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6 Different Types of Pontoon Boats

White big pontoon boat anchored at the river.

The image of the pontoon boat is probably familiar to most readers of this article. If they have seen a World War II movie, then they have no doubted spotted floating raft-like devices used to transport equipment across rivers or to serve as a temporary bridge.

As a former Navy man, I saw them put to use in minor logistical operations from time-to-time. However, I had no idea how many uses they had even during my days in the service. The fact is that pontoon boats are one of the most varied and prolific kinds of seafaring vessels in the world.

They range in types, sizes, styles and price. Below, I provide some insight into the different types of pontoon boats in existence.

What is a Pontoon Boat?

First things first. We should begin the exploratory guide by answering the basic question posed above. Put simply, a pontoon boat is set of two or three interconnected buoyant tubes, which are called pontoons. These pontoons make up the hull of the vessel.

The pontoons are topped by a large, flat deck. As a result, pontoon boats have a very shallow draft and are able to reach places other boats cannot. However, they are not suited for open ocean travel, as large waves can easily overwhelm and tip them over.

How are Pontoon Boats Designed?

Row of pontoon boat parked at the river ready to use.

Most of the structural elements of pontoon boats, including the pontoons and cross-braces, are composed of welded aluminium. The decks are often made with marine plywood, but aluminium and fiberglass construction are not unheard of.

Pontoon boats are no longer the maddeningly slow and cumbersome vessels they used to be. Advances in pontoon tube and engine design have made pontoons much faster and easier to handle at sea. Today’s pontoon boats can generate as much 900 horsepower and achieve speeds of up to 50 knots.

The interior design of such boats has also improved. Even boats used in industry have interiors that have the look and feel of a luxury automobile.

Types of Pontoon Boats

Pontoon boats tend to have the same basic hull. Although the materials used to construct the hull can differ, the connecting of buoyant tubes remains the same.

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The real differences start with the addition of performance equipment packages to make a model specific to certain activities. Pontoon boats are made for fishing, watersports, leisure, and particular lines of work. Here are some of the most common types of pontoon boats:

1. Fishing pontoon boats

Two man on a fishing pontoon boat while fishing.

This is one of the most common uses for pontoon boats. Such boats contain swiveling fishing seats, fishing-specific modules such as rod holders, and tackle storage boxes on deck. Fish-hunting electronics can also be added to such a boat.

Although such boats are best used in lakes, reservoirs, and other freshwater bodies, they can also be used in close coastal situations. However, if you intend to regularly use a fishing pontoon boat in saltwater, you should get a boat that can withstand briny conditions. Manufacturers usually offer such variations.

Related: 20 Different Types of Fishing Boats (Small, Mid-Sized and Large Options)

2. Family pontoon boats

A family on a pontoon boat in the river.

Pontoon boats make for the best party boats. If you have an event that you want to celebrate with friends and loved ones, there is no better place to host the party than on a pontoon boat. These boats have large open decks, plenty of seating, and many accessories to choose from.

All this makes them ideal for large numbers of people. Many family pontoon boats offer integrated wet bars, sophisticated stereo systems, built-in refrigerators, electric grills, and other devices needed to throw a good party.

Again, the great thing about pontoon boats is their modular designs. There is no standard deck. You can customize the kind of deck you need. This may include a layout that maximizes the number of people you can host onboard. Or, you can order a deck that accommodates fewer people but leaves a great deal of space for sunbathing.

3. Pontoon boats for watersports

Pontoon boats for water activity parked at the lake.

If watersports are your thing, then you should consider using a pontoon boat. Sport pontoon boats provide high-speed thrill rides. They tend to be powered by twin engines; some even have three outboard engines slung across the transom.

These boats have aft-facing observation seats along with things like storage compartments for your sports gear. I said before that pontoon boats can reach speeds of over 50 knots. If you want to use a pontoon boat for waterskiing or wakeboarding, then you definitely want to go for a boat with this speed capacity.

4. Luxury pontoon boats

Luxury yacht and pontoon boats parked at the harbor.

These boats are for those who like to take weekend sojourns at sea for the express purpose of relaxation. They often dedicate large amounts of deck space to large recliners, beds, and other lounge furniture. They may also include barbeque grills, high-end sound systems, and televisions.

5. Performance pontoon boats

Performance motor pontoon boat at the sea.

These boats are designed to maximize speed. They are designed to hold large and powerful engines. They have hull designs that cut through the water, which allows the boat to achieve its maximum speed quickly. Many such boats sit on three rather than two pontoon tubes.

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If you are into racing or simply like the feeling of speeding through the water, then this is the vessel for you.

6. Affordable pontoon boats

Small pontoon boat at the lake at North Carolina.

If cost-effectiveness is your primary concern, then you can still find a high-performing pontoon boat. Such a boat will have many of the above features, but they will be minimized to save money.

Pontoon Boat Equipment and Accessories

Here are some of the most popular types of equipment and accessories that can be added to a pontoon boat:

  • Stereo system and speakers
  • Ski tow-bars and pylons
  • Bimini tops to protect from rain and extreme sun
  • Fishfinders and chart plotters to assist with navigation
  • Rod holders
  • Underwater lights
  • An anchor and anchor line
  • Fenders to protect the boat from mooring pylons
  • A boathook for grabbing lines
  • VHF radio or satellite messenger

Pontoon Boat Key Features

White and red pontoon boat tied at the lake.

No matter what type of pontoon boat you buy, you should look for the following features:

1. Power

The boat should put out enough horsepower to meet your expectations. Consider boats in the 3500 to 4500 rpm range.

2. Fuel capacity

Make sure that the boat can hold enough fuel to take you as far out as you like.

3. Ventilation

It is important for your vessel to have good ventilation. It should also have good drainage in storage compartments, especially under-seat bases and inside consoles.

4. Passenger capacity

If you plan to play host frequently, then you must ensure that the boat can accommodate the number of people you will have aboard. Be sure to check the max capacity plate.

5. Sun protection

Most pontoon boats come with a Bimini top. If the boat you are looking at has such an item, make sure it is large and sturdy enough to meet your expectations.

6. Seaworthiness

This is perhaps the most critical feature of a pontoon boat. You should take the boat out on sea trials prior to purchase. This is the only way to ensure that the boat can operate safely on the water and that it handles well.

A Brief History of Pontoon Boats

Pontoon boat on a calm lake.

Pontoon boats have a history that can be traced as far back as the 11th century BC when the Chinese Zhou Dynasty used pontoons to create bridges for marching soldiers. Though not motorized, they did use floating tubes that could be stabilized and made to do work.

This use of pontoons continued for the next two millennia. Another famous, and perhaps familiar, use of pontoons for military logistics was during the American Civil War. Many of the early battles in that exceptionally bloody conflict involved large troop movements across rivers throughout the South.

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Pontoons were used in place of bridges that did not exist at the time. Pontoons were also essential to many of the troop movements enacted during the Second World War. In all of these instances, the connected tubes were not as yet motorized. This did not occur until after World War II.

A man named Ambrose Weeres is credited with inventing the modern motorized pontoon boat in 1951. He was from Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and wanted a watercraft that would help him support his family on the lake. In the coming decades, the design of pontoon boats would go through a range of innovations.

In the 70s and 80s, designers and manufacturers began to see the widescale commercial potential of this type of vessel. The focus shifted from simple function to high-end performance and design. Pontoon boats began to feature wet bars, built-in coolers, changing rooms, and stereo systems. They also came with bigger and more powerful engines.

In the 90s, pontoon boats came to be seen as leisure boats that could be used for the sole purpose of relaxation. In the age of extreme sports and outdoor recreation. Manufacturers made boats that could achieve high speeds and that could be used for inland and offshore fishing expeditions.

Pontoon Boats: Frequently Asked Questions

A line of four pontoon boats.

Can pontoon boats sink?

No boat is unsinkable. However, pontoon boats have superior flotation and buoyancy which are highly effective in keeping them afloat. The pontoon tubes are often made of metal with airtight chambers. Even if one of the chambers is punctured, the others would keep the boat afloat.

Can a pontoon boat capsize?

Pontoons are designed for stability. Their flat hulls allow them to withstand even stormy weather conditions. So, to answer the question, the chances of a pontoon boat sinking are very low.

Can pontoon boats ride in the ocean?

While it is possible for the boats to do so, it is not recommended. It is much safer to keep pontoon boats in inland bodies of water.

Can pontoon boats go in saltwater?

Yes, it is possible for such boats to traverse saltwater bodies. However, it is best not to subject them to salt water for long period of time, as it can lead to the rusting of their aluminium parts and the slow degradation of your vessel.

Although it is possible to get a pontoon boat that is made to ride in salt water. There are manufacturers that make such variants. They simply used materials that can withstand salt and brine.