It all happens on the deck.
But you can’t do anything without a good, solid deck underneath your feet.
Most pontoons are made from an aluminum frame, and sitting on top of the frame is the base we call the deck. That deck is the flat support used to hold all components of the boat, not to mention the passengers. It’s also where all the fun happens! So, let’s dig a little deeper and look at all aspects of your toon’s deck.
So, whether you’re looking for a little general pontoon knowledge or you want to know the ins and outs of pontoon boat decking for a future purchase, we can help you out here.
An Overview of Pontoon Boat Decking
Here’s what we’ll review:
- The pontoon deck’s purpose
- How the deck’s attached
- Deck materials, with the pros and cons of each
- Deck sizes
- Deck covering options
What Pontoon Boat Decking Is (and Its Purpose)
The purpose of a boat deck is to provide structure and support. It also acts as the attaching surface for the boat’s components, like furniture and equipment.
In case you’re a newbie pontoon aficionado or just plain curious, the basic definition of a ship’s deck is this: “A fixed structure that covers a lower compartment or hull.” That said, the deck of a pontoon is a bit different right off the bat because it doesn’t just cover the hull—it covers the logs of the pontoon (which form its unique support system).
Since the decking provides structural reinforcement, it needs to be sturdy enough to protect your ‘toon from storms, waves and instability at high speeds. If your deck is strong, you ‘toon is strong. That’s why I recommend that every pontoon owner learn about the deck of their boat, as well as how to protect, maintain, repair and replace it—even those of us who are less savvy about mechanical things.
Above board, many of your precious equipment will attached directly to the pontoon boat decking. Some likely components you’ll have attached are:
- Railing, with braces and gate
- Deck cleats
- Permanent seats/storage containers
Again, a sturdy pontoon deck will help you keep all of the above items in order.
Last but not least, especially for those of us who love fun and flair, the pontoon deck provides the base that houses our supplies for outings. Yep, now we’re talking extra storage, food, beverages, chairs, umbrellas and stereo equipment! Everything aboard your ‘toon depends on the decking.
How the Decking Is Attached: The Pontoon Logs
So, I realize you might have been intrigued when I noted that the deck is supported by, and attached to, pontoon logs. This is integral to the design of any pontoon—this is what truly defines the ‘toon. The logs not only support the deck, but allow the boat to be buoyant. They allow the boat to travel on, and through, the water.
Pontoon logs are made of aluminum because it’s soft, durable, lightweight and corrosion-resistant.
And with better pontoon logs being designed each year, pontoon boats are stronger, more resilient and have more horsepower capability than ever before. Stronger logs = stronger decking = stronger ‘toons.
For commercial boaters, pontoon logs are typically available in sizes from 18 feet to 26 feet in length, and they come in a variety of placement options, including: center, single, tri toon and transom-mount (the last one is often custom-made).
So, how does the deck attach to pontoon logs?
Good question. The answer: It’s either bolted or screwed. Let’s look at the differences between these attachment methods:
- Bolting — While bolting sounds like the choice of champions, it might not be the best idea. Before the bolt is inserted, a hole has to be pre-drilled for the bolt. That hole must be ever-so-slightly bigger than the bolt. And you guessed it, over time, the bolt may gradually loosen and cause water penetration. It might even break, and that wouldn’t be good.
- Self-tapping screws — Screws create strong attachments and are inserted through self-supported holes (that don’t require pre-drilling). That can eliminate the issues you can get with bolts. Plus, an adhesive strip is often used with the screws. When the screw goes through that strip, it adds a self-sealing protection to prevent future movement and/or leaks.
Let’s remember that a pontoon boat is subjected to a lot of stress when it hits waves and rough waters. That’s why a strong, reinforced structure is so important. Over time, wear and tear can wreak havoc on your pontoon, so ensuring the quality of the hardware that holds the boat together should be your top priority.
The takeaway? If your pontoon deck is bolted, have the bolts checked regularly or learn how to do that inspection yourself. If they’re loose, replace them.
What Size Pontoon Boat Deck Do You Need?
Which of these do you use your pontoon for?
- Family get-togethers
- Quaint gatherings and sun bathing
- Swimming and water sports
- Moving fast to tow water skiiers
- Cruising in larger bodies of water
- All of the above
Deciding the purpose of your pontoon can help you choose the best deck size. Have you decided? Okay.
First, just know that, for stability and balance, the deck is always longer than the pontoon logs. The length of decking will depend on the length of the logs underneath it, no matter what else you’re considering.
With that in mind, we can take a look at the different lengths of pontoon decking and why people tend to choose them:
- 19 feet or under — This deck size is best for six to eight people and operates best in small, calm bodies of water.
- 20 to 22 feet — This deck size can accommodate about a dozen passengers. It operates best in calmer waters, too. It may be best for small to mid-size lakes and/or rivers.
- Over 22 feet — Since this size deck is supported by longer logs, it can accommodate more people (probably up to about 15). But always make sure you check your boat manual for ideal passenger numbers and weight accommodation recommendations. It’s never a good idea to operate any boat that exceeds the manufacturer’s weight recommendations.
Pontoon Boat Decking Material Choices
The decking is typically made from one of these types of materials:
- Marine-grade plywood
- Treated plywood
- Composite boards
- Vinyl boards
Let’s look at each material type, along with the pros and cons.
1. Marine-grade Plywood
Marine grade plywood comes in different types. And it’s not exactly what you might think it is.
Yes, it’s high-quality plywood that’s most often used for boat flooring. But it isn’t waterproof—it’s just held together with waterproof glue.
Pros: Lightweight, strong and usually defect-free, this wood is constructed with waterproof glue so that water and high humidity won’t cause it to deteriorate.
Cons: It’s actually not waterproof or water-resistant wood, but requires sealer to be water-resistant.
You can find three-quarter-inch-thick sheets in 4′ x 8′ dimensions at most home improvement stores, and the average price seems to be around $60+ per sheet.
2. Treated Plywood
CCA-treated plywood has been treated with chemicals to prevent water damage, decay and rot. Many people choose this material because it’s readily available and easy to work with.
Pros: Has been used for years for boats, resists insects, water damage, rot, algae and fungi, it’s a good base for floor covering and it’s durable overall.
Cons: Heavy, shouldn’t contact food or water meant for human consumption, requires protective equipment when cutting or installing and it can’t be burned—it must be disposed of per state and federal regulations.
On average, it can be found at most lumber stores and home improvement warehouses for about two bucks per foot.
If you’re interested in one of the above two options, the Engineered Wood Association (APA) offers guidelines on wood and what works best.
This is a popular pontoon deck choice because of its many pros.
Pros: Lightweight, easy to install, strong, easy to clean and maintain, lighter than wood, rust-resistant, stain-resistant and doesn’t need covering.
Cons: May have to be custom-made, costly and, due to variations in sizes and needs, the prices vary.
4. Composite Board
This material is usually a blend of wood and plastic. You can even find blends made of polyurethane foam, glass strands and woven fiberglass.
Pros: Lightweight, maintenance-free, easy to work with, won’t warp and easy to clean.
Cons: Can peel if pressure-washed or sanded, needs more support from underneath, prone to mildew and mold and comes at a high cost, around $6-10 per foot.
Here’s one nice example of composite decking material we found, if you’d like to take a look.
5. Vinyl Boards
Vinyl plank flooring is gaining in popularity.The pros will tell you why.
Pros: Strong, waterproof, skid-resistant, easy to install and looks like wood.
Cons: Can be more expensive.
It can be found at most home improvement stores or lumber yards; it averages three to four bucks per foot.
I spotted this nice sample on Amazon, which comes in packs of ten.
Covering Your Pontoon Boat Decking
Now that I’ve gone over the most common pontoon decking materials, let’s talk about coverings to protect and improve upon those materials. I’ve got all the most popular choices lined up for you here.
1. Indoor/Outdoor Carpet
Indoor/outdoor carpet (check price on Amazon) is a common pontoon deck covering. Often made of polyester, it offers practicality and easy maintenance, and it comes in many sizes and colors.
Pros: Easy to find and install, UV protection built in, comes with marine-grade backing to resist mildew, weather-resistant, fade-resistant, low pile height.
Cons: Can retain moisture and still get mildew despite resistance, requires washing.
The price of the carpeting varies depending on style and size, but I’m sure you can find something affordable.
2. Artificial Grass Turf
Some people love artificial grass turf because it offers low maintenance and is practical for pets and children. Here’s why:
Pros: Easy to wash and maintain, pet friendly, stain-resistant, UV-resistant and water-resistant.
Cons: Not attractive to some, uncomfortable to some for walking and sitting.
3. Interlocking Vinyl Floor Deck Covering
These cool, 12-by-12, interlocking vinyl tile pieces are most often used on garage floors, but their features offer a great alternative to pontoon boat carpeting. They have lots of advantages, too. Let’s look:
Pros: Easy installation and upkeep, rigid but can conform to your dimensions, drains, water-resistant, UV protection, air flow, strong, non-slip.
We found these at just under three bucks per foot. If you’re torn between carpeting versus vinyl flooring, as so many boat owners often are, you can read what we have to say right here.
4. No Deck Covering
Since aluminum deck flooring doesn’t require covering, you might save some money with aluminum.
Vinyl, and composite, boards may not need covering either. It’s personal preference and depends on your flooring choice. But, if you have a wood pontoon deck, it may need covering.
The good news? There are many choices available at many different price points.
Who knew there was so much to consider with your pontoon boat decking?
The takeaway? When choosing decking, consider your family, your recreational activities and your needs. Then shoot for safety and low maintenance.
There’s no right or wrong choice. It just depends on your needs. And maybe a little on your wallet, too.