Improving the Pontoon

Published in the July 2013 Issue July 2013

This subject of improving pontoons came up when as a staff we were planning last year’s Shootout Boat Test. We were talking about no matter how great the boats were at last year’s event, they will be better this year. The seating will be more comfortable, the flooring will look better and there will be innovative designs that will blow you out of the water. Pun intended.

Halfway through this discussion, PDB Editor Brady Kay said he once had a conversation with a manufacturer about putting a sensor on the ladder so that the engine wouldn’t start if it was down. He said the guy just laughed and said they make a lot of money off replacement ladders from people who forget to raise the ladder up when the boat is underway.

Since I was on my second Rockstar of the day, I had to ask him to repeat himself because I was convinced I was hearing the story wrong. I wasn’t. I couldn’t even make my mouth form the words to ask what company in its right mind would have this thought process. I have zero respect for this kind of corporate greed. Of course, businesses need to make money, but capitalizing on something of this nature makes me a little sick.

But that brings us to the meat and bones of this story. Without getting too “Jetson-y,” is there really a way to improve the pontoon? Sure, I could advocate for walking legs to pop out so that you didn’t have to wait at the dock, but I want to keep things on the line of realistic.

I reached out to our forum members to get their thoughts. Capt Sully responded that he would like to see an electric bimini top. Within the day, three other members had jumped on with links to this exact product. It comes as an aftermarket product so that you can install it even if you already own a boat. How awesome is that? But that left me thinking: is there anything under the sun that hasn’t been invented yet? Is the pontoon as good as it’s going to get?

Excitement Ahead

I’m going to go ahead and throw out a big no. I think there are strides to be made, especially when it comes to harnessing energy. Trust me, my husband works in the coal industry and our young kids have already had their eyes “opened” to the fact that wind energy should be called swindle energy. But if I’m looking at the bigger picture, it seems to me you should be able to take advantage of the wind you’re creating with your 300hp outboard. Powering your high-end sound system with solar power also makes sense in my mind. Do I understand the logistics on how to do this? No. But it seems like a good idea.

Touch Screens For All

Last year at the Shootout, we were all blown away by the touch screen that Harris FloteBote incorporated into its Grand Mariner. There were also other manufacturers who took advantage of this new system. Everything was controlled by your fingertips, which was perfect for my already-smart-phone-ingrained brain. Right now it’s something you only find on the higher-end models, but I bet within a few years, it will come standard on every new pontoon manufactured, even the entry models. It’s the way our world is headed.

Enabling things to have a dual purpose could also be an improvement. How cool would it be for the door on the side of the pontoon to fold down on the dock to act as a wheelchair ramp?

I think that based on my knowledge of engineering, we can all be grateful that it’s not really my job to improve the pontoon. I got a firsthand taste of how engineers think these things through when I talked to Vann Knight, head of engineering for Nautic Global Group, and Bob Fieldhouse, head of engineering for Harris FloteBote. You can read the story on page 38 but for now, just take my word for it that the industry is in the hands of some of the most capable minds. One thing I was the most impressed with is that both men stressed how important customer satisfaction is to them personally. It’s more than a day job. It’s a commitment to an industry they are passionate about and wanting it to be the best it can be.

For now, I want to leave you with the thought that it’s only going to get better. It’s a great day to invest in family memories and buy a pontoon. But, hey, if any manufacturers decided to install a sensor on their ladder so the engine won’t start when it’s down, then it will be an even BETTER day to buy a boat. Just a thought.

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