Looking at the Files

Published in the September 2008 Issue September 2008

Seaworthy, the newsletter from BoatU.S. that helps boaters and anglers prevent damage to their vessels and injuries, has looked into the causes of insurance claims for pontoon boats.

Unlike the average fiberglass runabout, a pontoon boat's aluminum construction and log hull forms set it apart in both on-the-water handling and maintenance.

"These spacious boats make great platforms for tubing, fishing, or just gunkholing. However, owners need to be aware of certain safety and maintenance issues unique to these vessels," said Seaworthy Editor Bob Adriance.

After reviewing the BoatU.S. claims files, here are ten recurring items that most often lead to trouble:

1. Anode awareness: Galvanic corrosion, which occurs when dissimilar metals are in contact with an electrolyte such as salt water, can quickly destroy aluminum. And unfortunately, most insurance policies don't cover this damage. In salty, brackish and even fresh water, aluminum sacrificial anodes are best as they outlast other alloys. Outboard engine zincs also need replacement if they have deteriorated to less than half their original size.

2. Get Wired: In order to protect the boat and engine, the pontoon needs to be electrically connected to the pontoon's engine via a ground wire. If not, galvanic corrosion can set in.

3. Avoid the "pits": Pontoon logs that sit on muddy lake bottoms during low water can become pitted with corrosion. This occurs because the mud prevents dissolved oxygen in the water from making contact with the aluminum, which relies on an oxidized layer or "skin" for corrosion protection. Consider pulling or moving the boat if water levels drop.

4. Don't "plow" ahead: When seas build, pontoons have a tendency to plow into waves, which can lead to a significant amount of water over the deck. Pontoons are also challenging to handle in following seas. If you can't avoid rough weather, slow way down and trim weight aft.

5. Passenger injuries: One big difference with pontoon boats is that most don't bank in turns, which can lead to injuries when passengers are thrown to the deck or even overboard in a hard turn. Large wakes from passing vessels can nearly stop a pontoon if taken improperly. Passengers should always remain seated while underway.

6. Watch out for windage: Another reason to slow way down in heavy weather is the increased windage from a pontoon's large bimini top. Never trailer a pontoon without lowering the bimini.

7. Don't Under-size-me: The normally benign wind conditions on many small lakes and rivers can also lull pontoon owners into using undersized dock lines and too few fenders. Since many pontoon boats don't have rub rails, damage can occur quickly during summer thunderstorms.

8. Swimmers take care: Because they make great swim platforms, pontoons are involved in a fair share of swimming injuries, often diving related. If you're going swimming, it's safest to enter the water via a ladder-not head first.

9. Grand theft pontoon: No, it's not a new video game. Because it's difficult to hide or secure expensive gear on a pontoon, things like chartplotters and iPods should be removed at the end of the day.

10. Four-legged vandals: Raccoons, muskrats and their furry brethren enjoy upholstery and wiring like a vegetarian at a salad bar. There's no simple solution to keeping critters off the boat, but reducing fish or food smells by washing it down, or using commercially available repellants such as fox urine, have been known to help.

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