Tips for Buying a Pontoon Boat

A pontoon boat is great for fishing, parties, strolling and spending quality time with family and friends in the great outdoors. It’s a flat boat that relies on pontoons, which are air-tight hollow tubes that are designed to provide buoyancy. The wide deck on pontoon boats allow nice deck plans fitted with all sorts of accommodations like lounge areas, sun pads and even stand-up bars.

Why Buy a Pontoon Boat?

There’s a lot of advantages to choosing a pontoon boat over other boat types.

1. Family friendly 

It’s a watercraft that allows plenty of room for children to move about, plus it offers a great amount of storage space. You can comfortably bring in with you all your equipment like fishing or hunting gear, as well as day trip necessities like clothes, food, extra towels, life jackets, ice chests and more.

2. Beginner-friendly 

Pontoon boats are not intimidating to use for those who have never driven a boat before. It you’re planning to start boating, this is the perfect watercraft to start in. It’s easier to drive compared to other boat options, with its simple control panel and steady handling. Plus, it’s easier to dock than other vessels.

3. Versatile 

It’s also It’s the most versatile craft you can find, and whatever you plan to do, you can accommodate it. You want to fish? You want to host a party? You want to swim or snorkel or dive? Or you simply want to have a vessel to lounge and relax under the sun? A pontoon boat can help with these all.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Pontoon Boat

 

It would be unfortunate if you just bought the first thing you thought is a great deal for you, only to end up with a boat that is too large, too small or too pricey for its overall capacity. For first-time pontoon buyers, here are the things to think about and consider before you buy.

1. Size of the boat

When talking about size of a pontoon boat, the first thing that comes to mind is the size of the deck. The deck provides a usable space on the boat, so you must decide on the size based on the body of water you’ll use it in and the number of people you plan to bring with you on your boating escapades. Here’s a general guideline:

  • 16-19 feet – Accommodates up to 8 people; great for small and calm bodies of water
  • 20-22 feet – Accommodates up to 13 people; great for lakes and rivers that doesn’t produce big waves
  • 23-27 feet – Accommodates up to 15 people; great for rough waters, especially if tubes are 27 inches long too

If you think you’d like to buy the biggest boat you can afford, think twice. With greater capacity comes greater expenses in the future. If you buy a bigger pontoon, you also need to have a bigger budget for additional fuel consumption, insurance, docking and storage, repairs and maintenance, and accessories. If later on you realize you’re not willing to spend money on these things, you’d probably end up selling your large boat and opt for a smaller one.

Beginner’s advice: Start off with something more modest, so you can first learn how to handle, drive and maintain a pontoon boat, without spending too much. Almost everyone who buys a boat upgrades and goes for a larger option in the future, after being more experienced. Opt for something manageable first.

Also, pre-plan where you’ll be trailering your pontoon when it’s not in use or when it’s not going to be left permanently on the water. Your trailer will need to be capable of towing the size of your pontoon boat. And it’s not just about capability – you must check if your vehicle can safely tow the boat from point A to point B. All parts of the boat must be safely contained in the vehicle so as to avoid potential damages transportation may cause.

2. Primary purpose of the boat

What do you want to do in the pontoon boat? This must be your biggest consideration. Look for boats that offer amenities that complement the activities you enjoy.

If you plan to use your boat for tubing, skiing, diving and other water sports, select a boat that that offers easy access in and out of the water, plus a powerful engine that can easily bring you to your desired depth. If you want to do some water skiing, wakeboarding or any other sport where you need to be towed, you must look for a boat with a faster engine.

If you want a boat that can occupy your large group of friends, you can focus less on the engine and select a boat with ample conversational seating. A boat that offers built-in cooler and storage for food and drinks is also a great choice.

If you simply want to use your boat for lounging, sunbathing, choose a padded sundeck for comfort. A boat that offers a built-in sound system is a big plus.

If you want to fish, you may not also need a powerful engine. Focus on the deck space and specialty fishing activities such as rod holder, live well, fish locator and fishing chairs.

But don’t worry if you plan to do more than one of these activities. As mentioned earlier, pontoon boats are incredibly versatile. You don’t have to sacrifice one activity to accommodate another. Instead, decide if the boat you choose can be maximized to do the things you plan to do with it.

3. Twin pontoon or tri-toon

When you determine where and how you will use the boat, you can choose if you need two pontoons or three. Before, recreational pontoons just had two pontoons, but builders started introducing tri-toons around the 1990s.

Twin pontoons are designed for slower displacement speeds and are fine for cruising. These are great for swimming and entertaining. But you can upgrade a twin pontoon by putting a larger engine to make it marginally faster.

Tri-toons are more expensive, but they are reliable when it comes to speed. If properly powered and propped, a tri-toon boat can go as fast as a most sports boats, making them great for water skiing, tubing and even wake boarding.

4. Pontoon tube size

The length of the deck is different from tube length. The tubes of a pontoon boat brings buoyancy, and it determines performance and capacity. The greater the diameter of the tube, the more satisfying your boating experience will be, since larger diameter offers more stability and speed. All toons must also have 3 or 4 air-tight chambers to keep it safe in case a chamber would be punctured.

Tube diameters of 23” are the smallest diameter of toons seen generally on smaller boats that are under 20 feet in length. Usually, 24” to 25” tubes are seen on both twin-toon and tri-toon vessels. More expensive boats have 26” toons.

5. Engines

Match the type of engine you pick with the intended purpose of a boat.

If you simply need a boat for cruising, a less powerful engine will be fine. Twin toon boats need little power, but depends on the load and speed required. An 18 to 20-feet twin toon boat with 50 to 60 hp can run at 15 or 16 mph. Putting a larger engine and winding it up can cause the boat to move faster, but it only does a little.

If you want to go faster, like for towing in water skiers and tubers, a tri-toon with 150 hp outboard or larger is recommended. Larger tri-toons can handle 300 hp engines.

Generally, pontoon boats are hard to get moving fast unlike jet skis and other motorboats. So, outboard engines that have high torque are expensive. If you want to use it to engage in towing sports but want to spend less as much as possible, consider two-stroke engines or one with superchargers. When used together with a 4-blade propellers, these engines can provide the best performance.

6. Seating capacity and configuration

Most boats have a capacity plate, or a label that verifies seating capacity and weight limit. Be careful not to exceed it. Before you buy a boat, decide how many passengers you are planning to have on board before deciding on a size.

If maximum numbers are your priority, then much seating space is needed. If sunbathing is your main activity, then get a boat with aft-facing, chaise-style lounges.

The captain’s chair must also be given importance. He/she needs to be able to see over the passengers sitting in front, so a captain’s chair with a raised helm is a great choice. This puts the driver in a better position and gives all-around visibility.

Speaking of chairs, you must look for comfortable seating and a marine-grade upholstery and foam that resists fading, mold, mildew, cracking and peeling.

7. Important features

Besides seating and deck space, here are some other important features to look for:

  • Boarding gates

Pontoon boats are easy to board, and most have a minimum of three gates: at the bow, stern and port side. Side gates make it easy to board from the dock. It must be at least 32 inches wide to accommodate a wheelchair.

  • Re-boarding ladder

The American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) released a guideline noting that all re-boarding ladders must extend at least 22” below the water line. That’s the minimum requirement, and if it’s a bit longer, the better. Choose a ladder made of sturdier material with larger stanchions to make sure it will last long no matter how many people use it. Look for thick, heavy-duty grab rails to make it easier to grab.

  • Bow deck

A small platform on the bow makes it easier to board a pontoon and work with docklines. Many pontoon boats have no bow deck, but it’s actually a helpful feature for tying the boat up to the deck or serve as a platform for setting an anchor easier.

  • Space for storing and setting an anchor

It is important for your boat to have an anchor and a dedicated place for its storage. Yet, many pontoon boat owners don’t bother much with an anchor, since most of them take their boats from dock to dock or back to the launch ramp. But there are times, even in protected areas when an anchor might be a required item for safety equipment. What if the engine suddenly fails and the boat is being blown by the wind to a marina or a rocky shore? What if the boat is used on a river when an engine fails and you have no way to stop the current from taking you?

Also, an anchor is a great tool for taking a stop in the middle of a lake, while you eat your lunch or drink some cocktails as you watch the sunset. Pontoon boats doesn’t usually come with an anchor and you need to buy it separately. It is recommended to keep it in the forward, portside seat locker.

8. Comfort amenities

Consider yourself and the people who will ride your boat and ask yourself how you can get the most enjoyment out of the boat. Here are some comfort amenities offered by some pontoon boat models:

  • Bimini tops

Most pontoon boats have a Bimini top included as a standard or as an add-in option. This is an important comfort amenity to protect yourself and the upholstery from harmful UV rays, as the sun can get harsh sometimes.

  • Cup holders

In many pontoon boats, cup holders that sit on the seats and pedestal tables are available. Some cup holders are removable and portable, so it can be moved anywhere on the boat.

  • Tables

A table adds versatility to a boat. Usually, you can find a pedestal table that is small and comes with cup holders. These are typically limited to snacks. If you want to serve an alfresco meal at the boat, you need to find a boat with a bigger table.

  • Changing curtain

A changing curtain is a great amenity to have so your guests can change out of their wet bathing suits and get into dry cloths after a session of swimming, diving or water skiing. Most boats make this available as an option, if not standard. Some are large enough to fit a portable toilet.  

  • Kitchen-like functions

Pontoon boat builders are adding more and more amenities to ensure great time at the boat. Premium-level boats offer sinks, running water, gas grills, refrigerators and more.

9. Certification

When you shop for a boat, you look for unquestionable quality. When buying a pontoon, check if it has a National Marine Manufacturer’s Association (NMMA) sticker that certifies it has been designed and built to national quality standards. Being NMMA certified means the boat have had factory inspections and materials that comply to the specifications of the US Coast Guard and the American Yacht and Boat Council.

10. Cost

Of course, one of your most important considerations is the cost. Pontoon boat prices vary depending on brand, deck size, quality of materials, type of engine, engine size, tube size, year of release, and extra features. A brand-new pontoon boat can range for as low as $14,000 for small, no-frills boat, to up to $200,000+ for a high-end pontoon boat with a fast engine and all the extra features.

But of course, a used pontoon boat is much cheaper than its never-been-used counterpart. Whether you’re buying new or used, always negotiate with the dealer to get quotes. Compare prices from dealer to dealer and buy from one that gives you a better deal. A better deal doesn’t always mean lower price – it’s a reasonable price considering all the features of the boat and add-ins you plan to avail.

Should I Buy New or Used?

Boats are luxury items, and of course, they come with a great price. But no matter how much money you have, it’s still going to be limited. It’s a wise choice not to spend so much if you have cheaper choices. As a first-time buyer, exploring the used market can give you less expensive options to limit your spending.

But as with buying a second-hand car, buying a used boat comes with risks. As a buyer, your option is to go for a new one or consider a used one, and here are the advantage and disadvantages of both options.

Buying a New Boat

When you buy a brand new boat, you get it directly from the manufacturer. One big benefit you get is the insurance of a long-term warranty. You already get a trusted point of contact for maintenance and repair jobs.

Most dealers of new boats will also include a trailer as part of the deal. The trailer has the perfect size and specifications that can handle your trailer. This will save the hassle of buying the ideal-sized trailer for a used pontoon boat. Usually, a seller of a used pontoon boat might want to keep their trailer as they will probably use it with their replacement boat.

Pros:

  • You will get a manufacturer’s warranty
  • You can get support from the dealer in how to operate and maintain the pontoon
  • You can apply for boat financing
  • You will be given safety equipment
  • You can freely choose options, trims, accessories and color that you want
  • You can get a trailer included in your purchase

Cons:

  • You will need to pay full price for the boat, which means it can be expensive
  • The boat depreciates over the first 12 months of ownership
  • You might need to pay for additional options given by the dealer

For first-time pontoon boat owners, buying new is the best choice. If you’re going to buy a used one, there are routine inspections you must do (we’ll talk about that later on), which you may not be familiar with since you haven’t had the experience of owning a boat before. If you’re a first-timer and you insist on buying used, you must have a trusted friend who owns or have owned a pontoon boat before to guide you with your choices.

Buying a Used Boat

For experienced boaters, you’ve got the relevant knowledge about boats. If you’re already familiar with how pontoon boats work, run and behave; the mechanics; and the accessories needed, then you can make an informed choice that will allow you to spot a great deal in the used market. You will also be more knowledgeable in the things to look for and inspect to make sure it’s in the right condition.

Pros:

  • You will spend less money for a boat of the same model
  • You can use it immediately
  • You can negotiate prices easier
  • You can ask for other essential accessories as part of the deal

Cons:

  • You probably won’t get a warranty
  • You will have higher maintenance costs and possible repairs
  • It may be hard to finance the boat at a low interest rate

Tips for Buying a Used Pontoon Boat

Used boats are bought from either dealers or private sellers, but no matter which source you buy from, you can always have the advantage of being able to negotiate not just on the price, but also on the accessories the boat comes with. When buying a used boat, remember these tips:

1. Inspect the boat and ask the seller the right questions.

The price advantages of a used boat may look appealing, but still you have to do your research and really spend time deciding whether or not to buy a boat you’re considering. You have to check and inspect the important equipment and the boat condition.

Here are the things to check:

  • Hull and pontoons

Check the hull and pontoon tubes for damages, cracks, lumps, patches, dents or signs of welding. If there are any signs of damage or repair to the hull, it isn’t always a bad sign. Some pontoon boats may have had dings and dents due to use, but the key is to find how serious the damages is. Check the point where the hull meets the deck. If this part has dents or lumps, this is a sign of poor workmanship.

  • Shift and throttle

Check these if they are greased with no visible signs of corrosion. Springs must also snap back in place.

  • Motor

For starters, look how clean or dirty the motor is. Through this, you can assess how well-taken care of the boat was. Check if fluids are leaking. If it is, you should discuss having these repaired before buying, or explore repair options and price them out.

  • Laminate

Look underneath the surface of the boat. Feel it with your hands and observe if you’ll be feeling inconsistencies, such as cracks, wrinkles, waves, bubbles or anything. The laminate must be smooth, and if there are inconsistencies, it may be a substandard product.

  • Flooring

Walk in the flooring and check if the plywood emits a squishy sound. This is an indicator of rotting wood. Are there tears or rips? Minor ones are okay, but it would be a matter of time before you need to replace it. Also, if there are evidences of mold, stay away. These may mean big repairs in the future.

  • Gauges

Check the gauges of the boat. Are their reading and dials accurate? Check also if it’s not bouncing or if there are no oil pressure problems.

  • Furniture and upholstery

Wear and tear on upholstery may not be a big deal, but if you see cracks, major discoloration and wear, it indicates that the boat wasn’t stored and cared for properly, so you will have to spend on re-upholstery.

  • Overall shine

You won’t help but notice the shine (or lack of shine) in a boat. It is primarily a cosmetic issue that can easily be remedied.  

2. Test drive the boat.

It may be difficult and a lot of sellers may find this annoying, but if you want to show how serious you are with buying a boat, everything must look good. You can be wary if the seller downright refuses even if there’s a body of water nearby. If they’re nowhere near a body of water, you may not do it.

If you’re lucky enough to do a test drive, first observe how the motor sounds. As you get going, consistently check the gauges if they are working. Make sure you get to take it to higher speeds. Try to do some sharp turns. Start and take off again. Try to make your test drive as realistic as possible, since if you only try it in a straight direction, you’ll miss out looking for other unseen signs of problems with the boat.

But of course, give it some leeway. It’s not a brand new boat after all, so expect that it won’t be as fast as the original horsepower suggests.

3. Look for the proof of ownership.

You have to be careful that you’re not buying a stolen boat. If you’re buying from a dealer, it’s obligatory for them to show it to you. But if you’re buying directly from a seller, don’t hesitate to ask.