In this industry it’s hard to keep a secret. As journalists we’re always trying to get the scoop on our competition before big news is officially released. When rumors started flying around about a brand new pontoon line being launched, we of course were all over it. Our staff quickly hopped a plane bound for Minnesota to be among the first to see what all the excitement was about.
Larson Boat Group is celebrating its 100th anniversary in style this year by venturing into a new market with the release of its Escape line of pontoon boats. Since Larson is known in the industry for its high-quality fiberglass boats, no one outside of the Minnesota-based company could have predicted this.
The Larson plant is located on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River in Little Falls, Minn. Before heading to the water for our test, our first stop was to take a full plant tour of the 500,000-plus-square-foot manufacturing facility to get a feel for this company that is known for producing fiberglass boats ranging in a wide variety of sizes.
Ron Sahr, director of engineering at Larson Boats, was kind enough to take us around the plant as we made our way across the large campus. Even though we don’t cover the large fiberglass vessels bound for the ocean, it was still great to see how these boats are constructed as we walked through the different areas.
In one of the buildings we were able to get our first peak at the new Escape line as several models were under construction. Each model pontoon being built was unique with different options, so it was fun to see the variety that is being offered. One new feature we took note of especially was the changing room/wet bar that was still being finalized at the time of our tour prior to the official launch. The Cabana was a prototype, but we instantly knew this idea, now available on the production models, would be a game changer for the pontoon industry.
We spent extra time inspecting the Cabana that is truly a space-saving—as well as efficient—concept. Since it wouldn’t be on the boat we would be testing later in the day, we wanted to take our time in the factory to get a feel for how it would work.
The Cabana is a wet bar with a stone galley countertop that includes a 12-volt outlet as well as a light. But with a simple push of a button the hard wall enclosure quickly raises, giving access to a head enclosure like nothing you’ve ever seen before. With the granite flooring inside and surrounded by fiberglass walls, it truly is a changing room even adults would feel comfortable using. From the double door design to the spacious interior room, this is just one example of the creativity that comes from a company that is well-known in the boating industry.
On The Water
Just up the road from the Larson plant we were able to get out on the water to test the two-tube Escape 21, which is a 21-foot, 6-inch model that is powered with a Mercury 90hp four-stroke outboard. On the drive over, Sahr kept emphasizing that this pontoon was built for efficiency as well as style.
“It’s a saturated marketplace and we wanted to introduce ourselves to the industry,” says Sahr. “We’re a hundred-year company known for our runabouts and cruiser models, but we knew we needed to be unique if we wanted to compete.”
Seeing the new line being constructed back at the factory still couldn’t prepare us for the beautiful sight of seeing this pontoon on the water for the first time. As we approached the Larson Escape tied up at the dock, we were truly excited to be able to see and test this boat in person and knew the trip to Minnesota was well worth it.
As we came aboard we couldn’t help but notice the well-thought-out pontoon that was clearly centered on function, as well as style. The through-gate system is designed to keep the resistance to a minimum and the use of fiberglass in the boat also helps with the air-flow.
“The overall appearance gives a new twist to an industry that has never seen a pontoon quite like this,” said Sahr as he made his way to the helm. “Being a fiberglass company, there is plenty of influence to the style, giving it a runabout type feel with an automotive look as well.”
At the helm we found a space-condensed dash that is quite functional. Included in the helm stand is a hidden built-in sink just forward of the console, as well as cooler storage below. Included with the large easy-to-read gauges on the specific model we tested was a GPS unit and overall we enjoyed the look and benefit of the raised helm platform. Another key observation is the standard gates on both sides of the boat for a total of four entry ways, so you never have an issue when docking.
Across from the reclining helm seat is what Larson refers to as a queen seat that is identical to the captain’s chair. Plus we did recall seeing a dual first-mate seat that swivels in the factory, so the number of options appears to be limitless with this new line. Another added touch that we instantly loved was the extended swim platform in the stern that includes a 3-step boarding ladder. This area really completes the look and the feel of this Escape pontoon.
The smooth exterior with several different available colors extends down to the tubes to help tie it all in and on the underside it has a full aluminum skinned surface to deflect water. Part of the unique hull design is center keel plus a 5-degree chine on the inside of the tubes that is designed to drive the water. The Tapered Tube is similar to the pressure of a water hose when you put your thumb partially over it, so the pontoon truly glides through the water. The patented design uses dual planing hulls constructed of heavy-gauge aluminum to give the boat a smooth, solid and agile ride with efficient fuel economy.
We put this boat to the test to see how it would compare to similar-sized pontoon boats in the industry. For a fair comparison, we looked at other pontoons that were tested with 90 horsepower engines with two pontoon logs so we could get a feel for this new hull design. Of the four competitor pontoons tested, the average speed was 24.1 mph with 25.8 mph being the fastest. Those are some respectable numbers, so heading into our test we were hoping the top speed of the new Larson pontoon would be similar. We were all pleasantly surprised when the top speed numbers came in a lot higher than expected as we reached 30 mph hour. That’s a serious gain in top speed and that added efficiency will also save you money at the fuel dock. Proving to be an efficient pontoon using minimal horsepower could be this new ‘toon’s best quality. Available in 21-, 23- and 25-foot lengths with horsepower ranging as high as 150hp, the 90hp Mercury proved to be a good fit for this new model that truly impressed us in several different ways.
We were told prior to seeing this new pontoon in person that it would be one of the most innovative products the pontoon market has seen in a long time and the trip didn’t disappoint.
We could hardly wait to get it out on the water to see exactly how the tapered pontoon design worked. We left our test impressed with the performance as well as efficiency and even more amazed by the unique look. With its fiberglass background, it was great to see how Larson was able to incorporate some of those designs into a brand new pontoon line that will be making its way to boat shows and selected dealers around the country.
And we aren’t the only ones who are excited about the new Escape line. Dick Peifer, president of Boomerang Marine in Alexandria, Minn., likes what he sees as well.
“We had the opportunity to test drive the new Escape pontoons a few months ago and provide feedback to Larson’s creative team,” said Peifer. “We are so excited about this product. It is beautiful and innovative in both design and performance and the design team at Larson has done an amazing job with it. It comes out of the hole like a rabbit and can take a tight turn at full throttle with comfort. To see it and experience it, is to love it. I can’t wait to put them on my showroom floor.”
Looking for the next big thing to hit the pontoon industry? Look no further; the innovative Escape pontoon is finally here and ready for the water.
Visit Larson Boats at www.larsonboats.com for more information on the new Escape line of pontoon boats. Larson Boat Group designs, builds and markets 58 models of boats within three brands: Larson, Triumph and Striper.