Boat Buyer’s Guide: Pontoon Boats

Pontoon Boat Buyer's Guide
Helpful and unbiased advice from current boat owners.

Pontoon boats have become wildly popular in recent years because of their versatility, capacity, comfort and value. But, shopping for a pontoon boat can be a confusing process because there are dozens of brands available and many look alike. To help you with your search, we put together this buyer’s guide based on feedback from current pontoon owners. We asked them what things would be most important to them if shopping for a new boat and why. Here is what our team of boaters had to say.

Pontoon Boat Buyer's Guide

1). Quality of Construction

As with owners of all boat types, the Quality of Construction is most important to pontoon boaters. But how they define quality is slightly different. Since a pontoon boat is largely a floating family room, it is important to make sure the seats are comfortable, the upholstery is fairly thick and well stitched, and a quality grade of carpet or vinyl flooring is used. The welds should appear uniform and solid (no cracks or pits). , Finally, the deck should feel solid without a lot of flexing to ensure it is well supported.

Quality Checklist:

  • Comfortable and durable seats
  • High grade of carpeting or vinyl flooring
  • Uniform welds
  • Minimal deck flex

  • “Carpet and quality of the seat material.” (Stephen T., Carrollton, TX)
  • “Solid frame with good welds, quality upholstery, comfortable furniture.” (Roy B., Eau Claire, WI)
  • “Quality of seats, carpeting, rail stiffness, skirting.” (John S., Mahtomedi, MN)
  • “How the deck is attached, stringer spacing, welds, vinyl thickness, flooring quality, warranty, brand image, resale, dealer and factory support.” (Robert W., Auburn Hills, MI)
  • “Material quality and thickness, tight construction with screws versus rivets for the interior construction. Ease of access to mechanicals and controls.” (Paul M., Madison, WI)
  • “Heavy duty construction. 3 large heavy gauge pontoons.” (David R., Clinton, IA)
  • “I look at the fence quality, how the tubes are welded, quality of seats and floor.” (Mike D., Pleasant Hill, IA)
  • “Multiple cell flotation in aluminum pontoon logs. Deck framework-heavy gauge cross-members. Stainless steel canopy & accessories.” (Troy M., Springtown, TX)
  • “Welds, gage of metal used, enough cross sections so that there is no flex. Deck quality railings and door hinge and latches.” (Thomas Aa., Munising, MI)

2). Spacious and Convenient Layout

One of the advantages of a pontoon boat is that they are generally large enough to accommodate mom, dad, the kids and even the grandparents. So, one of the key things boaters look for in a pontoon is ample seating. But, at the same time, it is important to that the layout feel spacious with plenty of room to store things and move about the boat.

Another consideration is the type of seating but this is really a matter of taste. “His” and “her’s” captain’s chairs are nice – especially if only two will be going out most of the time. However, if you are often have many family or friends aboard, then long benches or a “U-shaped” seating area might be better for conversing with guests. Chaise loungers, either in the front or stern of the boat are also popular for those wanting a little “alone” space or simply want to relax and enjoy the scenery. If you plan on fishing from your boat fairly often, be sure to look for one with forward and/or rear pedestal seats.

Finally, if swimming is your thing, then one of the newer vinyl floors or similar would be better than carpet for controlling moisture and ease of cleaning (which also makes them desirable if you fish often).

Layout Considerations:

  • Enough seats to fit the maximum number of passengers you anticipate bringing?
  • Does the type of seats fit how you want to use boat?
  • Is the interior spacious enough to move about the boat without feeling cramped/confined?

  • “Maximum seating with storage. Access to a table for food.” (Phillip S., MI)
  • “Prefer to have gates on both sides so we can park on either side of our dock. Also, interested in how cover goes on, e.g., is there a zipper in the middle of cover?” (anonymous)
  • “Comfort and maneuverability within the boat as well as ease of access to the controls.” (Paul M., Madison, WI)
  • “The most seating capacity for all of our friends and family to enjoy the boat with us.” (Mike D., Pleasant Hill, IA)
  • “Easy to get around and use the boat.” (Joe M., Mulvane, KS)
  • “Room to move around, carry passengers.” (David L., Ashburnham, MA)
  • “Seating arrangements – I expect a layout that allows for easy conversation and listening – NO FISHING SEATS – also want safety” (James H., Coldwater, MI)
  • “Easy to get around without tripping over things, enough comfortable setting for company. Also easy to get on and off the boat.” (Thomas A., Munising, MI)
  • “Sun tanning platform in back Seat rest quality captain chairs Position of table to be able to walk around” (John S., Mahtomedi, MN)
  • “Use of seats for just us 2, which is +50% of the time used, as well as for family gatherings. We like some loungers, a table, seating close to captain for conversation.” (Barbara F., Gun Lake, MI)

3). Smooth, stable ride and good handling

I must admit that I was a little surprised that this item ranked as highly as it did among pontoon boaters. After all, pontoon boats don’t really cut through the water like other boat hulls but mostly float above it. However, after reading the input from boat owners and thinking about it, there are some special considerations for pontoon boats. First of all, since they often carry young children or older adults, stability is very important for comfort and safety reasons. Many manufacturers now offer larger 25” and 26” diameter pontoon logs for greater floatation and stability (especially important for larger boats or bigger/rougher bodies of water). Also, given their height, pontoon boats are prone to catch the wind making it difficult to maneuver them in wind or current – especially when trying to dock. To help with low speed maneuverability, you will want a sizeable engine and relatively large, four-blade, propeller for added bite. And, while certainly not imperative, both Evinrude and Mercury offer specialty engines for pontoon boats that have bigger gear-cases that enable them to swing bigger props. For more information on engine and propeller considerations, check out this article from Boating Magazine (http://www.boatingmag.com/boats/choosing-right-pontoon-boat-engine). Finally, since the engine needs to work a little harder to push a pontoon boat (since the hull doesn’t rise out of the water much), things like acceleration and fuel economy are issues – especially if you plan on boating on a large body of water or plan to do watersports. Tri-toons are great for this and lifting strakes will also help improve your performance.

“Ability to handle large waves in windy days for safety and smooth ride for all passengers.”

Troy M., Springtown, TX
  • “One that handles well for all my family members to use – especially the grand kids” (Dan V., Vulcan, MI)
  • “Ability to handle large waves in windy days for safety and smooth ride for all passengers.” (Troy M., Springtown, TX)
  • “Length, stability in rough waters, comfort and feeling of being safe with several people on board.” (Thomas A., Munising, MI)
  • “Stability, comfort, maneuverability & balance.” (Paul M., Madison, WI)
  • “I look for a dry ride, one that is smooth and comfortable.” (Richard M., Fort Myers Beach, FL)
  • “Smooth ride is all types of water, quick response times, maneuverability.” (Roy B., Eau Claire, WI)
  • “Smooth ride, easy to maneuver in water.” (Marge R., Wirtz, VA)
  • “Smooth ride in rough water along with handling while cornering and hole shot.” (David R., Clinton, IA)
  • “Ability to move at slow speeds and high speed.” (Jason L., Van Buren, AR)
  • “Stability of ride, diameter of the tubes, smooth ride with enough power to perform what is wanted regardless of load on the boat.” (James H., N. Muskegon, MI)
  • “Three tubes, power steering, lots of power.” (John H., Monticello, IA)

4). Powerful (but quiet) motor

As noted earlier, it is important to get a relatively large engine for your pontoon boat – not only for better speed/acceleration but also for improved low speed maneuverability. Another suggestion from pontoon owners is to go with a four-stroke engine over two-stroke. However, except for Evinrude, most engine manufacturers have shifted that way anyway.

  • “The largest engine that the pontoon can handle within my budget” (Dave H., Houghton Lake, MI)
  • “Highest horsepower rating possible. Pontoons are now being rated for up to 250 hp, when properly equipped.” (Troy M., Springtown, TX)
  • “A motor big enough to move your boat without working it hard, and reliability of the motor. Also big enough to get you to safety quickly if needed.” (Thomas A., Munising, MI)
  • “Just put a good prop on it to begin with, don’t put the cheapest on it” (David B., Honaker, VA)
  • “Reliability. Does the engine require constant maintenance, and is it an engine that most repair shops can work on knowledgeably? Power- ability to pull tubers, skiers, etc. Four-stroke preferred over two-stroke.” (Patrick M., Streetman, TX)
  • “Ample horsepower.” (Stuart S., Greensboro, GA)
  • “Outboard – 4 cycle, high horsepower, warranty, weight” (James H., Coldwater, MI)

5). Quality dealer nearby

The role of the dealer is a relatively higher priority for pontoon boaters than owners of other boat types. I suspect this is because pontoon boats are often kept on the water in remote areas so having a quality dealer nearby is a major convenience. And, one that provides on-water or mobile service is an added bonus. Naturally, you will want a dealer that is fair, honest and knowledgeable and the best way to assess that is to talk to other boat owners in your area.

Dealer Considerations:

  • Location convenience
  • Reputation from other boaters in area
  • Quality Part and Service department

  • “Located on the lake preferably. In business along time and with quality service department.” (Roy B., Eau Claire, WI)
  • “Willingness to drop off and pick up/store for winter…willingness to make ‘house calls’ for needed repairs.” (Todd K.)
  • “Someone who is willing to spend some time with you and explain certain aspects of the Boat.” (Herbert H., Fulton, NY)
  • “Fair price for boat. Good trade in price for old boat. Good service.” (Don S., North Ft. Myers, FL)
  • “Trustworthy with a quality parts and service department.” (Phillip S., MI)
  • “Honesty. How they treat their customers, both before and AFTER the sale. How reliable their maintenance department is. The sales person’s knowledge of their product.” (Patrick M., Streetman, TX)
  • “Established dealer, close to home for service and storage. Good reputation.” (Barbara F., Gun Lake, MI)
  • “My dealer drops it off in the spring, picked it up in the fall and repairs and services it so it is ready to go!” (Richard M., Rockford, MI)
  • “Good reputation, honesty.” (Bill R., Fort Myers, FL)

6). Attractive Appearance

Admittedly, this is another item that surprised me. Pontoon boaters rated styling/appearance higher in priority than all other boat types evaluated with the exception of cruisers (tied). As the minivan of the boating world, it was not long ago that the words “pontoon” and “good looking” never belonged in the same sentence. That all changed with the “upscaling” of modern pontoon boats. Of course, what makes for an attractive pontoon is a bit of a subjective matter. Here is how current pontoon owners described what they look for in terms of appearance:

  • “Want a top that is easy to work and one that doesn’t bang and make noise in the wind. We also want a boat that is sleek and attractive with or without the top up.” (anonymous)
  • “Modern looking design.” (Marge R., Wirtz, VA)
  • “Classy looking, not boxy and ugly.” (David R., Clinton, IA)
  • “Outside paint and graphics must be desirable.” (James H., Coldwater, MI)
  • “Updated appearance.” (Patrick F., Fenton, Michigan)
  • “I want something that isn’t cookie cutter which on a pontoon boat is difficult to find so we looked at color combinations, wanted something that stood out and sent a message and we found that with our Bennington” (Robert W., Auburn Hills, MI)

7). Good Warranty

The length of the warranty is obviously important but so is the coverage. Since a boat is comprised of many components from a variety of independent manufacturers (e.g., motor, trailer, electronics, etc.), you want to be sure all of the key items have reasonable coverage. It is also important to confirm that the manufacturer and dealer will stand behind you. A good way to determine this is to ask current owners how well they were treated when problems occurred.

  • “I don’t want to have to worry about the little things that all add up at the end of the year and when we sell the boat. We take care of our boat and we expect the manufacturer and the dealer to do the same.” (Robert W., Auburn Hills, MI)
  • “Warranty on engine.” (Dave H., Houghton Lake, MI)
  • “motor, and drive” (David B., Honaker, VA)
  • “Long term, broadly written, manufacturer reputation for back up, follow up.” (Dennis M., Rochester, MI)
  • “Length of warranty and what it covers.” (Mike D., Pleasant Hill, IA)
  • “Length of coverage, details of what all is covered.” (Jason L., Van Buren, AR)
  • “5 Year Minimum on motor, along with additional backing of warranty on the boat itself and furnishings.” (James H., N. Muskegon, MI)
  • “You have to know that the manufacturer is going to back their product. Just because they are new doesn’t mean they might not have problem… even the best boat ever made could have some problem. I need to know that they back their product!” (Thomas A., Munising, MI)

These are some of the more common items people look for when shopping for a pontoon boat. However, buying a pontoon is somewhat similar to buying a home in that you have a variety of styles, layouts and price points to choose from. There are many factors to consider. Let us hear what is important to you by sharing your requirements in the comments section below.

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