Pontoon Camping: How to Prepare for a Tooning Adventure in the Great Outdoors

If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of taking your pontoon for a camping trip, I highly suggest it!

There’s nothing more relaxing to me than nodding off to the gentle rocking and waking up to the sounds of waves lapping on the shore.

While making the experience as rustic or luxurious as you desire, you’ll also find that camping makes for an inexpensive—and unplugged—family vacation!

But before you go heading out for the great outdoors, we’ll walk you through all of the things you should think about first. Start by picking your location, then prepare yourself, your family and your pontoon!

How to Pick a Great Site for Pontoon Camping

Know Park Regulations

pontoon-campingCheck with the park or state to find out if you need any type of permits or licenses (like those for boat launch and fishing).

You may find some lakes or rivers don’t allow boats to tie up overnight and some don’t allow camping at all.

Chances are, you’ll have to abide by a few rules. If you’re going to be camping for long periods of time, you may need a separate inspection or type of permit.

Ask around locally for good spots to camp. You might discover quiet coves by word of mouth. And don’t assume you can just wing it and pull off somewhere. Even if you’re on a large lake with small no-man’s-land islands, there are places that may seem deserted but in fact are private property.

Find Safe Coves for Anchoring

Unlike other boats, pontoons were made for pulling to shore and beaching, making it easier to haul in your camp gear.

Whether you decide to anchor or pull into shore, try to find a lee—a protective cove or channel where you won’t fight waves and wind or drift back out to open water.

Pack an extra anchor for safe measure and more line to tie off to a tree on land.

Use a GPS anchor alarm and app that can alert you should your boat drift too far in the middle of the night. A couple of apps for that are Drag Queen for iOS and Anchor Watch for Android.

One thing to remember when choosing your anchoring location: If you anchor in the middle of the cove, you’ll find fewer bugs and more privacy.

Pay Attention to Weather

There’s nothing worse than planning a camping trip only to get rained out, but sometimes weather is unpredictable. There are several boating apps to ping you of detrimental weather.

Take precautions and bring a dry bag of ponchos and extra clothes, just in case conditions change. And know how to boat in nasty weather conditions, should you need to get back home.

How to Prepare Your Pontoon for Camping

Common Tents

If you don’t yet want to invest in a full canvas enclosure, I suggest simply purchasing a traditional tent. Something simple can provide great versatility. Just get a size that’s able to fit on the front deck between the seats.

Then you have the option to make camp off the water, if you’d like to.

If you choose to pitch it on the front deck, tie off the tent using its eye holes. Normally you’d stake a tent into the ground, but since there’s no ground, you’ll need to secure it to your pontoon from winds with a bungee cord or zip-tie.

Custom Pontoon Enclosures

The best option for pontoon camping is to upgrade to a canvas canopy enclosure, which would act as your tent.

They come in half enclosures and a full canvas enclosure can be a nice upgrade for your pontoon.

They can range in price from $1700 (made locally) to $2200 (manufacturer cost) and you can customize the locations of plastic windows, zippers and bug nets.

Beds

Make sure to get a good night’s sleep on your pontoon.

Sleeping Bags

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Coleman Palmetto 30°F Cool Weather Sleeping Bag
  • Adult sleeping bag for camping in temperatures as low as 30°F
  • Accommodates most campers up to 5 feet 11 inches tall
  • Polyester cover and tricot fiber blend liner provide warmth and softness
  • ZipPlow system plows fabric away from teeth to prevent snagging while zipping and unzipping
  • Roll Control fasteners and a patented no-tie closure allow for easy one-person packing

Sleeping bags are a requirement for me. I’ve tried camping with only a few household blankets but they don’t stand up to the cold the way an all-season sleeping bag can. Of course, Coleman (Check Price on Amazon) is a trusted name in camp gear and they carry a variety of bags to choose from.

Camp Pads and Camp Cots

TETON Sports Outfitter XXL Camp Pad; Sleeping Pad for Car Camping
  • CAMP COMFORTABLY: Thick, comfortable camping pad feels just like your bed at home; Open-cell foam pad; With this sleeping pad you'll have your most comfortable camping trip yet
  • EXTRA INSULATION AND COMFORT: Camping pad provides another layer of insulation; Stay warm in your sleeping bag with our camp pad, an extra layer of comfort and warmth
  • LIGHTWEIGHT AND EASY TO USE: Easy to carry to the campsite; Roll-up straps with compression buckles make storage of your pad quick, compact and easy
  • VERSATILE: Use as a ground pad or with a cot; Camping pad fits perfectly on the TETON Sports Outfitter XXL Cot; Canvas shell slips off for easy cleaning
  • TETON SPORTS PROMISE: Reach out to our AMAZING product support team if you have any questions or concerns; YOU CAN COUNT ON US to get you taken care of and back OUTDOORS with TETON Sports
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Kamp-Rite Oversize Kwik Cot
  • Made of highest quality material
  • Manufacturer: Kamp-Rite
  • Tent cot oversized kwik-cot FC421

An air mattress is the standard go-to camping bed. But I’ve always had issue with these. They’re terrible at containing body heat, really not that comfortable to sleep on, and they never seem to hold air (leaving you re-pumping the next night). Instead, get a Teton camp pad (check price on Amazon) and if you prefer to sleep above ground, get a camp cot (check price on Amazon) as well.

Pull-Out Sofas

If pontoon camping is something you find to enjoy, you may want to think about upgrading one of your seats into a fold out sleeper seat. It’s possible to sleep along the seat as is, but they’re very narrow.

The other alternative would be to unbolt and remove the furniture. Obviously, this may not be convenient for a one-time weekend trip, but again–if you find yourself camping often, this could really open up the space.

Creature Comforts

Food and Water

Cooking

When it comes to camping, keep cooking as simple as possible! Make the experience easier and prepare your meals at home.

Of course, there’s always the exception, like if you plan to catch a few fish or bring hamburger meat that’s much more enjoyable when freshly cooked. But if you have meal sides, lunches, or breakfasts—go ahead and cook those ahead of time, wrap in foil and place in a Ziploc stored above ice in your cooler.

Like I mentioned, some food just tastes better freshly grilled. You can either bring a grill that attaches to the pontoon or a camp stove to cook with on land. Remember the propane tank and bring extra for the camp stove. But remember, you can always cook over a fire!

If I have a decent bonfire at my site, I use it to my advantage and preserve the propane for emergencies (like when rain dampens the coals and wood) or brewing a desperately needed pot of coffee in the morning.

H20

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Pelican Elite 70 Quart Cooler (Tan/Orange)
  • VOLUME: True 70 quart internal volume
  • EXTREME ICE RETENTION: 2 inches of polyurethane insulation with a 360 degree freezer-grade gasket delivers extreme ice retention
  • FEATURES: Overmolded carry handle, 3 inch locking latches, reinforced lockable hasp, stainless steel bottle opener, anti-shear hinge system, molded-in tie-down slots
  • FEATURES: 4 self draining cup holders, non-skid rubber feet
  • MADE IN USA: Includes Pelican's legendary lifetime guarantee - "you break it, we replace it. Forever!"
TeraPump TRPMW200 Universal Manual Drinking Water Pump, Fits Any Bottle,...
  • This pump will fit any water bottle, 2 gallons through 6 gallons, screw-top or crown-top, except glass bottles, Primo brand bottles, and Culligan 5-gallon bottles
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  • Unique fastener reduces the amount of germs that could contaminate your water
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  • Discharge Spout with a sanitary cap to keep unwanted germs away, no batteries required. Uses vacuum action to dispense as quickly or a slowly as you like

Bring along a cooler packed it with ice. Unfortunately, unless you invest in a cooler brand like Yeti or Pelican (Available on Amazon), which keeps ice retention for a week or more—you’ll have to find a store that sells ice bags to replenish and keep your provisions cold. And of course, keep it under shade as much as possible!

Make sure you carry enough water for both drinking and food preparation and cleaning. Bring along a 5-gallon water tank and a pump (Available on Amazon).

I’ve camped remotely enough to be able to walk to a nearby stream and use a water purifier. Even still–be aware that most purifiers aren’t instantaneous and need time to work their magic. Some require around four hours to safely decontaminate bacteria.

Showers and Waste

NV Solar Camping Shower Bag with Removable Hose and On-Off Switch Head,...
  • Holds 5 gallon that warms up when exposed to sunlight for about 3 hours-
  • It has a switchable shower head and with a temperature gauge.
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  • Small mesh pocket for your toiletries like shampoo, soap, toothpaste or toothbrush. The shower bag comes delivered in a useful mesh bag.
  • New Upgraded Removable flexible and kink free hose that provides gentle and steady water flow.
Sierra Dawn Campsuds Biodegradable Soap - All Purpose Cleaner for Camping,...
  • ALL PURPOSE CLEANER - The #1 best-selling soap for campers, backpackers and travelers! Extremely tough on dirt and grease. Great to use on your hands, face, hair, clothing, dishes and anything else that is washable! Made in USA.
  • LIGHT, REFRESHING PINE SCENT - Camp suds is made with natural fragrance oils and leaves a clean, light pine scent. Powerful on dirt and grime, but gentle on your nose, hands, hair, clothes and dishes!
  • 100% BIODEGRADABLE - Created from a blend of purified water, vegetable-based cleaning agents and natural fragrance oils, Camp suds is the choice for outdoor soap. To properly dispose, dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and discard soapy war
  • MADE FROM CONCENTRATE - Just a few drops in water gives quick effective studs that's tough on grease and dirt. One bottle will last you a very long time since all you need is a few drops for a big mess! Works well in both hold or cold water - salt water t
  • LIGHTWEIGHT & PORTABLE - Camp suds come in a compact, travel size bottle, which makes it the perfect to pack with your travel and camping gear. Can even be used as one of your household cleaners!

Most campgrounds have showers within a walk from your campsite. But if you’re camping in a remote area, you can always bring along a solar shower like this Viking Nature 5-Gallon Camping Shower Bag (Available on Amazon) and biodegradable all-purpose soap like Campsuds (Check Price on Amazon).

And same goes with bringing along a portable toilet. This Partysaving New Travel Portable Toilet (Available on Amazon) is a great option. 

PARTYSAVING 5.3 Gallon Travel Outdoor Camping Boat Portable Toilet Potty,...
204 Reviews
PARTYSAVING 5.3 Gallon Travel Outdoor Camping Boat Portable Toilet Potty,...
  • Completely self-contained 5.3 Gallon Portable Potty made of high density polyethylene
  • Spacious fresh water reservoir and separate waste tank included
  • Seat Post: 14"(L) x 14" (W) Max Weight: 300lbs
  • No external connections required
  • Side valve provides a tight seal, locking in odors and protecting against leakage

Of course, if you really want to embrace the wilderness just bring along a trowel (and bury appropriately and sanitarily far away). Also, be sure not to leave anything behind that’s non-biodegradable.

Campgrounds will have dump station to toss your waste, recycling and propane bottles. Never leave waste on your pontoon; it invites critters on board, especially at night. Instead, bring along a few trash bags to throw accumulated trash and, at night, either toss it in the bin or hang in a tree. It goes without saying that if you have nowhere to throw your trash—carry it out when you leave.

Lastly, think about clean up. Some people bring along paper plates to toss away after use. I prefer to carry a set of Fozzils collapsible bowls (Available on Amazon) that store away flat, saving on space. They also clean quickly with a cheap kitchen scrub and dish soap.

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'Fozzils Solo Pack (Cup, Bowl, Dish) - New Blue
  • Full size items pack completely flat.
  • Absurdly light, complete set weighs only 4 oz.
  • Nonstick, easy clean surface. BPA free.
  • Convenient and durable alternative to disposables.

Warmth

Campfires

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Rutland 50B Safe Lite Fire Starter Squares, 144 Squares
  • Rutland Safe Lite Fire Starter Squares are the best way to start your next fire, regardless of where that might be.
  • Safe Lite Fire Starter Squares are made of recycled wood chips and wax
  • No flare up and they won't flavor food
  • Excellent for: Grills, smokers, fire pits, bonfires, campfires, wood stoves, coal stoves
  • Made in USA

If you have booked a site (and not just pulling off at a remote island), there’s a good chance you’ll have access to a fire pit to build a campfire. If you have a fire pit, bring along dry wood (nothing too recently cut), firestarters and a lighter.

Obviously, make sure these don’t become wet on your boat ride. In fact, bring along a tarp to cover and keep the wood dry once you place it on land.

Cabin Heaters

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Caframo True North Heater. Low Profile, Quiet, Powerful Heater for Work and...
  • Low profile design portable heater
  • Anti-freeze setting
  • 5 year
  • Built in thermostat
  • Whisper quiet

If you use a canopy enclosure or tent on your boat, you can use a small cabin heater. Just make sure to plug it up to another power course that’s not your boat’s battery. We also recommend a carbon monoxide detector as a vital piece of boat safety equipment when using a heater inside an enclosure.

Lighting

Solar and LED Lights

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LED Headlamp Flashlight - 4 White and 2 Red LED Head Lamp Modes - Only 1...
  • HIGH PERFORMANCE CREE LED HEADLAMPS FOR THE TOUGHEST SITUATIONS: Our headlamp uses CREE technology the most trusted brand in LED lights. It delivers energy efficiency and a long life span needed when you're camping, running, hiking or caught in an emergency on the road. Make it an essential component of your camping or outdoor gear.
  • LIGHTWEIGHT HEAD LIGHT DESIGN ENSURES COMFORT AND EASY MOVEMENT: The 1.25 ounce SmarterLife LED headlight flashlight has a curved bracket and adjustable headband for adults and kids. Use it while plumbing, doing car repairs or as a reading light without the bulk and weight.
  • IPX6 WATER RESISTANCE DELIVERS CONTINUOUS OPERATION EVEN IN WET WEATHER: Most LED head lamps work on ordinary days but when the weather gets tough, our waterproof headlights continue to operate in rain and any weather condition that's high in moisture or humidity, which makes it among the most important camping or tactical flashlights to be sure to have.
  • 6 MODES WITH EASY PUSH BUTTON OPERATION: The white bulb turns from low, medium and high to flashing SOS mode. Bypass the white light to go to red by pressing the head lights on/off switch for 3 seconds. The solid red light mode allows you to the see the way without blinding others in close spaces such as a tent or your vehicle. The flashing red mode indicates an SOS emergency situation.
  • CHOOSE ONE OR ALL FOUR EYE-CATCHING COLORS TO MATCH YOUR GEAR: The Jet Black headlight flashlight is the top pick for individuals who like the all-time classic as it complements any item. Pick a different color such as Midnight Blue for your running belt or be more adventurous with Hot Pink or Neon Green. Aside from turning heads, these bright colors are easy to find when you're looking for your headlight in your backpack, emergency kit or tool box.

Other than safety lights, you’ll want at least a few light sources on board to be able to read or for the family to play games after dark. One easy way to manage this is to pick up some rechargeable solar lights and tie them to the pontoon.

And of course, always bring LED lanterns for under the bimini and flashlights if you need to go on land. I prefer a hands-free headlamp (buy on Amazon) because walking around in unknown territory at night can bring an accidental fall and you’ll be able to catch yourself.

Safety and Running Lights

Anytime you’re boating after sundown, you need to make yourself visible to other traffic (like early-rising fishermen zipping by in their bass boats). Always use your white running lights for safety from dusk until dawn, especially when there’s thick fog.

A battery should be fine to handle this, but just in case–bring along cables and a second battery.

The Quick List of Pontoon Camping Essentials

Other than items you’d normally take on the water any given day, here’s a condensed list of the above plus some additional items to consider for overnight camping trips:

  • Shelter: Tent, enclosure
  • Sleep: Camp cot, camp pad, sleeping bags, pillows
  • Food prep: Plates, cutlery, cooking utensils, pot and skillet, oven mitt, camp stove, foil, napkins, coolers
  • Water: Five gallons of water, pump, water purifier and/or tablets
  • Showers: Moisture-wicking towel, body wipes, toiletries, portable shower
  • Bathroom: Personal wipes, portable head, trowel, toilet paper
  • Warmth: Dry wood, lighter, fire starters
  • Lighting: LED lanterns, headlamps, flashlights
  • Clean-up supplies: Trash bags, dish soap, kitchen scrub, quick-drying towel
  • Comfort: Bug repellent and/or citronella candle

So, you’re probably feeling pretty prepared to camp right about now.

Even so, always have a contingency plan. Make sure that somebody knows where’ you’re going to be. Know that if something goes severely wrong, you can call a neighbor or find a local hotel.

And lastly, remember that you might not be able to convince everyone in your family to enjoy camping. Some love it, some hate it. If you break into it slowly and make a good first impression, you won’t scare them off the idea for life. Before long, you may have them craving it too! Heck—you may even make a future liveaboard with your own marina slip!

Happy camping!

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