So, you're looking to buy a new boat that offers comfort, easy maneuverability, and lots and lots of space for entertaining a group of family and friends. Sounds like you could be looking at just one of two choices - a deck boat or a pontoon boat. Both designed with similar spacious interiors, easy handling, and versatile performance, deck boats and pontoon boats dominate the family boating market.
But while there might be quite a lot of similarities between the two styles, there are also a wide set of differences that separate them. That also means that one of these picks will stand out as a better choice for you, depending on the specifics of your boating preferences. Not quite sure which one to get? Find out with this deck boat vs pontoon boat comparison.
What's a Deck Boat?
From the name itself, you can kind of already guess what a deck boat is. Yep, it's a boat with a lot of deck space. To achieve this, deck boats have a hull that flares out as it moves to the top, so you get more room to accommodate guests on your boat.
Interestingly, the deck boats design was actually based off of the pontoon boat and the typical fiberglass boat. With so many boaters and their families going gaga over the pontoon boat design, manufacturers thought it would be a good idea to exchange the double-hull tubes with a streamlined V-shaped hull without sacrificing deck space. And so in 1974, the faster yet equally spacious deck boat was born.
What's a Pontoon Boat?
Although pontoons and deck boats share a lot between their designs, the pontoon boat reigns supreme as what most people call the ultimate recreational watercraft. Compared to a deck boat a pontoon boat has way more deck space that lets passengers stand, walk around, and even cook. Some pontoon boats can come fitted with kitchenettes and bathrooms which deck boats obviously won't have room for.
As the first boat with incredibly generous deck space introduced to the market in 1951, pontoon boats have remained a solid choice for big group boating (check out the history and evolution of pontoon boats here). Floating happens by way of their aluminum pontoons, and they move in the water with a powerful engine for its hefty size.
The Difference Between Deck Boats and Pontoons
Okay, so we already know that deck boats and pontoons have a lot in common. But what sets them apart? Knowing what makes them different can help you settle on the right boat for your specific needs and preferences. Here's where pontoons and deck boats aren't quite as similar
We all know the pontoon boat to be slow and steady with less horsepower. These boats average 25 to 30 mph at top speed, which should be just enough for tubing or water skiing. However, there are some souped up models out there that achieve greater speed. In fact, the record for the fastest pontoon boat sits at 114 mph, which competes with entry level speed boats.
Contrary to a pontoon boat deck boats achieve high speeds compared to the pontoon. Most models can reach up between 50 to 70 mph with the same horsepower as a pontoon. This makes it a fit for more advanced and even professional water sports enthusiasts to catch more air. That also means that deck boats can get you where you need to go in less time, cutting through water and performing sharp turns in style.
The reason for the speed disparity - among many other features - is the hull shape on the boats. Pontoons have double hulls thanks to their aluminum tubes, providing added stability. But deck boats do away with the double hull in exchange for a V hull that lets the boat slice through waves and water for faster cruising.
Fuel efficiency makes up a big part of the decision making process. A boat that glugs more gasoline will cost you more to use per hour on the waves. Typically, deck boats tend to perform better when it comes to slicing through choppy water thanks to their V-shaped hull. That also means that they go a lot faster even in tough conditions.
But that's not to say that deck boats do better in terms of fuel consumption. So if you were looking for a fuel efficient boat pontoon boats might be a better pick. On average, a pontoon boat tends to be far more fuel efficient. Statistics that compare performance between either model show that while pontoon boats use around 5 gallons of gas per hour at cruising speed, deck boats use as much as 8 gallons per hour.
Control and Handling
According to most boat owners and experts, pontoons are one of the easiest boats to drive. That's mostly because they're slow and steady, letting you anticipate movement more accurately so you can fine tune your steering. Their moderate speed also means that you won't have to worry about having lightning fast reflexes to move out of the way of obstacles.
On the other hand, deck boats can feel a little more sporty. They cruise at faster speeds and slice through taller waves with ease with their powerful outboard motor and engine. This makes them a suitable choice for boaters who have a little more experience steering a boat, and enjoy cruising at faster speeds.
Deck Layout and Space
For the record, both deck boats and pontoons have loads of seating space on deck. That's actually what makes them so fit for parties, entertaining family and friends. But there are still some major differences when it comes to the kind of space that decks and pontoons offer. When it comes to storage space though, things between both boats remain pretty similar.
Both deck boats and pontoon boats have loads of storage space under their seats. They can both also have in-floor lockers for sporting necessities and gear. But then again, the space for the passengers is what's ultimately different. Some deck boats can have seats for as many as 12 passengers, but pontoons take the cake with a passenger capacity of 16 or more.
Other than that, pontoon boats are also designed with a large flat deck that can accommodate amenities on board like bathrooms, kitchenettes, and dining areas. This makes them a suitable liveaboard - an option you can't have if you're buying a deck boat.
Style and Design
Sure, the traditional pontoon boats of old might not look too stylish or modern, but new pontoon boats are changing that. Manufacturers are looking into updating their models and designing their boats to look more sophisticated and sporty. Some even come with an aluminum V-shaped hull design to make up for both its appearance and performance. Their flat deck is also key to the boat's stability.
Deck boats on the other hand, have always touted a sporty style of boat from the start. Their streamlined design and V hull, similar to a fiberglass boat, make them especially enticing if you're interested in something that's a little cooler to look at. The interiors are stylish and comfortable, and the seats are typically upholstered with plush high density foam and high grade vinyl. All that said, it can feel very sophisticated to sit on a speeding deck boat.
There's a lot of fun to be had on either kind of boat. In fact, everything you can do on a deck boat, you can do on pontoons. But the same doesn't apply vice versa. For instance, boat camping is a common activity that's best enjoyed on the stable, comfortable, and spacious floating deck of pontoon boa.
If you're interested in sports like tubing or waterskiing, a pontoon boat with a 150hp engine should provide more than enough power. But then again, a deck boat can cut through the water much faster, making it ideal for water sports enthusiasts who want something a little more exciting.
For anglers, both boats can be turned into a reliable fishing vessel with a good outboard motor and the right accessories. But in general, pontoons tend to do better as fishing boats because of their flat stable platform that gives you sufficient support to cast and reel in your catch without tipping the boat over.
Value for Money
You could get a deck boat with all of the high-end features at a cost of $70,000 or more. But pontoons could cost upwards of $175,000 for a souped up model. When it all comes right down to it though, value for money ultimately depends on what you're looking for.
The point though is that both boats are great for families and friends, both have loads of seating space, and both are impressively versatile for water sports, fishing, and more. But the little differences that set them apart will tell you whether or not it's right for you.
All in all, pontoon boats are great for families that want to enjoy the comfort of a fully equipped boat. They're not as fast, but they can come with a range of amenities that can let you practically live on the boat if you want to. They're ideal for clans with small kids, for fishing enthusiasts, and for general mid-lake recreation. You might also have to stick with fresh water conditions to get the best of your pontoon boating experience.
Deck boats on the other hand are great for sporty families who enjoy water skiing and other high energy activities. They move fast and get you where you need to go much faster than pontoons, so they're ideal if you're more interested in the destination than the journey. A deck boat can do well on a lake, but their high speed performance make them a more fun ride out on the sea.
Deck Boats vs Pontoon Boats
When it comes down to choosing between a deck boat vs pontoon boat, it will all boil down to your need. The differences between the two boats' features, speeds, and layouts make them completely different. And while they both offer loads of seating space, the difference in performance and purpose can definitely impact the way you enjoy the ride all together.