Operating a pontoon boat isn’t much different than operating a monohull. The nautical rules of the road are the same, as are the requirements for passengers.
But these squarish shaped vessels have one or two tricky parts that need to be learned by new captains to ensure fun and safety for passengers and other boaters alike.
Leaving a slip
Backing out of a dock slip is mostly the same as for a monohull: it’s best to take it slow and steady, keeping an eye out for other boats, docks or swimmers in the area.
But a pontoon boat’s profile–the high side rails and seating structures–can be more affected by the wind. If there’s a steady breeze blowing, the pontoon’s bow or stern can be shifted out of position. Keep a steady hand on the throttle and use short blasts of power to keep control as you slowly back away from the dock.
Experienced pontoon captains will adjust the trim when backing away from a slip so the props are just under water. This shallow trim helps keep the boat in control under slow speeds.
Moving up to speed
Once clear of the dock, put the throttle into the forward position and slowly add power. You should adjust the trim on the motor into the downward position, which puts the propellers fully into the water.
Proceed forward slowly, keeping to all No-Wake rules until you hit open water. Then you can slowly add throttle until you reach cruising speed.
Pontoons are not meant to be gazelles on the water, so there’s no need to push the RPMs into the red zone. Consult your owner’s manual for the proper cruising speeds for your pontoon.
Pontoons do not really go “on plane” like a monohull, but the bow will stabilize when the boat reaches its proper cruising speed.
Unlike sharp-nosed, V-shaped monohulls boats, pontoons usually do not turn on a dime. Because of their design, there will be centrifugal force towards the opposite side on a turn. So it’s a good idea to warn your passengers before making a turn, especially if it’s a tight turn.
Most pontoon captains will instead make slow and wide turns to keep passengers safe and secure. Use a gentle, sweeping arc when making turns and keep your boat in control.
Turning with the wind
Again, because the superstructure of a pontoon boat will catch the wind, trying to turn into the wind can be difficult. If the breeze is strong, most captains will feel strong resistance when turning into the wind.
It is much easier, and easier to control, if you make turns downwind, in the opposite direction of the wind. This will help get your bow around faster and set it on the new course with ease and efficiency.
When it comes time to return to the dock, the same advice holds for monohulls or pontoons: never approach a dock at a speed faster than you would want to use to crash into it! That is, approach slowly and in control at all times.
Use the reverse power to slow the boat down to creeping speed and bring the pontoon in slowly. Watch, again, for wind speed and direction, as any breeze can throw your pontoon off your chosen line.
When making your final approach to the dock or slip, put the motor in neutral and use the forward momentum to ease the boat into place. Have one of your crew ready to jump onto the dock with a dock line to tie the boat down when you’ve arrived.
Learning to drive a pontoon is no more difficult than driving a car or a monohull boat. It just takes a little practice to get the knack down and learn the idiosyncrasies of the vessel.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll get to love driving a pontoon. Our line of Avalon pontoons are great for taking out large parties of friends for picnics and days on the water, for driving the kids around the lake on inner tubes or wakeboards, for finding those productive fishing holes and just for enjoying boating in the great outdoors!