If you ask for advice on which pontoon layout is best, many will tell you to simply pick a layout that is conducive for how you plan on using the boat.  However, if you are new to pontooning and are not sure how you will be using it, this advice might not be the most helpful.

In this article, I talk about the major types of pontoon layouts and the pros/cons of each. I also cover some key layout variations to help you find the perfect boat for your needs. This information is based on my decades of experience in doing research with boaters along with recent conversations with numerous pontoon owners in my boating community.

The Main Pontoon Layouts

While there are dozens of pontoon manufacturers and hundreds of unique layouts, most can be classified into one of four types:

Cruiser

This layout typically has four separate benches or wrap-around seating forward and aft and is designed for cruising and entertaining.  The advantage of this style is that it maximizes seating capacity.  The disadvantage is that it is not well suited for fishing because of the lack of pedestal seats and other fishing features.  This is a good choice if your priority is to bring many people along and rarely, if ever, plan to fish from it.

2023 Aqua Patio 255 SBW

Lounger

Though all pontoon boats are great for lounging, what makes this layout different is that it has a rear-facing bench, sun pad or chaise lounger(s).  This is a great design if you or your guests like to sunbathe, take a nap or relax, read a book, or watch the sun set.  It is also a nice design if you plan on doing watersports because it provides an excellent view of the rider.  The downside is that it divides your guests into separate conversation areas.   However, this might not be a bad thing if you have teenagers who would rather not hang around with the “old people”.

To get around this deficiency, many manufacturers offer a “swing back” version that enables you to move a bench seatback forward or backwards – depending on whether the rear passengers want to look aft or join in the conversation in the main cockpit area.

Angler

This type is pretty distinct because it has one or more pedestal seats in the front and rear for fishing.  They also typically have a lot of other fishing accessories such as a livewell, rod holders and perhaps even a trolling motor.  While this gives you plenty of space for one or multiple anglers to spread out and fish, you give up a lot of seating capacity with this style of pontoon.  Plus, the pedestal seats are not as comfortable as the plush benches that are more plentiful in the other pontoon types.

However, if you plan to fish at least half the time you are on the water, then this might be the right style for you.

2023 Sun Tracker 18 DLX

Hybrid

This is a cross between a “Cruiser” and “Angler” pontoon and might go by names such as Sport Fish or Fish & Cruise.   These feature one or more pedestal fishing seats in either the bow or stern (but not both) with bench seats elsewhere.

The advantage of this layout is that it is conducive to a variety of on-water activities.  So if you are someone who likes to fish in the morning and then cruise around or swim in the afternoon, then this layout might be right for you.  The downside is that, as a compromise boat, it doesn’t do fishing or cruising as well as pontoon boats specifically designed for these activities.

Other Layout Considerations

In addition to the above basic layouts, there are a few other variations that you should consider.

Co-Captain Seating

There are two primary seating options for your first mate.  One is a bench-style seating and the other is a captain’s chair – similar to the one at the helm.  The advantage of the former is that it makes it easier for the co-captain to engage with those seated in the rear-half of the cockpit and provides greater seating capacity.  The advantage of having a captain’s chair is that it enables your partner or guest to look forward while underway.  This (dual captain's chairs) is a very popular configuration and is especially appealing for those who like to go out with only two people on occasion.

Godfrey Pontoon with Passenger Bench
Godfrey Pontoon with Co Captain Chair

Deck space in Bow

This is an area where many boat companies have come up short in my opinion (but seem to be doing a better job in recent years).  On some pontoon boats, especially with older models, manufacturers placed the fencing near the edge of the front decking – likely to maximize interior space.  However, there are times when it is helpful to step in front of the fencing such as when docking, anchoring, landing a fish, unsnagging a line or attaching your mooring cover.  My suggestion is to look for a layout that has at least 12” of decking in front of the fencing.  One exception to this is if you want a fishing pontoon but do not want a front deck for safety reasons.  In this case, having the fencing up to the edge of the deck can be advantageous in helping you to land fish.

Limited Bow Deck Space

Bennington Pontoon Front Deck Area

Ample Bow Deck Space

Deck space in Stern

If you enjoy swimming/floating or plan to do watersports, then having a sizeable rear deck behind the seating is a nice feature.  This lets your passengers easily get in and out of the water without soaking the “family room” area.

Rear Deck of Bennington Pontoon

Pedestal (Fishing) Seat Location

Some fishing-oriented pontoons have pedestal seats inside the fencing while others have them outside.  The advantage of having them inside is that it is safer.  However, seats outside the fencing make it easier to cast and land fish (similar to being on the bow of a bass boat).

If you plan on taking young kids or are concerned about falling in, then the interior seating might make sense for you.  More serious anglers might prefer seats outside the fencing although this layout is a bit more difficult to find.

Seats Outside of Fencing

Seats Inside of Fencing

Watersports Features

If you plan on pulling a tube, skiers or wakeboarders, then there are a few additional things to take into account.  This is less about the layout and more about some key features that will make doing tow sports easier and more enjoyable.

Tritoon instead of a Pontoon

This will give you better speed and maneuverability which is important when picking up a skier or tuber.

Ski Tow Bar or Arch

This will make it much easier to attach the tow rope for watersports activities and help it clear the engine.  Most pontoons have “lifting rings” welded to the back of the outer pontoons that can also be used to attach a harness or bridle (that you would attach your tow line to).   However, this is much less convenient and much more likely to splash your rider.

Sufficient Power

Activities such as skiing or wakeboarding require a pretty good “hole shot” to get the rider out of the water.  If you plan on doing these things, it is usually best to get an engine that is rated at, or near, the maximum horsepower rating for the boat.  However, you won’t need as much power if you only plan on pulling a tube.

Conclusions

As you can see, there is no single "best" pontoon layout.  There are different layouts or configurations that are specialized for various activities.   This doesn't mean that you can't fish from a Cruiser pontoon, or lounge from a pontoon intended for Fishing.  Instead, it is simply a matter of certain layouts being better suited for some things and worse at others.   All involve tradeoffs and the key is to decide which tradeoffs are optimal for your situation.

While you might not know exactly how you will be using your pontoon, knowing the pros and cons of each configuration should at least help you make a more informed decision as to which layout is best for your family's needs and priorities.

For additional tips and advice, check out my previous article on what to look for when shopping for a pontoon boat.

Jerry Mona - BoaterInput

About the author

Jerry Mona is an avid boater and angler and long-time boating industry insider. With over three decades of experience, he is often considered to be the leading research expert with boaters and has helped numerous manufacturers and trade associations to understand the needs, wants, attitudes and behaviors of boaters. He now shares many of his insights about boats and boaters for free on his BoaterInput.com website.

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