Decision Time

How to evaluate your new pontoon boat

Published online: Mar 10, 2011 News Brandon Barrus
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Knowing the basics of how to evaluate a pontoon boat based on important factors like price, number of pontoons and available options is vital to ensure you end up with the right boat.


No matter if you're looking for a smaller `toon or a behemoth, if you want a bare-bones model or a veritable floating luxury home, we can help you find the one you want and will enjoy for years to come.


Money, Money, Money

The first thing most people have to consider when planning on making a major purchase like a house, car or boat is price. Pontoon boats can cost quite a bit less than fiberglass boats of comparable size. Suntracker offers their 20-foot Party Barge for $22,995, while a fiberglass bowrider of the same size can run as much as $45,000. Entry-level pontoons with basic amenities can run as cheap as $12,000, outboard engine included.


The wide range of pontoon boats available at a variety prices and quality have contributed to its popularity in recent years. The most popular models run from 20 to 22 feet and carry anywhere from 10 to 15 people. It is clear that people choose pontoon boats to enjoy spending time with groups of people, as opposed to bass boat buyers, who usually enjoy the company of maybe one other friend, or most often, complete solitude. Cruising speed for the average pontoon is usually no more than 20 miles per hour, but extreme and heavily modified models can reach speeds as high as 60 mph or more.


As with the other major purchases already mentioned, the key to getting a good price is comparison shopping. Visit manufacturer websites and local dealers. Check local classified ads and online auction services like eBay-even if you don't end up buying a used boat, the experience can help you discover what a reasonable price for a new one may be.

When you have a price range in mind, it is time to move on to looking into the details.


Two Or Three Pontoons?

The triple pontoon boat is newer to the market, and so it gets a lot of the headlines. However, two-tube `toons are still more popular with people, though that tide may be turning. The reason for this is that the advantages of a three pontoon boat-higher possible speed, bigger engines and farther cruising distance-are not a priority for some `toon owners. Boaters on a small lake, who use their craft to cruise around on Sunday afternoons in the summer with their kids and grandkids don't need to plane their `toon or travel 100 miles in an afternoon. However, if you are interested in boating on a larger lake like Lake Havasu or Lake of the Ozarks, a triple pontoon may be for you.


Speed And Power

This is a fairly obvious point, but if speed is important to you, get a bigger engine. The vast majority of the pontoon boats out there run with outboard engines, so manufacturers such as Yamaha, Mercury and Honda are seen all over the place. Small engines like a 25hp will do just fine for an 18-foot pontoon, but more and more often, people are opting for engine sizes as large as 350hp.


A 22-foot `toon with a 90hp engine will top out around 30 mph, a speed that is clearly fast enough to tow a skier, even if you have passengers and other equipment in the boat. It's all a question of lifestyle, but keep in mind that buying a bigger motor requires adding more numbers to that price range you settled on at the beginning of the buying process.


What Features Do I Really Need?

There is an abundance of choice when it comes to what features you can have on your new `toon. AM/FM stereos with MP3-player input and satellite radio ability are becoming standard, and perfect for when you've beached the `toon and are enjoying an afternoon of fun in the sun.

Other models include changing stations, which are found on models 22 feet or bigger. Some manufacturers mount these stations on the deck, which is convenient but can cramp the available space in the boat. Others hide them in lounge seats or other places. As long as a changing station allows you to put on a swimming suit without dislocating your arm or flashing your friends and family, it should work well enough for your needs.


Models for fishing enthusiasts include pedestal chairs and livewells for holding your latest catch. Bimini tops are used to shade passengers from the sun and can be collapsed when not in use. Lately manufacturers have been adding different color schemes and available styles to their boats, giving you the ability to express yourself in many different ways.


Insurance

Just like when you buy a house or car, insurance is a must for new boat purchases. It can be tough to fork over additional money after making such a large purchase, but an accident could cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars if you are uninsured. Plus it's the law.


So how do you find the balance and get the best coverage for your money?

Progressive Insurance suggests getting a specialized boat policy even if your boat is covered through an endorsement on your homeowners policy.


"Having specialized boat insurance can make a big difference in the event you need to file a claim," explains Rick Stern, Progressive's boat product manager. "Some boaters might think it's more convenient to just add a boat endorsement to their homeowners policy, believing it offers more protection than it actually does."


Many insurance companies offer coverage beyond the scope of a standard homeowners policy. Progressive offers On-water Towing; Fuel Spill and Wreckage Removal coverage; Watersports Liability coverage; and Roadside Assistance, which covers towing for your boat, trailer and your tow vehicle, even if your car or truck is insured with another insurance company.


Be Prepared

Finally, be sure you understand that owning a boat is a big responsibility. You need to be sure to winterize your new `toon every fall and be ready for repairs if something breaks down. Use your pontoon often. Our PDB forum members often shake their heads at friends they see who have a beautiful boat and never take it out on the water. Sure, the honeymoon period of boat ownership wears off after a few months, but pontoon boating is really about spending time with family and friends, and if making lasting relationships requires you to put a bit of work in, it's well worth it.

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