The double hull construction of a pontoon boat makes it particularly safe compared to most other boats. The pontoon’s deck sits high above the water, which means it’s highly unlikely for the vessel to get flooded. But despite being one of the safest vessels around, the pontoon boat isn’t accident-proof.
In fact, statistics show that pontoon boats are involved in some 300 to 400 accidents each year. And because there are lots of factors that contribute to these incidents, it’s important that you’re fully aware of general pontoon boat safety rules and regulations and those in your specific locality.
General Safety Rules and Regulations for Pontoon Boats
To be perfectly clear, the safety rules and regulations for pontoon boats vary between states. So although one jurisdiction might require this and that, another might require something completely different.
There are however general safety rules established by the US Coast Guard that should apply regardless of wherever in the United States you might choose to use your pontoon boat.
For the record though, these rules were not specifically developed for pontoon boats. That’s because the USCG establishes rules and regulations depending on the size or length of the boat. So for the sake of this guide, we’re giving you the regulations required for boats between 16 and 26 feet:
There should be a registration serial number attached to the exterior of the boat. There is no black and white rule when it comes to how the numbers should be fixed to your boat, but you can check our guide on where to place registration numbers on a pontoon boat just to be on the safe side of the law.
And then of course registration papers on board the vessel at all times when the boat is underway.
USCG-Approved Life Vests
Not just any old life vest will do. So you need to make sure you’re packing USCG-approved vests on your boat. More importantly however, there should be one life vest on board for every passenger - no exceptions. That includes children and infants.
The Type IV PFD or the throwable device is only required for boats over 16 feet in size. Again, you need to make sure that your throwable device is USCG-approved along with being in good condition.
Although it might seem like you probably won’t ever need to put out a fire in the middle of the water, it’s a lot more common than you might think.
Electrical failures and engine problems can definitely start a fire, which makes the fire extinguisher a non-negotiable piece of safety equipment.
Visual Distress Signal
In case anything happens and you need to call the attention of boaters in the area, a visual distress signal should come in a handy. This can come in the form of flares, distress lights, smoke signals, distress flags, or any combination of these.
Sound Producing Device
This is separate from the horn that’s already installed on your boat. This mechanical sound producing device should generate a sound audible up to 1 mile.
These make it easier for boats around you to determine which way you’re facing especially in dark and low visibility conditions. They’re required by law, so failure to install them may be punishable with steep fines among other penalties.
Pontoon Boating Rules in Each State
It’s been mentioned that boating safety rules change depending on what state you’re in. So to help you get a full understanding of what your local laws dictate, you can check your state’s rules through the links in the list below.
Keep in mind that a lot of states don’t write rules for pontoons specifically, and instead indicate laws that depend on the size of the boat as opposed to the type of the boat.
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Pontoon Boat Safety Tips
These laws, rules, and regulations play a role to keep all boaters safe. When everyone abides by them, you can expect accidents to be far less common. And while the scope of these guidelines should be sufficient to keep you and those around you safe, it doesn’t hurt to tread on the side of extra caution.
Here are some added pontoon boat safety tips to further decrease the chances of accidents:
Use Visual Cues
Everyone on your boat needs to be aware of where important items are in case of an accident. Mark out where you keep your fire extinguisher, life vests, your throwable PFD, visual distress signals, and other items you might need during an emergency situation.
Brief Your Passengers
Make sure your passengers are always aware of the protocol in case of certain situations. Brief everyone on what to do in case of a storm, strong waves, fire, or a person overboard.
Never, under any circumstances, operate a boat under the influence of alcohol. Aside from being illegal, it puts you and all of those around you in danger. If there isn’t anyone on board who can take over if you’ve had a drink or two, avoid drinking all together.
Always Check Your PFDs
PFDs don’t last forever. They can succumb to damage over time. We put together a guide on how to find out if you’re PFD’s are still in good condition or whether it’s time to replace them.
Perform a Pre-Departure Checklist
A pre-departure checklist lets you check the different aspects of your boat that you might want to inspect before you leave. This should let you catch any problems before you even leave the dock.
It’s true that the pontoon boat is a safe, family-friendly vessel. But it’s only going to be as safe as you make it to be. Familiarizing yourself with all the necessary pontoon boat safety rules and regulations in your locality should help you curb the risk of accidents. Brush up on the pontoon boat rules for your state to keep your passengers scot-free and to avoid hefty fines and penalties.