Pontoon boats are quite comfortable and offer a wide, flat platform for folks on the water to enjoy.
Most pontoon boats can tolerate nearly their own weight on the water, but your pontoon boat needs to be properly loaded and effectively balanced before you power up the motor.
Speaking of the motor, it’s important to start by factoring in the fixed items.
For example, an 18-foot pontoon boat with a canopy generally weighs about 2,200 pounds.
On an 18 foot pontoon, you should be able to add an additional 1,800 pounds.
Within that 1,800 pounds, you will need to account for
- fluids, like water and gasoline
- your live fish well if you choose to use it
- anchor, extra hardware, and tackle
If you plan a big outing with friends, do your best to leave your heaviest items at home. Carry the anchor and keep the population manageable.
Water is about 8 pounds per gallon. If you have a 30 gallon live well, you may have to jettison a large adult before you can get your pontoon on the water.
Gasoline is a little lighter, but a 5-gallon gas can is 30 pounds. A loaded cooler can run up to 50 pounds, and your guests may want to bring food as well.
Make it your goal as a pontoon host, make sure you leave a big gap at the top of your weight limit. Keep the population logical and make sure that your guests are aware of how to move on the pontoon.
A pontoon is a platform. Because it sits on water, your pontoon platform can tilt or tip if the people all move to one side.
If it’s a bright sunny day and everyone wants to sit under the canopy, there may be too much weight at the back of the pontoon.
If someone sees something nifty onshore, make sure your guests don’t all run to one side of the pontoon. They can flip the pontoon.
As you head out onto the water, make sure everyone doesn’t rush to the prow. If your guests are all at the front, the pontoon may buck and take on water.
Keeping the people on your pontoon safe may require you to be a bit of a water cop. Take on the role with gusto. Hand out life jackets on the dock; nobody gets on the pontoon without one.
Anybody drinking too much gets cut off and handed a bottle of water. Does this make you a jerk? No. It makes you a safe pontoon operator who doesn’t have to clean up nastiness left on your pontoon.
While pontoons are quite stable, a large adult acting stupidly on the deck can lead to serious problems. Don’t risk it. Police your pontoon for the safety of all.
Check Your Trim
One of the challenges to transporting people on your pontoon is that a large movement from one side or end to the other can lead to a change in your trim.
For example, if you’re transporting folks who want to fish along the shore, you want to balance the population to avoid over-weighting the back of the pontoon and getting your propeller too close to the bottom.
Too much weight at the front of the boat can lift the motor out of the water and reduce its efficiency.
Again, be ready to manage the population of folks on your boat to keep things balanced.
You have control as to motor depth, but constantly changing your motor trim can be a frustrating experience for the pontoon captain.
Pontoons are not exactly built for speed, though they are quite comfortable. Depending on the power you want and the speed you want to try to reach, be ready to allow for more weight.
Generally, you will need to allow
- 220 pounds for 40 hp
- 460 pounds for 150 hp
- 575 pounds for 300 hp
If you really want a lot of power all the time, be ready to carry more fuel. Generally, you want a motor that offers no more horsepower than you need.
If you have access to a lake that is generally calm and love the feeling of flying along, a large engine may be just what you need.
However, flying along on a pontoon will take a lot of fuel, and extra weight will require more fuel.
A pontoon with a canopy can also be a source of wind resistance. Generally, if it’s going to be windy enough that your canopy will create a problem, you don’t want to be on the water.
Large waves can be very hard on your pontoon; these boats are designed to stay flat. Lots of rolling and pitching on large waves could lead to dangerous events.
However, a long, leisurely run on a calm lake should not lead to a great deal of wind resistance.
Keep the sides of your canopy rolled up unless you’re out for a sunset cruise to keep air moving under the canopy.
Total Weight Vs. Load
Your pontoon capacity will be around twice the empty weight. However, it is critical that you not max out your pontoon if you can possibly avoid it.
These boats are not hard to drive, but a shifting population can be dangerous and the action of your pontoon can be quite sluggish when it’s under the max load.
Keep yourself and your guests safe by not maxing out your pontoon. If your boat weight is 1 ton and your capacity is an additional 1,800 pounds, try to stay under 1,300 pounds so you have some breathing room.