Pontoon boats were made for parties. Considered one of the best types of boats for recreation, leisure, and relaxation, pontoon boats provide the perfect venue for mid-lake meandering. With spacious decks, lots of seating, and a range of features and amenities, pontoon boats provide maximum comfort to party with your family and friends.
But before you haul the whole village, it helps to ask - how many people can fit on a pontoon boat?
Well, the numbers aren't really set in stone, so you can expect different load capacities for different pontoon boats. Nonetheless, here's how to find out how many people can fit aboard for your pontoon party.
Why is It Important to Know the Capacity?
When you look at your pontoon boat, you might think of it as a boating behemoth, designed for some of the roughest, toughest conditions. And because pontoon boats have been known to be particularly superior in terms of buoyancy, they're not likely to capsize. So does it really matter to put so much thought into meeting a load limit for your party?
The short answer is yes, it still matters. The durability and resilience of your boat isn't really the question here. It's mostly about safety and legality. Your state will have its own standard when it comes to observing the weight capacity of your boat. If the US Coast Guard stops your boat and finds that you're loaded beyond the designated passenger capacity for your boat, then you could get steeply fined, depending on your local laws.
And then of course, there's the matter of safety. Pontoon boat manufacturers clearly indicate the ideal number of passengers for all of their boat designs for a reason. Loading more than this number can weigh heavily on your boat and push the pontoon tube deeper into the water. When this happens, your boat can take on water from strong waves, and people could get tossed overboard when faced with rough conditions.
How Much Weight Can Pontoon Boats Carry?
Remember that weight and passenger capacities change from pontoon boat to pontoon boat. But even then, there is an average weight and passenger limit for pontoon boats relative to their size. Here's a quick average of what you can expect to find when checking load limit and the number of passengers a pontoon boat can carry relative to their length per foot.
Obviously, larger boat models with more length will safely hold more passengers and pounds because of the extra space. Double deckers and tritoons in general hold more people at any given time. The double decker because of its greater floor area and layout, and the tritoon for its improved stability thanks to the extra pontoon tube.
Understanding Capacity Plates
Check the transom or the console and you should find what's called a capacity plate. Older boats might have them located somewhere else within view of the captain. This standard plate bears important information that should tell you how much horsepower your pontoon boat can handle, how many passengers you can safely fit on board at a given time, and the maximum weight in pounds that the pontoon boat can have on board.
The importance of the capacity plate is to make sure that pontoon boat owners abide by the manufacturer's recommendations. The USCG can be particularly strict when it comes to implementing what's written on the plate, and they may impose heavy fines on people who don't abide by the numbers indicated on the pontoons capacity plate.
Another importance of the capacity plate is that it stands as proof that the pontoon boat manufacturer abides by and adheres to Federal regulations and standards. So if your pontoon's ever in an accident and the capacity plate is either missing or bears wrong information (usually after a DIY replacement), then you could end up voiding your warranty and any insurance coverage you might have had on your boat. Find out how to get a replacement capacity plate for you pontoon boat here.
The maximum number of passengers tells you how many people your boat can hold safely on board in fairly good weather. Some boat owners like to shave it down by one or two passengers if the water is a little rough or if the weather is at risk of turning sour sometime during the trip. You must never exceed the number of maximum passengers listed on the capacity plate.
The maximum weight limit written on the plate indicates the total weight that the boat can carry including the passengers, gear, motor, and other items you bring on board. So for instance, the boat's plate says you can fit up to 13 passengers on board, but when you compute the total weight of passengers and gear, you exceed the weight limit. You'll have to either leave behind a few passengers or get rid of non-essential gear.
How to Calculate Your Boat's Weight Capacity
Some boats - especially smaller ones - might not have capacity plates. That doesn't mean you can load as many passengers as you want. If you're planning a trip and you're not sure how many people you can take with you, it might be a good idea to try to calculate how many people your pontoon boat's performance can handle with this simple solution:
(Boat length in feet x Boat width in feet) ÷ 15 = Number of people
This solution operates on the premise that each person weighs an average of 150 lbs. So to calculate, just multiply the length by the width and divide by 15. Based on the solution, a boat that's 20 feet in length by 7 feet in width will be able to fit 9 adults or kids. That also translates to a maximum passenger weight capacity of 1,350 lbs.
Remember that this is a rough estimate of your boat's limit. It's always better to refer to your owner's manual or to check the capacity plate if it's available on your vessel.
What are the Risks of Overloading?
So what if you take on one extra passenger than the limit your boat's plate indicates? What's the big deal when you carry even just one extra person in your group? Well, it's actually a pretty serious issue that could get you in loads of trouble.
Here's an over view of what might just happen if you take on more weight than your pontoon boat allows:
Pontoon boats are relatively unlikely to capsize because of their flat deck, double pontoons, and increased buoyancy. They're also intended for use in relatively calm waters, so encountering conditions that would toss your pontoon boat over is pretty unheard of for a pontoon boat.
But that doesn't mean it can't happen. A pontoon boat party that's several hundred pounds over the intended weight limit can cause the two pontoons to sink lower into the water. When this happens, you might flood the pontoons deck even with small waves, and pave the way for very unstable conditions. If a large boat passes and leaves a giant wake, you might be at risk of being toppled over.
Performance and Fuel Economy
Generally, the more weight you have on your pontoon boat, the harder your engine and motor work to move you forward. As your pontoon boat struggles to cruise through the waves, it also ends up using way more fuel to traverse the distance.
That means spending plenty on gas, or even running out of fuel before you reach your destination. If your pontoon boat is constantly subject to these conditions, then it's possible to even wear out the engine and motor, causing expensive damage that might require repairs and replacements.
The USCG doesn't joke around when it comes to implementing rules and regulations on the water. That's because these rules don't only protect you, but all of those around you. Exceeding the amount of people designated for your pontoon boat means putting yourself at risk of expensive fines and penalties, based on your local laws.
Voiding Your Insurance and Warranty
Your insurance provider and the manufacturer's warranty protect you from costly repairs and accidents - but you must uphold your end of the bargain. These providers expect their pontoon boat owners to abide by the rules of the contract, otherwise the coverage is void.
If you find yourself in an accident while there where too many people on your pontoon boat, then your insurance provider will not grant your claim. Your warranty also works the same way. Any damages that result from negligence or misuse will not be covered by your warranty.
Tips on Using Pontoons at Maximum Person Capacity
So, how many people can fit on a pontoon boat? Well, that depends. But if you're careful to read your plate and calculate, you should be able to enjoy your boating trip without having to worry about the threat of capsizing or of steep fees and penalties.