The pontoon boat is the ultimate recreational watercraft. Built for family, friends, and fun under the sun, a pontoon boat provides endless opportunities for bonding, exploration, and just good old fashioned relaxation. But for as excited as you might be to get your hands on a brand new ‘toon, you might be wondering - are pontoon boats safe?
The Safest Conditions for Pontoon Boats
Generally speaking, pontoon boats are safer than any other watercraft of similar size. The reason for this is the double-hull design that makes the boat more stable even in choppy waters. If you’ve got a tri-toon, then you can expect to decrease the risk of accidents and untoward incidents.
But to make doubly sure you don’t run into any problems, these factors provide the safest conditions for pontoon boating.
In-shore waterways and even off-shore inter-coastal areas like bays and coves make great places to bring a pontoon boat. These sheltered conditions keep the waves at bay and limit the impact of the elements on your vessel. It’s also unlikely for these bodies of water to subject to harsh or strong winds, making them ideal for calm, relaxed boating. But if you want to be extra sure, great lakes are often the safest of all places to drive a pontoon, with just 106 accidents recorded on such waters every year.
It should come as no surprise that calm waters prove to be the best conditions for pontoon boating. While pontoons are relatively stable on choppy water, their performance is best enjoyed on calm lakes and rivers where minimal wind and waves will impact your course.
What are Some Pontoon Boat Dangers?
Just as there are a few factors that are safest for pontoon boats, there are also situations when operating a watercraft like a pontoon might not be ideal. The risk of accidents, injuries, and even death increases significantly when one or more of these conditions are met. That said, it’s important to make sure you steer clear of these factors when you’re setting out for the water.
Lakes, rivers, dams, creeks, and streams are some of the most dangerous places to bring a pontoon - or any watercraft for that matter. Difficult to navigate and often the home of rushing currents and waves, these places increase the risk of accidents and deaths by up to 20 times compared to great lakes.
Stormy or Windy Conditions
Can a pontoon boat sink? If you’re in the wrong weather, it might. Weather plays a major role in pontoon boat safety. Stormy and windy conditions don’t only risk placing you in difficult waters, they also make it tougher to operate and steer. This means that you’re more likely to run out of gas faster as you try to drive through rough water. For the most part, you should aim to be out of the water when the wind starts to pick up.
But more than the conditions of the environment and the water, there are other things that could make pontoon boat riding dangerous. According to statistics, these factors have been known to contribute to the many different accidents that occur while on a pontoon:
Alcohol use & operating a pontoon while under the influence of alcohol
Lack of operator experience and safety training
Distracted operator while the pontoon is underway
Exceeding safe boating speed
Failure to perceive dangers & obstacles in the water
Machinery or engine failure
Safety Tips for Pontoon Boating
As the old adage goes - better safe than sorry! Before you leave the dock, make sure you consider these safety tips so you can minimize the risk of accidents and enjoy problem-free fun out on the water. We also suggest you check out our guide pontoon boat safety equipment for all the essentials you will need.
Keep Life Jackets on Board
Actually, more than just keeping them, you should use them. Life jackets have been known to save people from potentially life threatening situations. On top of that, make sure the life jackets you provide are age-appropriate for the people using them. Anything that doesn’t fit right could actually further contribute to injuries.
Know Your Capacity
Your pontoon might seem like it can take a heavy load - and it could - but if you exceed the limit, you might find yourself at risk of sinking. Read the manual and understand how many people you can have on at a time to prevent the chances of capsizing.
Inform Family and Friends
Never ever leave the dock without telling someone where you’re going. In case anything happens and you’re unable to contact people on land, then they can track you by scanning the areas you’ve passed all the way to your destination.
There are more than a handful of accidents each year that could have been prevented by simply paying attention. If you’re at the console, avoid doing anything else that could distract you from what’s ahead.
Remind Your Passengers
Before leaving the dock, make sure everyone is seated and wearing the proper protective gear and floatation devices. Avoid having anyone stand or walk around while you’re underway - no matter how slow you’re going.
Take Note of the Weather
If you notice the weather start to change while you’re still out, don’t hesitate to head back to dry land. Before you leave, you should also make it a habit to check the weather forecast so you know exactly what to expect, or whether you should postpone your trip.
Maintain Your Watercraft
Having your pontoon regularly maintained should ensure smooth sailing. Up-to date routine maintenance checks can prevent damage and repairs, and may help guarantee your boat’s performance.
How to Handle Rough Waters
Even when you make all the preparations, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be out of danger a hundred percent of the time. There will be instances when the weather starts to turn, and you’re too far from the dock to avoid having to confront choppy waters. In this case, you’re going to want to know how to handle rough conditions.
Divide Your Passengers
You’re going to want to make sure that your boat is evenly loaded with weight to prevent any extra stress on a specific side of the vessel. Divide your passengers so they’re evenly distributed throughout the available seating area.
Do Not Slow Down
The immediate reaction to choppy waters would be to slow down, but this actually increases the risk of accidents. When you drive slow on unruly waves, you risk the front of pontoon boat sinking. And when this happens, waves can overcome your vessel and crash over the bow.
Make Wide Turns
Pontoons struggle to make tight turns even on calm water, so don’t think choppy water is going to change that. If you need to change directions, take wide turns at high speed to keep your nose up.
Don't Drive Into The Wind
Addressing the wind head-on means you also have to deal with the waves that come with it. This can overwork your motor and use up more fuel on top of risking being crashed over by the water. Instead, take the waves on at an angle from your pontoon’s center. This reduces the work that your motor has to put in to move forward while maintaining your nose above the water.
Pros and Cons of Pontoon Boats
Pontoon boats are versatile watercrafts that can bring your family loads of fun, but that doesn’t mean they’re for everyone. If you’re still on the fence about whether or not you should shell out on a pontoon, these pros and cons of pontoon boats should help you understand whether it’s truly the right boat for you.
Pros of a Pontoon Boat
1. Two Hulls
The fact that a pontoon has two hulls (or more, depending on the model) means that it will be far more stable than other types of recreational boats.
Extra space on board means you get to have more room to store your safety gear and other things you need on a pontoon boat. Spacious boats also limit the risk of overcrowding and exceeding the weight limit.
3. Powerful Motors
Some pontoon boats can have motors with several hundreds of horsepower, giving you the power to move through rough waters with relative ease.
4. Effortless Operation
Not that you won’t need to pay attention while you operate a pontoon, but the easy controls mean that you don’t have to exert too much effort when it comes to navigating the waters. Easy steering also means you can move away from hazards much faster.
Cons of a Pontoon Boat
1. Large Turn Radius
A pontoon can’t make a sharp turn, and that can be a risk if you’re faced with a split-second scenario. That said, it’s always best to make sure you have your eyes on the water when operating a pontoon.
2. Not Designed for Rough Water
Are pontoon boats safe in the ocean? The short answer is no, they’re not designed for the rough. This also means you might not be able to take your pontoon out into the open ocean.
3. Expensive Maintenance
Keeping your boat maintained is part of the entire safety process. But costing upwards of $3,500 a year in maintenance costs, it’s not exactly the easiest on the pocket.
Over to You
A pontoon is as safe as you make it. If you’re still wondering are pontoon boats safe, it’s time you consider all the different factors that lead to accidents and injury on the water. By being an informed boater, you can significantly reduce the risk and enjoy problem-free fun under the sun by boating responsibly.