Getting Crowded? Ways to Know How Many People Can Fit on a Pontoon

Getting Crowded? Ways to Know How Many People Can Fit on a Pontoon

Do you know how many people can fit on a pontoon boat?

And more importantly, how many can fit on your pontoon boat? You have great ideas for a pontoon party, but how many people can you invite before it begins getting crowded?

Additionally, do you know how much weight your pontoon can handle?

Exceeding your pontoon's weight capacity can increase your chances of swamping the deck with water or, unlikely but still possible, even capsizing.

Just as loading down a truck bed or pontoon boat trailer would make it difficult to control on the road, overloading can make your pontoon less easy-to-maneuver on the water.

If you've disregarded that little capacity plate up until now, it might be a good idea to locate it and understand what its limitations are all about.

Here's a breakdown of pontoon weight capacity, passenger capacity and how to follow these rules (while safely bending them a bit).

Ways to Know How Many People Can Fit on a Pontoon

1. Know How Many People Fit on a Standard Pontoon

As a pontoon boat owner, you can carry more passengers than your V-hull powerboat buddies. The metal pontoons themselves are made for buoyancy and captains can fit nearly double the average fiberglass hull powerboat.

Standard Pontoon Deck Sizes

Bennington provides a standard outline for pontoon boat deck sizes and gives examples of the number of passengers each size safely carries:

17' - 19' - up to 8 passengers

20' - 22' - up to 13 passengers

23' - 28' - up to 15 passengers

Double-decker Pontoons

Double-decker pontoons have a lot more extra weight on top. There might even be a pontoon slide adding weight to one side of the pontoon. Double-decker pontoon boats will nearly always have tritoons and a performance package for support.

Older Pontoons

If you own an older pontoon boat, there's a chance you won't find a capacity plate at all. That doesn't mean you can simply ignore this important safety measure! You may need to calculate this yourself (don't worry there's an easy method).

2. Pay Attention to Your Pontoon's Capacity Plates

Even on outboard motors, the plates will display the maximum horsepower rating recommended for the boat. This means you should never attach an outboard motor that exceeds this rating.

What Your Capacity Plate Tells You

The capacity plate indicates details of weight and the approximate number of passengers. I say "approximate" because you should never truly go off of the passenger quantity.

If you have met the maximum of 14 passengers on your 22-foot pontoon, and then you need a bunch of coolers to store ice, drinks and food for said 14 passengers you've already overloaded your limit.

Can you exceed this limit? Well, it's not technically illegal to go over your capacity rating. If you have a maximum limit of 9 passengers, in most cases it would be just fine if you needed to squeeze one extra passenger, making 10 on board. However, the passenger limit isn't what you should truly be paying attention to.

Instead, go by the weight rating. The weight of 4 adults and 6 kids is a significantly different weight than that of 10 adults. In short yes, you can fit 10 passengers, just mind the weight rating and don't overload such that you're causing unsafe conditions.

Be forewarned! DNR and local law enforcement are allowed to make their own judgment calls. If a DNR officer sees a crowded pontoon speeding along the lake in rough, choppy waters you can bet they'll pull you over and inspect. They might even write the driver a ticket.

Overall, just use common sense and don't be reckless or negligent.

3. Calculate Your Pontoon Boat's Capacity

If your boat is older and missing capacity plates, use the U.S. Coast Guard's recommendation for calculating the approximate number of passengers. With V-hull fiberglass powerboats, the calculation is fairly straightforward, and goes like this:

(Boat's Length*Width) / 15 = Number of Passengers

Example: 22 ft (length) 10 ft (width) / 15 = 14 passengers on board

Since the average person weighs 150 lbs., you can now calculate the total weight capacity also:

14 people 150 lbs. each = 2100 lbs.

But when you have to calculate the weight displacement of air-filled, cylinder-shaped metal pontoons, it gets slightly more complicated. Here are the steps for the calculation:

1. Find the volume in cubic feet

2. Calculate the area: r(2)

3. Multiply by length (in inches)

4. Divide the cubic inches by 1728*

*1728 is the cubic inches in a cubic foot (12 12 12). Say you have a toon with an 11.5 radius and a length of 35'. (Don't include the cone nose in this calculation). Example: 

Step 1: Find the volume in cubic feet

Cubic Area: 3.14 11.5(2)= 415.26

Step 2: Calculate the cubic inches inside your pontoons

Cubic Area Pontoon Length (in inches)

415.26 (Area) 420" (Pontoon Length in inches) = 174,409 cubic inches

Step 3: Divide cubic inches of one foot

174,409 / 1728 = 100.93 cubic feet per toon

Step 4: Calculate buoyancy. (Fresh water weighs 64 lbs. per cubic foot).

100.93 64 - 6,459.52 buoyancy

       Step 5: Take the weight of pontoon metal into account, and deduct.       

Because they submerge, cut it in half. Deduct the weight of the boat (with flooring included), and this final number gives a fair prediction of weight capacity. Some boaters suggest subtracting an extra 10% for safe measure.

6459.52 .5 = 3,229.76 lbs

3,229.76 - (weight of boat and flooring) = Weight Capacity

If you just don't want to hassle with math, use this pontoon water displacement calculator. Of course, the displacement of water can vary based on freshwater or saltwater conditions. Saltwater has 1.6 lbs more buoyancy than fresh water. Children and heavier passengers will fluctuate as well, so keep that in mind and adjust as necessary.

Taking a group of kids out for a little tubing and there are only two adults? In this case, you can exceed the passenger limit, because kids weigh less than the average 150-lb adult.

How to Replace Your Pontoon Capacity Decal

If you have an older pontoon without a capacity plate, do yourself a favor and find an online retailer, like DiscontinuedDecals.com or GarzonStudio to order yourself one. You can also find custom capacity decals on Amazon.

It could be local county laws or federal state laws that you have one regardless. So, you might as well get on it!

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How to Properly Use Pontoons for Larger Crowds

If you have a large family or frequently entertain parties on your pontoon, you may want to have some advanced features like an extra toon for support, or at the very least know how to evenly distribute your pontoon's load.

Adding Buoyancy with Tritoons

With a physics calculation (shown above), you can determine the exact distribution, buoyancy and volume you'll need to support the number of passengers onboard.

Regardless of your calculations, you should still consider what's typically referred to as a "performance package" for a tritoon pontoon if you truly love to entertain on the water. It will give you peace of mind when stretching the passenger limit. Not to mention the party coolers. 

Evening the Load Distribution

Similar to asking passengers to shift collective body weight to the back of the pontoon when you push off from a beached pontoon boat, you need to even the load distribution. Place coolers, water gear, boat cleaning products, anchors and other heavy items around the deck evenly. The same goes for passengers.

Boaters sometimes forget that their boat even has a capacity plate. But it's there for our safety and to make sure we don't swamp or capsize our boats and possibly endanger onboard passengers.

Don't forget if you're maximizing your passenger capacity, you need to maximize your PFDs as well! Safety is important for passengers of all ages and all sizes.

Plan your pontoon party and send out the appropriate number of invites. Just use common sense and keep the party contained so that you don't exceed how many people can fit on a pontoon.