Taking your pontoon boat out for an ocean joyride sounds like a fantastic idea. If you’re like me, you love the warmth of the sun and smell of ocean breezes. You love the idea of a fresh seafood catch for dinner.
It all seems so alluring, what could go wrong?
Well, for one thing—the enormous expanse of salt water!
Salt water can be nasty and corrosive, deteriorating your pontoon’s structure if you leave her unchecked. So before you pencil in plans for that summer vacation at the beach, a bit of proper maintenance and preparation needs to be considered for this type of marine environment.
Here are eight tips you need to confidently face the great blue without worry.
Pontoons and Saltwater: 8 Salient Tips to Save You from Salinity
1. Check the pontoon’s construction quality
If you’re in the market to buy a pontoon for mostly saltwater conditions, take a careful look at the materials used to put the deck together. Unlike some decks that are only screwed to the frame, saltwater pontoon decks should be bolted down!
The pontoon’s log tubes need to be capable of handling the swells you could encounter. Part of checking the general construction quality should be to see that the tubes are completely welded to the decking. Some ‘toons are welded only every foot or so—and you don’t want that.
This doesn’t mean that you should only go testing how securely pontoon decks are bolted down. You’ll need a boat that’s sturdy all around. After all, the ocean has much choppier swells and can rock your pontoon around a lot harder than the average lake waves. For this reason, your pontoon’s log tubes should be a minimum of 25 inches in diameter.
When you’re unsure about how a boat was made, ask the dealer or manufacturer directly and let them know how you’re intending to use the boat.
2. Read over your pontoon manufacturer’s warranty
Verify that your pontoon is protected under warranty! Among the intimidating red tape, it may have language that prohibits or even nulls the warranty if you consistently toy around in salt water.
Check under exclusions for verbiage like “damage caused by or related to environmental conditions” and make sure salt isn’t listed as one of the said conditions.
You might also look under the warranty for verbiage that suggests the warranty is valid only if the hull has a “proper application of an aluminum bottom paint by licensed applicator.”
When in doubt, contact your dealer or manufacturer directly—maybe even by email to get it in writing—in order to clear things up.
3. Consider a Saltwater Series pontoon
You may have noticed a sticker label called the “Saltwater Series” on pontoons. This is a sort of stamp of approval that dealers can add to their models.
But you should be aware this does not guarantee their invincibility in salt water. Instead, what it does guarantee is that the dealer has taken additional measures to make the pontoon’s materials salt water resistant.
4. Pick the right locations
Some owners argue that taking any pontoon to the gulf is just plain dangerous, while some argue that it can be done if you’re experienced, knowing to the check weather and light wind knots.
The fact that your pontoon is big and sturdy doesn’t mean it can be taken out to sea! In fact, I’d really only suggest taking your ‘toon into bays and inlets.
Even venturing into a gulf could turn a trip a bit rocky. And if you see whitecaps, don’t even think about it! A deeper V-hull might be able to handle it, but a pontoon boat probably can’t.
5. Avoid electrolysis deterioration
Okay, so just what’s this about electrolysis deterioration?
Well, salt water enhances extra electrical currents. And in turn, it causes any metals to corrode at a faster rate. In order to avoid electrolysis deterioration, you’ll need to install zinc anodes.
Zinc anodes—also referred to as sacrificial anodes—act as protective buffers against corrosion. In short, since the salt water is drawn to electrical currents, it gravitates toward the zinc anodes instead, saving your motor. And yes, you can buy these on Amazon.
I recommend giving your anodes and electrical connectors an inspection once a year. Maybe just make a point to add it to your winterization checklist.
6. Apply aluminum anti-fouling paint
As mentioned above, your warranty may prescribe this in an exclusions clause. It’s important to just do it anyway. If you have any reason or temptation to venture into salty seas, just have it done!
I’d check with your dealer to see if this is a service they can provide. If not, I’m sure they can at least get a local recommendation. If you have an older beater boat—and you no longer have warranty worries—then you can apply the paint yourself with this Krypton brush-on anti-fouling paint.
7. Give it a freshwater cleanse
Salt deposits can build up anywhere, so it’s important to keep your pontoon in ship-shape.
Be sure to clean the space between the bunks and the pontoons. And if you’re trailering the pontoon from salt water often, you might want to think about having rubber glide-ons instead of carpet for your bunks.
Read over this post on deciding on a pontoon boat trailer to get a better idea of the additional things you should consider for submersion in salt water—like aluminum versus galvanized steel frames.
Additionally, just as carpet on trailer bunks can absorb ocean water, so can the carpet on deck! This among many reasons is why some boaters prefer vinyl flooring over carpet. Infinity Fabrics has a great collection of vinyl flooring to choose.
After your boat is nice and dry, glance over it to check for any areas of scratched or chipped paint where metal is showing through. You’ll want to repair these areas and apply a paint touch-up. And I’d even use this Corrosion-X lubricant on the engine as well.
8. Install a saltwater trolling motor (and mount)
The ocean provides a plentiful variety of fish. And for you anglers out there, you might be tempted to catch a few. So if you want to use a trolling motor, there are a few things to be aware of for saltwater fishing.
If you diligently rinse your boat after a day of play—a freshwater motor will suffice. But keep in mind that saltwater trolling motors are built with stronger metals and tighter seals around things like electrical components.
A well-made mount will have stainless steel brackets, powder coat paint, sealed electrical components (with waterproof tubing) and zinc anodes to protect your circuits.
The same goes for the trolling mount. Whether you have a bow-mounted trolling motor or transom-mounted trolling motor, your mount needs to be just as corrosion-proof as everything else.
Knowing your trolling motor and mount can handle salt water is a bonus, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t rinse it out with fresh water anyway!
Also check out this buyer’s guide to trolling motors for more information on the sizes and styles of trolling motors, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of bow mounts.
Oh, and unless you want to spook fish with a cavitation bubble show, check out this post on choosing the correct trolling motor shaft length.
So long as you take the preventative measures and keep your pontoon in good shape, you won’t have to worry about the salt.
Not all pontoons are made to be the adventurous seafaring vessels as our cruiser counterparts, and yours may not be able to withstand choppy swells and waves—but that’s okay!
Just take care, and you can enjoy pontoon rides in salt water for many years to come!