What are Pontoon Boats?

O. Wallace

The term pontoon boat is most often used to describe a type of boat with a hull constructed of aluminum tubes, or sponsons, running lengthwise from front to back. Attached to the top of these tubes is a large, flat deck surrounded by railing. The word pontoon is derived from the Old French word ponton, meaning "floating bridge". The name pontoon boat can also be used to describe most any floating craft which uses tubes as the hull.

Pontoon boats should only be operated in still or slow moving waters.
Pontoon boats should only be operated in still or slow moving waters.

Pontoon boats are generally lightweight and powered by an outboard motor with a range from 10 to 300 horsepower, depending on the kind of money you're willing to spend. Length ranges from 16 to 25.5 feet (4.9 to 7.8 meters). Due to their construction, pontoon boats should only be operated in calm, protected waters such as lakes and slow moving rivers. Their shallow hulls also allow them to be berthed at just about any beach.

The versatile pontoon boats are widely known as the "party boat" — the perfect craft for fun and relaxation. The pontoon boat's design maximizes space while its slow paced, meandering nature facilitates socializing. Some models allow you to squeeze up to 17 fellow partiers onboard.

Pontoon boats are not only good for parties, but also for more active boaters, as some models are fast enough for water skiing and wakeboarding. Pontoon boats that are built for water skiing usually have a third tube. For the avid fisherman, some manufacturers offer pontoon boats that make fishing expeditions a comfortable experience, with built in bait buckets, rod holders and livewells.

The sky is the limit with the features and options available on pontoon boats. Most come with a canopy for shade, and additional options include high-end stereo systems, comfy armchairs, barbecue grills, cup holders, galley with sink and storage, tables, filler beds, wheelchair access, and even a privacy station with a port-a-potty. Some owners live and camp on their pontoon boats for days at a time, equipping them with showers and other necessities.

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