Pontoon Boat Decking: Pros and Cons of Different Materials
Pontoon boats are often considered the best recreational watercraft on the market because they offer lots of space for guests to move around and have fun. And that’s really all thanks to your deck. These days, the market for pontoon boat decking materials has expanded significantly, offering boat owners a wide selection to match their needs, preferences, and budget.
Of course, all of these different picks bring something unique to the table. But the real question is - which one should you get? If you’re hoping to upgrade your boat, or if your deck is in dire need of replacement, here’s a run down of all the choices at your disposal.
What is Decking and What is It For?
Take a good long look at your pontoon - most of that stuff you see is the deck. Your pontoon boat is essentially a set of two or three tubes that supports a metal framework. Atop this frame is your deck which is basically what you stand on when you’re on board.
What’s interesting about the physics of a pontoon boat is that the deck works hand in hand with your logs to create that ultra sound structure. Without the logs, your boat won’t float. But without the deck, the logs wouldn’t be fixed or stable at all. So in essence, the stronger your deck, the sturdier your boat.
But aside from providing structure and support, your deck also serves the purpose of your on-board floor. This is where you stand and walk, where you set down groceries and supplies, and it also provides a stable surface for you to install furniture and other fixtures to make your boat more comfortable.
As logic would tell you, a bigger deck means more room to accommodate guests, supplies, and other important aspects around your boat. All of that said, choosing the right decking material helps create a comfortable, safe space for all of your boating merriment.
Different Boat Decking Materials
You’d think choosing a boat deck material would be easy peasy. But the sheer number of choices can flabbergast even more experienced boat owners. So how are they different and which one should you get? Here’s all you need to know:
Now, this isn’t your ordinary plywood, but it still might not be what you’re thinking. Marine-grade plywood, despite its name, isn’t exactly waterproof. This stuff will still absorb moisture, so you’re going to have to treat it with sealant to protect it from water-logging, mold, mildew, and other moisture-caused damages.
What makes it different from regular plywood is that it uses waterproof glue. It’s lightweight, easy to install, and impressively affordable, which is how it retains patronage despite requiring routine care and lots of treatment.
Here’s something a little more robust, if that’s what you’re looking for. Treated plywood, as its name implies, has been treated with chemicals to give the wood greater resistance against mold, mildew, and rot. The sturdy material is especially durable, requiring far less maintenance than marine-grade plywood.
This choice is readily available at most hardware stores, so you won’t need to scour the market in search of it. They’re also pretty cheap, too. The downside however is that they can be heavy, turning deck replacement or installation into a two or three person job. It’s also not exactly environmentally friendly, which may be a major turn off for eco-conscious boat owners.
We’ve all heard of aluminum and its boating-friendly properties. So it’s really no surprise why it’s become a favorite decking material. It’s durable, lightweight, easy to install, and easy to find. They’re not heavy on maintenance and you can use them without any sort of covering material.
But of course, it’s not perfect. Aluminum can get pretty hot with extended exposure to sunshine, so walking barefoot might be out of the question. It’s also not ideal for DIY enthusiasts, since you’re going to have to call in the pros to have it installed. Finally, there’s the issue of cost. Since each aluminum deck is measured to match each distinct boat, there’s really no telling how much you’ll have to pay for yours.
This type of material is typically a combination of wood and plastic, but other choices use polyurethane foam or fiberglass. Composite earns a spot on the market by offering lightweight construction that requires almost zero maintenance. They’re especially easy to clean since they don’t absorb moisture, and they’re also quite easy to install.
The drawback though is that you can’t use pressure washers on them, which might compound your general cleaning process. And since they’re not too robust, they will require extra support underneath. Lastly, there’s the issue of cost, since composite board is significantly more expensive than other choices.
For more information you can see our complete guide on pontoon boat composite decking.
The main reason why people love vinyl boards so much is because they look and sometimes even feel like real wood. These boards offer the best aesthetics across the board, and they’re impressively strong. They’re also well protected against mold, mildew, and rot despite being completely recyclable.
On the downside, they’re sold in relative small pieces that can make installation a bit of a chore. And among all the choices, they almost always turn out to be the most expensive. Oh, and they also don’t take too well to hot climates since they can get uncomfortably warm underfoot aside from contracting and expanding when it gets too hot.
Pontoon Deck Covering Options
Although some decking materials might not need covering, most of them do. The added layer helps protect the underlying material and provides a more comfortable underfoot feel. As with decking material, covering options come in quite a selection, including:
Providing a soft, cushy underfoot feel, carpet is a more luxurious option that’s great for barefoot boaters. They’re easy to install, provide excellent UV protection, and are usually weather resistant. Carpet also doesn’t change temperature regardless of how hot it gets, so you won’t have to worry about burning your feet when you take off your shoes.
But then, it isn’t perfect. Carpet tends to absorb moisture which may lead to easy staining and odor control issues. There’s also the problem with bacteria, mold, and mildew which tend to love carpet fiber. And if you like keeping your boat ultra clean at all times, carpet unfortunately stains like nobody’s business, making it incredibly tough to clean. You can see some carpet replacement options in this guide.
Interlocking Vinyl Tiles
Just like vinyl deck material, interlocking vinyl tiles are impressively resistant to mold, mildew, and rot. They’re super easy to install because they simply clip together. In case your deck is an irregular shape, you can easily saw a tile down to create the perfect fit.
Unlike other covers, they let water pass right through so they’re not too prone to bacteria and stains. Of course, the issue is that they can expand and contract under hot weather, and they can make your feet feel like they’re burning.
These come in a variety of designs and colors, even mimicking wood or marble tiles so you can get a more luxurious look. The sheets are incredibly easy to install, letting you cut right through to match the size and shape of your deck. They’re easy to clean, they don’t absorb moisture, and they’re ultra inexpensive.
The downside of course is that they can tear when subject to weight and pressure. And they’re also not skid-proof, so any moisture could cause a slip and fall accident. Oh, and if water does manage to pass through, expect the moisture to pool between the sheet and your deck, which may lead to deck rot in the long run.
Now this one’s not too popular, but that doesn’t make it any less of an option. Artificial turf can get your deck looking like an island of its own, adding some seriously unique aesthetic appeal that mimics more of an outdoor garden look. But while turf is easy to install and to cut down to your deck’s size and shape, they can be uncomfortable to walk over.
Obviously, artificial turf’s look is a bit of an acquired taste. And if you enjoy the look and feel of a clean deck, all of those plastic fibers might make for a tough cleaning job. Not to mention the bacteria and therefore the smells that can come off of artificial turf.
How to Decide on a Pontoon Deck Size
If you’re still in the process of buying a pontoon and you don’t exactly know what size to get, it helps to know what you’re planning to use your boat for. Your deck will determine what you can take on board and how many people you can bring along with you at any given time. There are lots of different activities you can enjoy on a pontoon boat, including:
Now, considering the kinds of activities you’d like to try, you can get a better idea of the size of your deck. A pontoon boat with a deck that’s 19 feet or less should be able to accommodate six to eight passengers, including you. They’re smaller than other pontoons and work best in calm inland waters like lakes and rivers. Ideally, you would use a vessel this small for day trips, small family parties, and swimming sessions down at the lake.
If you’re looking for something a little more spacious, there are 20 to 22 foot pontoons that are the sweet spot for most boat owners. They work well in calm waters, but might be able to hand inter-coastal areas like bays and inlets. They can carry about a dozen passengers, which makes it a better choice for larger groups or families. They’re great for water sports, fishing, and parties.
Then, there are the boats that are 23 feet or more. These bigger vessels can accommodate as many as 16 to 18 people. But what really makes them a solid choice is that they can also have room for other features on board, like bathrooms, kitchens, and even bedrooms, giving you a real house on tubes. If you’re looking to try a luxury camping experience, then this bigger boat might be for you.
Do keep in mind though that manufacturers have different limits when it comes to passenger capacity, even if their boat models have the same deck size. That said, you might want to read through the manual before you invite all of those people to your mid-lake bonanza.
The Deck is Where It’s At
Your deck is a lot more than just floor. Pontoon boat decking is where the magic happens, and it provides valuable boat stability that could mean the difference between a safe trip and a major accident. These days, there are loads of options if you’re looking to get your hands on suitable boat decking material. And while they all offer unique benefits, they also come with their own distinct set of downsides.
So make sure to ask yourself the right questions, know your expectations, and set a budget. This way, you should be able to find the right decking material to turn your boat into the party pontoon it was destined to be.