Max Horsepower on Pontoon Boats – Newbie Info – Better Boat

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Max Horsepower on Pontoon Boats – Newbie Info

Max Horsepower on Pontoon Boats – Newbie Info

Have you ever wondered how much horsepower pontoon boats have? Of course you have! What else is there to wonder about at 2 a.m.? 

Okay, maybe that's not the most important question on your agenda, but it's an interesting one to think about (at least for us speed and power enthusiasts). Let's check it out. 

Here are examples of the maximum horsepower on specific pontoon boats for reference.

  • My 22' G3 Suncatcher V22RF has a max engine horsepower of 115 hp.
  • A 25' 6" Bennington 2372 RCW Windscreen Sport Arch has a max engine of 300 hp.
  • The 2015 Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16' DLX maxes out at a recommended 40 hp.
  • A 28' 5" Bennington  2575 QCW IO Sport Tower has a max engine horsepower of 430 hp.
  • The 24' 2014 Avalon A Series Catalina DRL has a max engine horsepower of 135 hp.
  • The 25' 4" 2015 Regency 220 DL3 has a max engine horsepower of 250 hp.
  • The 26' 2'' 2015 Sun Tracker Fishin' Barge 24 DLX has a max engine horsepower of 150 hp.
  • A 20' Sweetwater SW 2080 BF has a max engine horsepower of 90 hp.
  • A 25' Windjammer Rear J Lounge has a max engine horsepower of 135 hp.
  • An Avalon 16' Eagle Quad Fish has a max engine horsepower of 50 hp.
  • An Avalon 14' Eagle Quad Fish has a max engine horsepower of 40 hp.
  • A 24’ Avalon LSZ Quad Lounger has a max engine horsepower of 125 hp.
  • A 26’ Avalon LSZ Quad Lounger has a max engine horsepower of 135 hp.
  • A 27' Suntracker Regency 254 XP3 Pontoon Boat has a max engine horsepower of 300 hp.
  • A Lowe SS210 20′ Pontoon Boat has a max engine horsepower of 115 hp.

What IS horsepower and why should I care about it?

Horsepower, or simply hp, is a measurement of energy. One unit of horsepower is the same as the amount of energy or power needed to lift 550 lbs. one foot in one second. This is typically used in regard to engines or motors.

In the situation of pontoon boats, it's a measurement on the engine that helps us easily say how powerful specific engines are. The engine on a small metal fishing boat may only be 10 hp to 20 hp while a high-quality speedboat may have an engine with 500 hp. Theoretically, the higher the horsepower, the easier it is for your engine to push your boat.

Why is there a horsepower limit on a pontoon boat? 

All boats are different, pontoons included. Because of this, each boat has a maximum horsepower limit that cannot be safely exceeded. If you go over the allowed limit, the Coast Guard or police can stop you from putting your boat in the lake.

Going over the limit in horsepower may not be necessary. Most boats have a more than generous range in what the horsepower can be handled safely. If you really want more horsepower that what your boat says it can handle, then you may want to consider buying a boat that can handle such a heavy-duty engine.

When all boats are first made, and are being full scale tested, they are used with a variety of different engines starting at low horsepower engines, They then increase the engine horsepower until they find the limit that the boat cannot handle safely.

They also test to see the boat's performance with specific engines. Then, with an accurate evaluation of each engine, they decide at what hp the boat performed the best and the safest. With those limits set, they choose a limit to rate the boat.

What would happen if I used an engine over the limit on my pontoon boat?

Imagine putting your car engine on your lawnmower and trying to mow your lawn. Crazy right? Not only is that extremely dangerous, it's also unnecessary. There's no need for a lawn mower with that much power (no matter how hard you try to convince yourself).

It's the same with boats. Imagine if we took the 500 hp engine off the speedboat we discussed earlier and put it on the small rowboat we also mentioned. What could potentially happen to that small fishing boat?

Well, the boat could go too fast and, if the engine is turned to one side, the boat could capsize. The bottom of the boat could be ruined and the rear of the boat may go too deep in the water (making the boat flip). You could even have the engine rip right off the boat.

Most of the possible scenarios I can foresee would include the person in the boat getting caught in the engine while it's going, which causes serious injury (and not something any of us want to think about).

Your boat size and manufactured use specifications have a direct effect on what the maximum horsepower can be.

For example: The 2015 Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16' DLX maxes out at a recommended 40 hp. This boat was tailored to suit the needs of a fisherman. There is no need for a boat like this to be speeding around the lake. You would scare all the fish away.

If you were you to exceed the maximum recommended horsepower, you're not only risking your personal safety, but you are also potentially endangering your legal situation with your boat.

I called a handful of local boat dealers and asked them what the effects of installing an engine above the limit would do to me. They all said, before anything else, that doing so would place all legal responsibility for any damages or accidents upon myself.

They instantly advised me to not do anything of the sort. Anything above that limit would instantly void your boat warranty and then any damages or accidents that happen with an engine above the rated horsepower limit on your boat would not be covered. 

Depending on your insurance provider for your boat, you would probably also be voiding any claim to insurance were you to install an engine above manufacturers specified limits and capabilities for that specific boat model and series.

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Is a bigger engine with more horsepower better?

When I bought my Suncatcher, it had a 90 hp motor. I worked with the salesman, and for $900, I got to upgrade to a 115 hp Yamaha outboard. This is the maximum horsepower that my pontoon boat is actually rated for.

The speed difference in the upgrade from 90 hp to 115 hp was roughly 3 mph (4.8 kph).  While it doesn't sound like much of a difference, I wanted to be able to have a full boat and still be able to ski or tube behind the boat.

Even with a full boat and a tube being towed with people on it, I can get up to 22 mph. Having been on the tube or wakeboard myself, there isn't really ever a need to be going any faster. At 20 mph, a hard wipeout on the wakeboard hurts.

I don't want to upgrade my boat speed yet. This engine is more than aptly suited to my needs.

Is a slight upgrade in the hp on your engine going to make a worthwhile difference for you? I believe that it depends on what you plan to use the boat for.

If you just want a nice boat to fish out of or a boat you can lounge all day on the lake in, you don't need tons of horsepower. You just need to get yourself around a lake. If you're towing a tube or plan on doing any water sports using the appropriate boat, it may be worth your dollar to spring up like I did.

How much horsepower do I need to do the things I want (assuming horsepower is directly proportionate to the boat size)?

Your initial thought is probably something along the lines of "Duh! The more horsepower I can get, the better!" This is NOT TRUE.

There is always such a thing as too much. Let's use my Toon for an example. A 22' G3 Suncatcher V22RF. It maxes out on hp at 115 hp. The engine on it is a 115 hp Yamaha. Even loaded with 10 people, I can go 22 mph to 23 mph.

The optimal speed on average for water sports is 22 mph (36 kilometers). A 90 hp engine on a pontoon boat with a few people on it can easily hit 22 mph. For beginners at water sports, you probably don't even want or need to go that fast. My 2 kids (4 and 6) usually don't want to go faster than 5-10 mph. Pulling those two at 10 mph is cake and a 90 hp engine is plenty enough.

However, when I have older people being towed on something, they usually need something a little bit more lively. That's why I upgraded to the 115 hp.

If I'm being honest, there really isn't much of a difference at all speed wise. The difference comes in when you look at how much weight the boat has to move. If you have a smaller hp engine, you may not want to load up your boat when doing water sports if you want to get to that 22 mph mark. that's a case where less is more. 

Simply have everyone in your group hang out on the beach and take smaller groups of 2-3 out at a time. You can still do some high speed water sports, and you won't have to spend the $1000 to upgrade to a bigger engine when you get your boat.

If you have a bigger engine, then it will be a lot easier to load up your boat with 8 people and still hit the 22 mph to do water sports (just make sure you don't put more people on your boat than your boat says it can handle).

Disclaimer: While I do my best to have accurate measurements, specs and information on examples for all of this site's posts, they are not without fault. You should always do your own research in addition to any of mine.