There’s a type of pontoon out there that has recently become more popular. It fits a small niche of the boating industry that’s often overlooked. What is this small, sneaky and little-known market? I’m talking about compact pontoons.
Although most are unfamiliar with these boats, compact pontoons have been around for quite a while. The original manufacturer Kennedy Pontoons has been crafting compact pontoons since 1978 and still does to this day.
But while attending a boat show this year, I stumbled across a few of these pontoons for the first time and couldn’t help but be curious as to why someone would invest in something like this and not a full-size pontoon. Well, I came to find out that there are a lot of reasons! And a shorter length or narrower beam could be just what you and your family need!
The Different Sizes of Compact Pontoons
Compact pontoons come in three basic sizes: Narrow, compact and mini.
These sizes each have their own abilities and benefits for their smaller bodies. For instance, a pontoon with a narrow beam might be great for rivers. A compact can be a great boat choice for a family that wants a pontoon’s luxury but more affordability. And a mini is just enough square footage for you, a fishing buddy and a cooler.
Where a standard pontoon beam stretches at 9 feet, a narrower beam reaches from 6 to 8 feet.
With a range of 10 to 20 feet in length and a beam of 8 feet maximum, you can expect a compact pontoon to have around 100 to 160 square feet on deck.
A mini pontoon is the smallest you can get. At about 50 square feet, this one carries only two people and maybe a cooler. You might be lucky enough to stretch out and sunbathe, but that’s about it.
Mini pontoons are so small that some even skip on the electric motor option and are marketed as a paddle boats or “pedal pontoons.”
Although they can pick up speed if you really want, these are only meant for fishing in local ponds. Never in open waters!
Who Makes the Best Compact Pontoons?
With an 8-foot beam, Bennington’s compact pontoon is just as luxurious with marine-grade, vinyl upholstered seats and all the bells and whistles of any standard pontoon.
Avalon’s Eagle Cruiser series can accommodate anywhere from five to seven people. Each model in the series (Bow Fish, Quad Fish and Rear Fish) comes with fishing chairs. They also have the modern amenities that a typical fishing boat wouldn’t: Bluetooth stereo speakers and soft, marine-grade, vinyl upholstery to name a couple.
Their sizes range from 14 and 16 to 18 feet, all having a tighter, 7-foot beam. They range in cost from $11,000 to $18,000.
For further evaluation, there are a variety of manufacturers to choose from. These are the names I’ve come across and each has its own set of sizes they offer:
Who Loves Compact Pontoons?
These compact pontoons have a very practical, utilitarian purpose. The Department of Natural Resources owns them for maintenance, law enforcement and emergency rescue situations.
Parks and Recreation Department
Parks and Rec gets a lot of use out of these. In fact, it might be where you’ve spotted them before. Rangers and even volunteers utilize them to clean up debris from narrow creeks and shallow waters that an average pontoon size could never reach. State parks and private campgrounds often invest in mini pontoons to maintain the grounds.
Law Enforcement and Rescue
Compact pontoons have a lot less weight on board, and even though they may not have the horsepower of a regular engine, they can make a speedier rescue. They can assist stranded boaters with engine troubles or low fuel tanks, and they can even recover overboard victims.
The 8 Big Advantages of Small Pontoons
Let’s say you’ve been toying with the idea of becoming a pontoon owner. But, unfortunately, you have a home or retreat somewhere on a small lake that’s restricted to using only electric motors.
Or let’s say, instead, you live primarily in a motor home and often find yourself coming across lakes but dread the idea of pulling an extra load behind just to be able to enjoy fishing.
Well… this is where compact pontoons can shine!
1. Lakes with Limits
Sometimes local restrictions are put in place to protect the waterways. And sometimes the restrictions are physical challenges like the constant fluctuation in water depth due to rain or lack thereof. Compact and mini pontoons are very practical for these conditions.
2. Environmental Concerns
Compact pontoons are small enough that they don’t require a diesel engine. In fact, due to their size and weight, you wouldn’t want anything over 75 horsepower anyway. This means that our compact friends are a tad more environmentally friendly. In some waterways, you may be restricted to the use of an electric motor, which puts you at an advantage.
3. Shallow Waters
If you have access to a pond, these types of pontoons are excellent for that situation. Pontoons are a much better option in general than V-hulls, for which shallow waters are a concern.
Compact pontoons can also have as small a draft as any aluminum canoe or fishing vessel. However, the pontoon still has some extra advantages. Instead of having the constant rocking motion, the flat deck keeps you and any gear steady. Also unlike a V-hull, it minimizes the wakes that startle fish away.
5. Horsepower Restriction
Some lakes have a horsepower restriction due to their size or even environmental regulations like mentioned above. But the use of an engine with less horsepower doesn’t take away or deter from the performance of a compact pontoon.
6. Perfect for First-time Owners
Compact pontoons are a great alternative for those of us who want to test the waters of boat ownership. If you’re only seeking a simple mode of transportation to putz around with on the lake, or a boat for one, this could be the perfect fit for you!
A pontoon boat can be a major investment when you factor in maintenance, storage and many other factors. In case you don’t want to purchase a full-size pontoon, compacts are much more affordable options for first-time buyers, minimizing costs all around.
7. Maneuvering Ability
If you’re cautious, intimidated or become easily frustrated at the thought of parking or launching a boat into waters, consider a compact pontoon your new best friend. Handling, trailering and docking standard or larger pontoons can be a bit frustrating and takes practice and patience to learn.
If you’re a first-time boat owner, starting small can alleviate many of these worries.
A lot of RV and motor home owners trailer along compact pontoons. An RV itself is large enough—can you imagine trailering a full-size pontoon’s size and weight behind it as well? I’m not saying it can’t be done, but a compact pontoon is a nice alternative for snowbirds with a lot of driving ahead of them.
8. Garage Storage
All compact pontoons are really quite the perfect boats for those who don’t have much space or don’t want to pay for winter storage. They fit beneath a garage door overhead and inside a standard garage size just fine. And again, maneuvering a compact pontoon into your garage is much easier when you don’t have to be concerned with how tight you make that turn from the street to your driveway.
Compacts, narrow beams, minis—all three watercrafts are perfect for unique situations. They may not be for everyone and you may prefer a cushy party barge, but these types of pontoons have their place on the water as well.