How Shallow Can a Pontoon Boat Go?

how shallow can a pontoon boat go

One of the reasons why the pontoon boat has become so popular as a recreational watercraft is because it doesn’t limit what you can do. The versatile design can accommodate a variety of activities, from parties, to fishing, to water sports -- you name it!

That also means that pontoon boats can traverse different kinds of environments in order to make this versatile performance possible. So while you might be able to use it a few miles off shore, it may also operate just fine in shallow waters. But exactly how shallow can a pontoon boat go?

Here’s what you need to know.

How Shallow Can You Go With a Pontoon Boat?


Bigger boats tend to have deep V-hulls which means that when you look at the vessel’s silhouette head on, it comes to a V-shaped point right in the mid-line. This deep V design allows greater stability for fast moving boats, and lets them cut through water and waves with speed since they’re deeper in the water..

And maybe that’s one of the reasons why pontoon boats tend to do better in calm conditions. Pontoon’s aren’t really that fast, averaging speeds of 18 to 25mph (see our tips for speeding up a slow pontoon). They’re not deep-hull boats, so their bottoms don’t sink deep into the surface of the water. In fact, they pretty much ‘sit’ on the surface. 

But while that might take away from their speed, that also means that pontoon boats can traverse shallower waters without having to worry about damage. Since they don’t sink much below the surface of the water, they’re less likely to come into contact with the bottom of shallow areas versus deep-hull designs.

However, that doesn’t mean you can just take your pontoon boat out to any shallow water body and call it a day. There are still limits for pontoon boats, and it’s important to make a note of just how far you can go without causing damage to your logs or your propeller.

As a general rule, pontoon boats can be taken to shallow waters at least three to four feet in real depth. Some boat owners even claim that they can push it down to two feet, and that might be possible for some designs. But then again, it’s always better to leave a margin for error.

Another thing worth remembering here is that we’re looking for real depth. That means there needs to be an actual three or four feet of water beneath your boat, since water depth can be tricky to estimate when you’re just looking from the surface.

That said, if you’re not too skilled with estimating depth from a glance, you can get yourself a depth gauge that should streamline the process and make it possible for you to get accurate estimates in real time.

depth gauge

We recommend the HawkEye DepthTrax.

Why Would You Take a Pontoon to Shallow Water?

If you’re new to boating, then you might not completely understand why a pontoon boat might have to be in shallow areas in the first place. After all, you probably didn’t buy a boat just to have it sit in two feet water, right? Well, there are a few good reasons you might have overlooked:

Shore Picnics and Activities

Maybe you’ve made your way to a private little cove or inlet and you want to spend some time having a picnic on-shore. Imagine If you decide to anchor your pontoon farther from the shore to stay in deeper water, then you might find yourself having to swim (unreasonably) far just to get back on-board.

There will be times when you’ll find it necessary to anchor your boat nearer the shore, and so it really helps to fully understand exactly how shallow you can go without incurring any damage.


There are certain types of fish that prefer shallow water, hiding in small rock formations a few feet under the surface. If you’re trying to get creative with your fishing style, or if you want to just explore the opportunities, then being able to traverse shallower areas should help you discover new ways to enjoy your favorite hobby. Fishing from a pontoon boat is great when done right.


While you might love taking your boat out to deeper areas of the lake, river, or gulf, you’re almost always going to dock in shallow water. It just makes sense! So it really helps to know how to handle your boat over limited water depth to ensure safe and problem-free docking/parking.

How to Handle a Pontoon Boat in Shallow Water

pontoon in shallow waters

There are significant differences to handling a pontoon boat in shallow water versus the typical deeper areas you might be accustomed to. In many ways, the steering and driving techniques you apply several miles from the shore might not be applicable when treading shallower areas.

Slow and steady. 

Avoid prolonged power and instead provide short bursts that propel your boat forward at a slow pace. This should help you control your steering much better which may come in handy in case you come across rocks and other obstructions under the surface.

Trim your motor. 

This allows your boat to swing away from any hazards underwater. Release your trim locks and ensure that just enough of your motor stays in the water to prevent it from heating and to allow control.

Keep an eye out. 

There can be lots of obstructions and changes on the surface at the bottom of the water that could damage parts of your boat if you tread without caution. Always look around and make sure you inspect your surroundings before you make any sudden turns or changes in direction.

Precautions Before Taking a Pontoon to Shallow Water

To make doubly sure that you don’t damage your boat when you head out to those shallow areas, take some time to apply these tips:

  • Ask locals for any specific obstructions and areas that you should avoid while in shallow areas
  • Make sure you don’t overload your boat with gear and people to prevent sinking your hull lower into the water. See: how many people can fit on a pontoon boat.
  • Be especially careful in dark or murky water where you can’t see what’s directly beneath your boat
  • Read your manual for any instructions on handling your boat in shallow water.

Versatility at Its Finest

So, how shallow can a pontoon boat go? Well, it can definitely traverse extremely shallow areas without a fuss, but you have to be careful to apply the right techniques and precautions. Your pontoon boat is a versatile vessel, but see to it that you don’t push it beyond its limits to prevent damage and accidents during your trip.

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