Some of the most fun times I’ve had afloat have been on pontoon boats. They are the perfect family boating option for many, the perfect party barge for other groups and I’ve pulled lots of fish over the rails of pontoon boats in a variety of locations.
A couple of reports I received lately pointed out the fact sometimes, in some places, pontoons aren’t the perfect boat and even in some places where pontoons should be a viable choice of water craft, situations can arise putting pontoon boaters and their guests in an unfortunate circumstance.
The first story I heard was from a friend who pontoon boats on a popular lake in this area. His ‘toon was loaded with family, kids and grandkids and all was well. “Boats of all sizes operate on this lake,” Jim told me. “From little kayaks that probably shouldn’t be out on busy weekends to some huge boats more suited to the Great Lakes or the ocean.”
One of those super-sized vessels passed by in front of my friend at about half speed. Some people don’t realize a boat can make a larger wake at slow speed than when going full throttle. Jim said, “I saw the huge wake coming at us at the last second but I’m not sure if there was anything I could have done at that point. The wave slopped right on to the front deck and some of it washed over the deck enclosure at the front. The extra weight of all that water held the front down and when the second wave hit, most of it slopped into the boat.
The boat tipped forward far enough the propellor on the outboard motor at the rear tipped out of the water.”
Luckily, everyone positioned near the bow quickly moved to the rear of the tilting boat and the next wave wasn’t as big as the first two. The water quickly drained out. All were safe, wet and scared.
I know a professional walleye fisherman who was courted by a pontoon boat manufacturer to use one of their “fishermen” model pontoons on the tournament circuit. “I drove the boat a couple times at an inland lake and decided the lack of seaworthiness would be offset by the additional room available on the boat. Besides, they were paying me as well as furnishing the boat," Ted told me.
“How’d that go?” I asked.
“Our first tournament of the year was on Lake Erie. The lake had a nice ‘walleye’ chop on it which would have been no problem in a regular boat. Luckily, I wore a pair of rubber boots that morning because the deck was awash most of the first day. I shoved plastic bags and boat cushions along the enclosure to keep out some of the water the second day, finished out of the money in the tourney, hauled the pontoon back to the manufacturer on Monday and tore up the contract.”
There are now larger pontoon boats, up to 12 feet wide and 30 feet long, that can handle some serious water. There are lots of pontoons that, buckled up to a 300-hp outboard, can take you down the lake at 50 mph.
That said, comes my last anecdote. One of the places that pontoons do not belong is 6 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, which is where the Coast Guard found a 24-footer half sunk with six anglers aboard this past week. Everyone got home safe thanks to the rescue team, but the outing could easily have had a much more unhappy ending.
Pontoons seem impossibly stable in most conditions because of their widely-spread sponson design--they hardly lean to port and starboard at all, as do conventional vee-hulls. This tends to give users a sense of security that's not really there when the boat gets in truly rough seas.
Pontoons may be the perfect boat for your needs. But as with all boats, end the preceding sentence with the conclusion - “most of the time.”