Pontoon Boat Buying Information

Buy the Right Pontoon Boat The first Time!

Pontoon boats...which pontoon should I buy at the Toronto Boat Show....I am looking to a great deal and get real value?   Pontoon Boats offer Muskoka and Ontario family pontoon boating experiences at a affordable pricing, low maintenance and long service lifespans.  To become a knowledgeable pontoon buyer enclosed is detailed easy to understand information to avoid some of the common mistakes. Buy the right pontoon at The Toronto Boat Show for the right reason!

At the Toronto Boat show pontoon boats are attracting more and more attention amoung boat buyers old and new.  Over the last five years, pontoon boats have morphed from basically a dock that moves to a complex vessel capable of speeds up to 60MPH coupled with the ability to provide high levels of family watersports that rivals many outboard and sterndrive powered bowriders.

Having been in the marine business for over 27 years, I have been a witness to this genetic changes that have occurred in function, construction, style and performance.  Unfortunately there is very little information available to the buyer on what they should be looking for in quality, construction, performance and their respective watersports capabilities.  Place like the Toronto Boat Show can be very confusing with multiple choices and quality levels.  Many of the same pitfalls for the pontoon purchaser who only considers on those glossy lifestyle magazine ads, low price not value exist as for bowriders and fishing boats purchasers.  It looks good today but what will it look like in 3, 5 or 10 years?  For the purest... pontoon boats offer that quiet peaceful ride on a quiet evening with that special person!  Buy the wrong construction and the squeeks, rattles and vibration may just lessen your enjoyment!  Do I want a high guality pontoon such as a Cypress Cay that will last and look good for a very long time or I am going to opt for a lesser quality brand such as Lowe or Legend?  

Remember this fact!  All pontoon builders buy their materials at the same cost and pay the same amount for the outboard on the stern.  Outside of actual size just what is the difference if we have similar pontoons with the same power offerred at hundreds to thousands more?  The hardest part of the pontoon market for the buyer is the entry level 18 to 20' boat offered with a 25 to 40 horsepower. 

The next question I ask at The Toronto Boat Show after I ask "what has sparked their interest" is "why are you considering buying that particular brand and model?"  The most common answer "it seems like a good deal!" or "I like it".   The next question will be  "have you considered construction, tube size, air chambers, performance, manufacturer reputation and important items such as these?"  "No!"  You are considering spending that much money and you have not looked past the price?  " They all seem the same to me!"  I met a nice lady at the Toronto show last year who was there to buy a 20' pontoon.  She said was going to buy the cheapest one she could find and did not really care anything about value or construction....and that is exactly what she got!  Is there really that much differnce between all those pontoon lines?  It is very hard to pick at a boat show as all the salespeople say their's is the best and it is hard to visualize the construction difference....so then I just settle on the lowest price and hope for the best?  What if for say $400 more or $700 to $1000 more I could have purchased a much better pontoon boat...built right and powered right?  Legend tends to price their pontoons and fishing boats with 15HP and then up sell to a more reasonable horsepower....is that right?  

Boat retailers represent boat lines because they want to (have a choice due to reputation, history of customer service and location or they have to (good stuff is already represented in their area)!  That means nothing else was left, I am new or have a poor reputation or don't care just want and need to sell boats! There is a significant number of pontoon builders and pontoon retailers looking for your money with pricing, quality and performance characteristics all over the map.  Just who are the players in the pontoon business and where does everyone stack up?  Good question and you will get different answers here based on what they are selling...but I will try and be honest remembering that Huntsville Marine sells Cypress Cay and Crest by choice....we got to pick!

Good Stuff:  Cypress Cay, Crest, Premier, Harris, Bennington, Manitou.

Okay Stuff:  Starcrarft/Sylvan (same builder), Godfrey/Sweatwater

Not so Great or Over Priced: Tracker, Legend, Bentley, Lowe

This is not all the builders but it does give you an idea on how I see the market.

In October 2012 Huntsville Marine in an open selection process was selected to represent and present to the market the Cypress Cay brand of pontoons by the Brunswick group.  Cypress Cay has been building pontoons for over 50 years and is a J.D. Power Award Winner for customer satisfaction each of the last 5 years.   Due to our passion for pontoons and service excellence, Huntsville Marine was given this prestigeous line for all of Central Ontario and the Toronto region.  Huntsville Marine will be displaying this exceptional pontoon line at the Toronto Boat Show in Jan. 2013.

Yes many of the criteria I used to choose our boat lines apply to the retail consumers.  No it is not always or should not always be about the deal...but about...true value for the dollar!  Yes dealer service and reputation should be part of the buying decisionNo Huntsville Marine does not represent evey and all the best lines of pontoon boats.  Yes we do fell we have the right best quality pontoon for Muskoka and most of Ontario's waterways.  Enough of the preamble lets get down to the facts and see if we can help you navigate through the pitfalls.

Before you start visiting dealerships or show think about the following categories and expectations for your pontoon boat and what it needs are!...Needs Analysis! 

5 Main Types of Pontoon Boats...Which is Right for You!  

If you are looking for further duscussion or want information on The Toronto Boat Show you can contact me at tom.huntsvillemarine@gmail.com.  You can also reach me at 1-888-295-0972 or during the actual show at 1-705-571-2628.   

1. My family is looking to purchase a basic dock type pontoon boat!  I am on a small quiet lake with little or no waves to contend with plus my expectations for speed are less than 15 MPH. 
I am focused on price and build and ride quality is of less concern.

Lenght 16' to 20' with 23 to 25 " diameter tubes powered by a 20 to 25Hp Four Stroke Outboard.  Deck supports should be a minimum of 24" on center.  Pontoons at least two (2) chambers ( 3 recommended) with full keels for steering and protection.  Roto Cast plastic seat bases with drainage and seat vinyl with at least UV and biological protection built in.  Watch the seating restrictions here.  A 16' pontoon is nornally 4 adults max in calm waters, 18' is 6 adults and 20' is 8 adults on large diameter pontoons.  Higher loads place more stress on the hull construction with low bows or sterns not unusual on entry level pontoons including leaning to port or starboard.  Most models in this category have plastic dash panels wich tend to show sun and cold weather damage early in their life span.  If you choose this type cracking of the dash area, fence movement and floor shifting is common due to the use of securing screws instead of the more costly bolting under high loads or operation in wave conditions.  Premature fading and seam problems on the seating is common if the boat is not  kept covered up.

2. My family is looking to purchase a more capable pontoon with the ability to achieve 20 MPH with comfortable seating, possibly a changeroom or head on quiet waters.  Quality is going to enter into the decision and I am prepared to get past less for less and look for more for less.

Lenght 20' to 22' with 23" to 25" diameter ( 25" preferred) pontoons (0.90 thick) powered by a 40 to 60 Hp Four Stroke Outboard.  Minimum three air chambers per pontoon plus a reinforced nose cone ( 0.100).  If the nose cone has splash wings welded on both sides watch your loading over the bow area as diving may occur.  Deck supports should be a minimum of 16" on center with the pontoons supported by at least 50% of the tube length attached to the floor.  The use of "M" bracket connectors is recommended from the deck to the floor structure.  There is a new trend to place decorative skirting on the top outside of the pontoon to the floor to make it seam that there is more support here than what is actually there.  Screw type construction is acceptable under these conditions but if you are a quality or cost versus value buyer bolt together construction is the best.  Watch the seating out over the front of the pontoons or where the fenced in seating area is equal to or worse slightly larger than the lenght of the pontoons. Note all heads must be fixed in place and pump out style to be legal in Ontario.  

3. My family is looking to purchase a family recreational pontoon capable of achieving over 25 MPH or more depending on our expectations for watersports.  We may also want a change room/head for extended cruising.  We are on a fair size body of water and overall performance and ride are considerations.

Heavier cross members with not just bent and formed galvanized sheeting connecting the pontoons together and supporting the floor structure on type. This is where choice becomes very important!  Length 20' to 24' with a minimum 25" diameter tube with two tubes with the chasis frame bolted together not just simply screwed together.  Horsepower requirements are 90 to 125HP with both 4 stroke and direct injection two stroke such as Mercury Optimax making up the package.  Remember that direct injection with provide superior hole shot for water sports but four stroke is perferred for overall cruising.  The fair size body of water introduces the aspect of waves into the equation.  Standard pontoons which are round where they interact with the water do not cut the water or waves but simply ride over them.  A Tritoon model will not provide a superior rough water ride when all three pontoons are the same.  Tritoons provide superior bow floatation and handling at higher speeds when configured right.  The wave must be cut by the pontoon nose cone to smooth out the ride.  A longer nose cone in excess of 50" to provide required pointed tapering is recommended with significant reinforcement at the leading edge.  A true "V" bottom pontoon as provided by Crest (CP2 and CP3 models) will provide necessary wave cut to smooth out the ride.  Aluminum thickness at the nose should be 0.100 and the pontoons should be 0.090 minimum.  Some builders are now utilizing 0.125 aluminum thickness in high stress areas.   " M " brackets connecting the pontoon to the decking a minimum 16" center. If you are operating in areas of consistent wave action complete under deck sheeting is recommended.  The inclusion of a ski tow and perhaps swim platforms should be considered.

4. My family is looking to purchase a true performance pontoon or capable of achieving over 40 MPH.   We may also want to do family level watersports activities
.  We are on a large body of water where wave action is a concern and we expect a very high safe level of handling.

Performance and wave action are keys here!  High horsepower over 150HP is required which in itself places high levels of mechanical stress on the structure and this is further compounded by speed in combination with impacting waves on the pontoons, motor bracket and under structure.  Normally this type of request determines that a tritoon is required in combination with complete under deck sheeting protection.  Substantially heavier cross members of a cast aluminum or heavily formed and welded structures with minimum of 16" centers.  There are only two manufacturers that I know of that can provide this type of pontoon in Ontario (Crest and Cypress Cay).  Tritoons will provide improved handling in combination with the required power steering but a normal tritoon does not heal over well to provide the level of turn handling similar to a bowrider or standard outboard boat hull.  This boat must also have a performance designed engine mount system which is not the same as what would be provide in cases one to three above.  There is only one truely adjustable ride shaping engine transom assembly available which is the Crest M6.  The long linear running surface of the pontoon itself acts against turning the pontoon when underway.  Traditional pontoon keels have a rudder effect as well. This pontoon will be 22' to 26 feet in length with 24 my choice.  This boat will require lifting strakes on the pontoons to provide the high speed running surface.  Unfortunately other than a catalog most marine retailers will have no experience with this type of pontoon.

My family is looking to purchase a true rough water performance pontoon capable of handling reasonable wave action in the area of one meter.  We are situated on a large body of water such as Georgian Bay, one of the large Muskoka Lakes, or any body of water where this level of wave action is normal, as we can and expect travel many miles in our boat.  

The keys here are consistent rough water wave action and distance.  This type of pontoon boat is highly specialized in terms of the required detailed engineering to produce a very high level of structural strength due to the mechanical stress exerted on what must a very rigid structure.  In addition we need to address handling issues associated with long multiply running surfaces to provide safe exciting performance.  Typically tritoons with each pontoon being the same diameter is the norm but this at best provides poor handling characteristics.  To max speed tritoons need lifting strakes or other pontoon running surface changes in combination with a performance transom pod where the engine is installed.  This pontoon is normally required to be 23' to 26' in length with specialized nose cones with up to 0.125 thick reinforced walls on the cones and tubes.  Under deck protective sheeting is an absolute requirement.  Perfomance pontoons may have outboard power to 300 hp and will require specialized hydraulic steering systems, additional top supports due to high volumes of air flow.


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