So you want to take your pontoon boat out into the sea. Well, they're not dubbed the most versatile watercraft on the market for nothing. It's nothing new to see a pontoon boat traversing the salty waves. But there's quite a bit of preparation that happens before a pontoon can launch into saltwater.
In general, pontoon boats are designed and ideal for freshwater water ways. And while saltwater might cause damage to internal workings, there are things you can do as a boat owner to be able to enjoy your pontoon boat in saltwater. Here's a comprehensive guide on just that.
Can Pontoon Boats Go Into Saltwater?
The short answer is yes, a pontoon boat can go into saltwater - but not without proper preparation. Most pontoon boat manufacturers design and develop their boats for use in relatively calm inland lakes and rivers where waves tend to be less, and salt, well, nonexistent.
But even then, that's not to say you can't do a few things to make your pontoon boat a little more resistant to saltwater damage in the ocean. Understanding which parts are prone to issues from saltwater exposure, and finding the right substitutes and solutions should help you enjoy your boat in any context - whether it's the lake or the beach.
Tips on Using a Pontoon Boat in Saltwater
If you're dead set on using your pontoon boat out in the ocean, making the right preparations should guarantee a safe trip for both you and your boat. Here are a few important changes and preparations you should make to guarantee a seamless boating experience.
Install Sacrificial Zinc Anodes
Your pontoon boat tubes - those log looking things that give your boat buoyancy - are made mainly of aluminum. In general, aluminum is a resistant metal when it comes to developing rust, kind of like fiberglass. So corrosion isn't really a big problem among pontoon boat owners - as long as they use their boat in fresh water.
Using your boat in saltwater though is a different story. Securing those aluminum logs are various pieces of metal hardware including but not limited to stainless steel, copper, and other types of metal. These various metal and electrical components are more likely to corrode. Unfortunately, these metals being dipped in saltwater together with aluminum creates the perfect conditions for galvanic corrosion.
This simply means that galvanic corrosion spreads to neighboring metal like aluminum even when they're supposed to be more resilient. That's why some boat manufacturers add what they call sacrificial anodes to protect metals and other electrical parts from electrolysis. These are also called 'zincs', and they attach to your boat to prevent galvanic corrosion from eating away at the stainless steel hardware, electrical wiring, the aluminum tubes, or the engine's lower unit.
You can buy quality zinc anodes at your local boat supply shop or online. You can install them on the rudder or the stern side of the boat, near the propeller. Just make sure to replace your sacrificial anodes once a year to make sure your aluminum tubes are protected, especially if you plan to use your boat in saltwater for the time being.
We recommend the Tecnoseal TEC-BNT Bennett Trim Tab Zinc Anode.
Paint the Hull
Pontoon boats in general have two aluminum hulls - or three, if you have a tritoon. When immersed in freshwater, it's rare that you'll need any extra treatment to protect the aluminum hull. But yet again, it's a different story for saltwater.
The ocean is home to a variety of invasive, intrusive marine wildlife. Barnacles for instance, are known to release a glue like substance that turns into a tough cement, keeping the little critter stuck to the aluminum metal hull of your boat like nobody's business. When left to thrive, it's near impossible to get rid of these stubborn fiends. These creatures can be so invasive, that they can destroy even a fiberglass hull.
That said, it's important that you paint your hull with an anti-fouling paint to prevent marine wildlife from sticking to the surface. Copper-free paint should also reduce the risk of corrosion, which is why it's important to read the labels and make sure you're getting paint that doesn't contain copper and other dissimilar metal types.
Check out the TotalBoat Krypton Copper Free Antifouling Bottom Boat Paint.
Remember that the paint should be applied to all parts of the boat that submerge into the water. You can do the job yourself, or you can take your boat to a dealer or boat maintenance service to get the task done for you at a reasonable cost.
Secure Your Tubes
Take a gander under the deck and you'll find that the tubes are probably only screwed on and that they're welded at points at every foot or so. Most manufacturers regard this construction as more than good enough for fresh water conditions. But again, we're talking about taking your boat to rougher salt water seas.
The last thing you'd want is to watch your tubes float off without you. All of that said, you can take your boat to the dealer or marina and have someone weld the tubes all the way instead of at every foot. Then make sure to change the screws to bolts to guarantee a more secure attachment even in rough ocean water.
Check the Weather
The ocean isn't quite as unchanging as lakes and inland water ways. Even relatively calm coves can experience strong waves and currents when the weather turns sour. If you're planning to take your pontoon boat to the beach, make sure you check the weather and ensure that there's nothing but sunny skies ahead.
Remember that your aluminum pontoon boat was not made to combat strong waves and choppy water. But some boat owners and manufacturers assert that newer pontoon boat models are more capable of facing treacherous conditions than their older counterparts. Even then, it's probably not a good idea to get too confident.
See to it that you check the weather before you leave, keep an eye on the skies while you're out, and listen in on the radio during your trip. At the first sign on strong wind or rain, make sure to head back to shore and leave the deeper waters.
Choose the Right Locations
It can be exciting to think about all of the prospective places you could possible take your boat once you've prepped it for open water conditions. But that doesn't mean you can take it anywhere. As a general rule, you're still going to want to stick to calmer water even if you've got a brand new, performance pontoon boat.
Even these powerful boats weren't designed to traverse salt water bodies 30 or 40 miles from the shore. So to make sure you're safe, see to it that the shore is always within view. It's also important to make sure that you're not in large waves that are higher than 4'.
But what if you really want to take your boat to bigger water? Well, you could probably do that with a tritoon. Installing a third aluminum tube might be well worth the cost if you were hoping to make your boat a little more stable in deeper, rougher water. Heck, a third aluminum tube might still even be a good idea just for the sake of salt water boating, even if you don't plan to head out too far from shore.
Rinse Your Boat After Every Use
Even with those sacrificial anodes and that anti-fouling paint, it's important - no, vital - that you wash your boat after every use. This washes away any saltwater that might be on the aluminum, and helps to reduce the risk of developing rust and corrosion.
On a similar note, make sure that you also rinse your boat trailer bunks, since any saltwater trapped between the bunks and your aluminum tubes can expedite the corrosion process. Use a strong jet of clean, fresh water and make sure to wash any areas especially the aluminum with salt deposits as well as trapped debris from the ocean. Check your engine and motor while you're at it.
Finally, make sure that you store your water craft out of the saltwater whenever you're done for the day. Although it might do just fine for a day or two at the dock, leaving it for too long could possibly damage the hull and corrode the material due to extended saltwater exposure.
Protect Your Boat Interiors
Sunlight will always be a little harsher out on the ocean, which also means that UV exposure could cause serious damage on various parts of your boat - especially the interiors. See to it that invest in a bimini top with quality materials to protect from the sun. You should also make it a point to cover exposed seats to protect the vinyl upholstery.
Other things you can do involve the use of vinyl protectant spray. Adding a generous layer of these products can help create a protective barrier around the materials, working as protection against UV rays and water damage.
We like using the 303 Marine UV Protectant Spray for Vinyl.
Saltwater Pontoon Manufacturers
Manufacturers know full well that there are boaters out there who want to take their pontoons out to the sea. And that's why a bunch of them have joined the movement to provide buyers pontoon boats that tout construction and materials that are intended for saltwater use.
So if you were looking for a way to skip having to make all those change with zinc anodes, anti fouling paint, and whatnot, you might want to take a look into these top saltwater boat manufacturers.
As one of the best known names in the pontoon boating industry, Bennington boats have earned significant prominence as some of the best pontoons for salt water conditions. The brand itself has been around for just about 20 years, but their premier, luxury boats contend with boats from older names in the industry.
Their saltwater series includes the SLX boats and the upper end of their more expensive Q-series. These boats have zinc anodes installed to protect the aluminum right out of the showroom, and use materials, components, and finishes that are intended to keep the boat well protected against saltwater conditions.
The Berkshire line of pontoon boats might not be what you consider top tier. But their family-friendly and affordable boats have earned them a spot as some of the best boats on the market for buyers on a budget. They also started releasing boats that were designed for performance in saltwater.
This series of boats tout cathodic protection that keeps your boat functional and defended against corrosion. This also means that you won't have to spend as much time on maintenance since electrolysis on the aluminum won't be such a big issue.
If you've got a bigger budget for your vessel and you want to use a pontoon boat in the ocean, then a Beachcat pontoon might be for you. These boats are known for their luxurious designs and features that put them a cut above the rest. They're also incredibly powerful, equipped with a stronger engine that makes them better equipped to face big waves.
The manufacturer mainly produces boats for saltwater use. The reinforced construction and components, bolted deck, anti corrosion finish, and the pre-installed zin anodes make it especially resistant to the damages of the open water. This also means that you won't have to worry too much about restoring your aluminum after a few years of use.
Cypress Cat Pontoon Boats
This manufacturer has cemented its reputation on the market as selling water craft models that place comfort and convenience at the top. Their range of family-friendly, easy-to-operate boats make them particularly popular among boat buyers who might not have too much experience with boating.
The brand recently released a line of saltwater pontoon boats that are designed to withstand saltwater exposure. Like many others, the main features would include an anti-corrosion paint layer and pre-installed zinc anodes for added aluminum protection against galvanic corrosion.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long can a pontoon boat stay in salt water?
It is not recommended to leave your boat in seat water for longer than a week. If at all possible, try to haul the boat out after each use. This only helps to prevent any corrosive damage on the aluminum that might happen after extended salt water exposure.
How can you take care of the motor?
Almost 90% of all pontoon boats on the market have an outboard motor with an open loop cooling system. That means it takes water from its surroundings to cool the machinery. And because salt water can corrode metals and electrical components up to 10 times faster than freshwater, it's important that you convert to a closed loop cooling system to protect the motor and engine.
To the Sea
It might be exciting to use a pontoon boat in saltwater, but it's not without preparations. Changes to the hardware, proper preparations, and serious due diligence when choosing a location should just be some of the things you do to get ready for the excursion. But if money is no object and you don't have the patience for all of those changes, you might just be able to cop a saltwater pontoon from a vetted manufacturer that sells them ready for the salty waves straight out of the shop.