and faded carpet (and hundreds of fun memories), you can buy one-size-fits-most couches for pontoon boats and replace the furniture pretty easily. Good luck finding a matching cushion for your ski boat.
Even if you aren’t terribly handy, a boat renovation is a great do-it-yourself project that will allow you to do what you can, and take the rest into the repair shop for the mechanical/electric parts. Pontoon boat forums are full of before/afters of some horrible boats turning into real beauties.
Also, unlike ski boats where owners commonly want to upgrade to the latest and greatest model, most pontoon boat owners are content keeping their rigs for a much longer time. While pontoon boats are changing (look at tritoons), they’re more customizable after the fact, so there is less need to buy a whole new boat.
In many areas, you’ll want to beach your boat. Driving up to the beach is nice so you can get out and enjoy the land and let everyone run around for a while before boating some more. This is risky in a fiberglass V-hull boat, because there is a lot of weight at the front of the boat with people getting on and off, and the weight is all on one point at the bow of the boat on the edge of the “v.” With a pontoon, you have an aluminum tube and even weight distribution—making beaching an easy and pretty risk-free process.
Someone can fall asleep lying down and taking up a whole couch, and you can still have 7 other people in the boat skiing on the back. With a large area and comfortable couches to sit on, it’s tough to beat the comfort of spending a day (or multiple days) on a pontoon boat.
When your riders are tired of getting dragged through the water, they can pull up the changing room and get out of their swimsuits into comfy clothes.
Then, in dry clothes, you can have a full barbecue right on the boat and serve your passengers. Some pontooners even install a fire pit right in the deck of the playpen. Spending a day on just about any pontoon boat makes you feel like an instant millionaire—without spending tons of money on the fanciest pontoon boat to do so.
One advantage that makes pontoon boats particularly comfortable is the stability of the ride. Every single person who gets in my pontoon boat for the first time eventually says something like, “Oh, that was really pleasant. I expected to be rocking around side to side and up and down all day. Even when we were going fast it was still flat and comfortable.” That obviously isn’t true on blustery days when there’s lots of chop and rough waters, but on average days—the boat stays very level.
With little kids, I feel like a pontoon boat is much safer because there are fewer “don’t go there” areas on the boat. They’re fenced in with high side rails so they’re less likely to fall out of the boat. (Still, you need proper PFDs.)
Pontoon boats are also quite safe because they’re huge and heavy. This makes them easy to drive because they’re very unlikely to flip. With the max speed of many pontoon boats being around 28mph, and with the turn radius not being overly tight, you could probably make a hard turn at full speed and not come anywhere close to flipping the boat (though I would not recommend testing this theory for obvious reasons).
There are dangers to pontoon boats. In very rough water, they don’t do well because the bow has a tendency to plow into waves, which can cause capsizing, but only if you’re foolish enough to stay out on the water during storms and high winds. In general, US Coast Guard statistics show that pontoons are significantly safer as a class.
Be sure to keep onboard some basic pontoon safety equipment in case emergencies do arise.
If you are new to boating, this may seem like a minor benefit, but if you’ve been boating for any amount of time you know how nice it is to have ample storage on the boat.
Inevitably, you’ll invite people onto your boat who will bring the full ice chest, bags of clothing and “extras”, blankets for the chilly evenings, and all sorts of things. On most boats, this loads up every spot of empty space on your boat and makes for a cramped evening, but on a pontoon boat there is storage for just about whatever people bring on. It’s really nice.
On my boat we can chuck the ice chest under the captain’s console, another ice chest on the starboard aft end of the boat by the fishing chair, and still have room for phones, wallets, extra life vests, changes of clothes, snacks, a small barbecue, and all kinds of other gear under the seats.