Staying In ’Toon: Third Pontoon Testing

Boating Tips and Observations with Sky Smith

July 2016 Feature Scott “Sky” Smith

Well, it’s time to share my experience about how the ‘toon operates with the Pontoon Wholesalers Poly 3rd ‘toon kit installed. I wanted to give you a whole bunch of numbers, diagrams and cool scientific measurements, but realized it just wasn’t going to happen that way. So instead I’ll give you the “Cliffsnotes,” or in my case, “field notes” version.

If you have been following the 3rd ‘toon chronicles, you’ll know that last month we did the installation of Pontoon Wholesalers Poly 3rd ‘toon kit, which went very well. The install is on our YouTube channel and if you haven’t seen it, check it out.

We did have a minor issue with the sun expanding the tube sections before we slid them down the J-Channel. This has created a minor issue with the performance testing. Getting the tube back out when the weather has been in the 90’s has slowed the testing down. Lake water should be cold, right. Who would have thought? But I do have the current testing as a tri-toon boat.

People ask, “What’s the reason for adding the third ‘toon?” My explanation has been that it improves the handling, the ride, the buoyancy and maybe the speed.

Of course the next logical question is does it? I can say yes, it does, within reason. You have to remember: there is no way it can ever be compared to some of the huge horsepower performance ‘toons that are already out there.

Prior to the 3rd ‘toon kit I was happy with the two ‘toon performance. Sure, turns were pretty flat and wide. Waves created quite a rocking motion and with more than four people (especially in the bow) we were a bit worried about burying the ‘toons in a big wave. And don’t forget the surging feeling from the unskinned bottom catching the splashing water.

Additionally, cruise for me is not 40 or 50 miles per hour and never would be. That was never the goal of the ‘toon. When I first got the ‘toon my cruise speed indicated just over 20 miles per hour. As many of you know, indications on a typical factory speedometer are not very accurate. Actual speeds were closer to 15 or so. By the end of the season the bottom of the ‘toon growth build up from our fresh water lake was dragging us down to about 12 mph.

I’m not into watersports anymore, but we could pull a wakeboarder right out of the water but didn’t offer much of a wake for aerials.

But now I have three ‘toons…so what were the numbers?

To start, we did increase our buoyancy, but more towards the front of the boat. Where you install the tube will have an effect on where most of the extra flotation is centered. We moved the 3rd ‘toon to align with the front deck which in my mind would be better for heavy loads in the bow. So the issues of passenger comfort and not plowing into waves has been reduced. Sure, you can still overload the boat and risk submarine status, but for our average passenger count it’s a great improvement. You also have to remember the 3rd ‘toon we installed was not a full length ‘toon with a built in motor pod. A full length type of ‘toon might give slightly different performance numbers than the partial ‘toon that we installed.

Let’s begin with a few minor details about my 2014 Bentley 200 Cruise SE. The ‘toon has a factory dry weight of 1,620 pounds. Add the Mercury 60hp Bigfoot at about 260 pounds and you have about 1,880 dry weight. The fuel tank holds 36 gallon which is about 216 pounds. Also add in the extras I have on board, like coolers, tools, and other stuff and we are probably up to about 2100 lbs. But this does not include the 3rd ‘toon itself (about 250 lbs.). Our test conditions included the 3rd ‘toon, my scientific testing assistant and me and only half a tank of fuel.

We had two GPS systems and a Galaxy phone with Google maps and the “My Tracks” app loaded. With a nice quiet evening and very little wind (storms were moving in) we managed from zero to a maximum speed in about 15.8 seconds.

According to the GPS, the average maximum speed we could manage in a straight line was 19.2 miles per hour. Maximum speed indicated on the speedometer was around 22 mph and we had 5800 RPM’s on the tach. Considering the 60 hp Bigfoot runs between 5500 and 6000 maximum RPM’s, I think we were doing really well on the propping.

We did a few runs at different RPM settings for GPS cruising speeds. At 3000 RPM’s we averaged 7.4 mph, 4000 RPM’s 11 mph and 5000 RPM we were cruising at 16 mph. The last 800 RPM (5800 RPM) bumped us up to the 19 mph mark.

So yes, speed was good, but not substantially better than with the two ‘toons. Remember that a typical ‘toon has basically two displacement hulls which allow the boat to be stable, comfortable but at slower speeds. Just adding a third ‘toon doesn’t make it a planing hull. The original ‘toons do not have strakes or chines or anything special, even though the third ‘toon does. Design-wise the third ‘toon (with strakes built in) should help improve the acceleration and speed because it should help get the boat up higher with less ‘toon in the water. While I don’t think we noticed any really great improvement in speeds, I do think we got an improvement in our take off performance (hole shot). I do think the third ‘toon gives it kind of a kick start.

But, to be fair, we decided to give it another test, a loaded test. So we loaded the ‘toon up with eight people to check out the buoyancy and performance. Putting four people in front (and four in the rear) gave us a pretty level ride with no water over the front in smaller waves. This was at a typical pleasure cruise at about 3000 RPM (about five miles per hour). If I didn’t have the third ‘toon this same situation would have had the bow plowing and we would have had water running through the playpen.

How was the hole shot with eight on board? Good, but that was it. At full throttle we could never get out of a “plowing” situation. I could not get the boat up on any sort of plane. Turns were tight, smooth and stable, but very slow and “draggy.” Ever felt like you were dragging an anchor? That’s what it was like. I think the only way to fix that particular situation is more power. For my ‘toon and 60 HP Mercury BigFoot, it was basically too heavy to get up and on top of the water (as best as a pontoon can). I think this might call for an engine increase to a 90 or 115 horsepower. (Shh…don’t tell my wife!)

It is important to recognize that while the boat wasn’t a high-speed performer with eight people, it was very comfortable and level at a low cruise speed. And I rarely have eight people on my boat. Typically it’s two or maybe four, so the fact that it didn’t get up and race across the top of the lake isn’t a big deal for me. For me and my average load the boat performs very well.

If high-speed performance with a heavy load is an issue, then like any other tri-toon you’ll need to make sure you have enough horsepower to make it do what you want. And like I said, with a big load I do think that if I had a bigger engine, it would be fine.

It’s also quieter than it was and it has less surging. My boat is not under-skinned and I don’t think I will need to add under-skin now. The 3rd ‘toon actually filled in the space and keeps the water from splashing against the rails on bottom of the deck, thereby reducing the surging. One less mod I need is under-skinning; who’d have thought?

Oh, and no, it does not offer in-toon storage like a new production tri-toon, but do you really need that?

Other than that, everything was great. So what is the downside to adding the Pontoon Wholesalers Poly 3rd ‘toon kit to an existing two-toon boat? Cost isn’t it; the kit is very reasonable. For my 20-foot boat the 3rd ‘toon kit has a retail price of $1,995 plus freight. That’s like a weekend in Vegas and I had more fun on the pontoon!

Installation costs? If you are not a handy person, yes, it will cost you extra but the total install only takes a few hours and can be done with the boat on the trailer. If you are a DIY type of person, the labor component is pretty cheap.

Only way to really know is to compare the price of a tri-toon like your boat and see if you can buy it for less than the Pontoon Wholesalers Poly 3rd ‘Toon kit. My guess is you can’t.

I would have to say, if you want a new tri-toon, go buy a new boat. If you just want to improve your boat and save a few dollars at the same time, buy the Pontoon Wholesalers Poly 3rd ‘Toon kit.

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