What To Avoid When Buying A Pontoon Boat

What To Avoid When Buying A Pontoon Boat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

January 23, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Before purchasing a pontoon boat, potential owners should consider the size, purpose, and options of the boat they are considering.
  • Buying a new boat will mean higher upfront costs but lower maintenance expenses.
  • Most boats will depreciate in value over the years of ownership.

You are considering the purchase of a pontoon boat, but you want to be careful only to pay what you need. What should you avoid when buying a pontoon boat?

Buying a watercraft can be a thought-provoking decision. Most potential pontoon owners will not want to buy a boat without carefully considering the size, type, and utility. Buyers of preowned vessels must know market values to ensure they are paying the right amount.

More and more Americans are turning to pontoon boats to fill their summer days with water activities. Whether it is just cruising around a lake or tubing, water skiing, or fishing with the family, pontoon boats are known for their versatility and functionality. But before you plop down your cash for the pleasure of owning a pontoon, let us help you know what to avoid when buying a pontoon boat. This article will help you navigate the rough waters of buying a new pontoon and help with settling into the Captain’s chair like a pro.


Table of contents

What are Some Considerations for Buying A Pontoon Boat?

There are many considerations to ponder before spending money on the perfect boat. With so many pontoon boat brands to explore, doing extensive research will significantly decrease mistakes or financially ending up in rough water.

The Age of the Boat (New Vs. Used)

Pontoon boats are one of the first considerations involved in purchasing a pontoon boat is whether to buy a new or pre-owned one. Many boat manufacturers offer warranties on new purchases, which can provide peace of mind for many owners. In addition, the chance for mechanical breakdowns is less. You will pay more for an initial purchase price and insurance premiums if you purchase a new boat.

A used boat is less expensive but could also have unseen or undisclosed mechanical issues, which can complicate your marine life. The additional expenditure of a warranty can be a good idea if you purchase a used pontoon.

The Size of Boat

Pontoons come in all shapes and sizes, from smaller fishing decks to larger luxury boats that can handle 12 to 15 passengers over ample deck space. Before plopping any money down, be sure of the passenger capacity and how much deck space you need in addition to other items like the power of the engine.

Pontoon boats vary greatly. There are single-level crafts built for every kind of purpose and water sports. There are double-decker boats that have a top deck for sunbathing. There are pontoons with two tubes and tri-toons (three tubes), and all kinds of seating configurations. You will need to consider precisely what type of boat best fits the needs of your family before making a final decision.

Pontoon boats tend to average 24 - 30 feet in length (most are 8 feet wide) and have the capacity to seat 8 - 10 people. The average cost for a new pontoon of this size is $25 - 40,000, depending on the added features and the manufacturer.

A general rule of thumb is as follows:

  • 4 - 6 people mean you need at least a 20  - 22’ boat.
  • 6 - 9 people mean you need at least a 22 - 24’ boat.
  • More than 10, and you need a 24 ‘ or larger boat.

The Purpose of the Boat

One of the considerations regarding seating and other amenities is determining how you will use the boat on the water.  If you plan on fishing with the grandkids every weekend, buy a boat with captain’s chairs, live wells, and fishing rod holders. If you want to cruise around the lake or down the river with your family taking in the sights, buy a boat with plenty of lounge space on board. If luxury and plush conveniences are your passion, purchase a pontoon boat with the options you can’t live without. You should have an idea about how many hours your family intends to be on the craft during boating season.

The Cost of the Boat

Whether we like to admit it or not, most families have budgets. You should have a cost estimate in mind before purchasing a pontoon boat. Many boat manufacturers have pricing information on their websites and a listing of additional features available. This custom-build option allows you to custom-build a pontoon boat and see the exact costs involved. This pricing information can go a long way toward ensuring you don’t overspend or pay too much money for options that you do not need or want.

The most important consideration when buying a pontoon boat is the engine size. A small engine will simply need more power to push a large-sized craft. It’s a bad idea to buy a big boat and try, and save money by scrimping on the size of the engine. An average 24-foot pontoon boat will need at least a motor with 150 HP to reach higher speeds of 35 - 40 mph.

Remember that the prices you see online are not the negotiated price you might receive from various boat dealers. Many potential boat owners have found that they could take advantage of sales and markdowns that their local marine dealer was willing to give.

Storage for the Boat

If you own a pontoon boat, you will need a place to store the boat when not using it. Many communities and marinas have storage facilities that allow you to park your boat during the winter. There are many options concerning storage, both indoor and outdoor, but you will want some facility that is secure and monitored with security cameras to protect yourself.

If you decide to store your boat on your property (check with your HOA to be sure that it won’t violate any rules) you will need a pad and a cover. If you don’t have a concrete pad or your drive isn’t large enough, this addition to your home is an added expense. Be sure to factor in the storage cost to stay within your budget.

Insurance and Maintenance Costs

If you own a pontoon boat, there is more involved than just putting the boat into the water. There are gasoline and maintenance costs, insurance premiums, and figuring out how to transport the boat back and forth from the water. (Transporting involves a trailer and truck with a tow hitch).

Which is Better To Buy - New or Used?

This topic is a debate that boat owners have been having for a long time. While there are advantages and disadvantages to each, let’s explore some of them below.

New Pontoon Boats

There is nothing better than the smell of something new.  While newer models are priced significantly higher than their pre-owned counterparts, they also have less chance for mechanical issues.

In addition, new boats will cost more to insure. The facts are that your initial costs will be more significant with purchasing a new pontoon, but subsequent costs will be less during the first few years of ownership.

One thing to consider is that most pontoon boat brands offer comprehensive warranties that cover the structural components of a pontoon boat. Compare warranties to see what is covered and read reviews to discover how responsive the company is to the owners who have had issues with their new boat.

Used Pontoon Boats

There is a massive market for used pontoons, and the condition and pricing of these types of boats vary greatly. Potential boat owners need to ensure that their boat selection is made carefully and with a great deal of information.

Before agreeing to any deal, boat buyers should always visually inspect used boats and take them for a test drive. Insist on the previous owner showing you maintenance records and driving history. You want to avoid the worst case scenario, where you inherit someone else’s headache.

The first thing you want to inspect is the pontoon tubes because these pieces of aluminum help keep your boat afloat. While most pontoon boats use aluminum for their pontoon boat, you want to look for damage, dents, or dings. In addition, evidence of leakage or broken welds are apparent signs that this pontoon boat is one you should probably pass on.

Inspect railings and gates for signs of damage and easy access. If you have small children, ensure that the gates lock effectively and will remain secure while cruising. Rear ladders should have plenty of clearance and be well-supported. The last thing you want is a railing to give way or a ladder to buckle while you are on the water.

One thing that is very important for rails and fishing stations is anchoring. Some pontoon boat brands secure their rails and chairs with screws into the decking, while other types of pontoon boats use bolts. Bolts will give better stability and longer life. In addition, check the storage space to ensure that it has enough capacity to keep your equipment intact and waterproof. Ask if the previous owner did any grilling on the boat and if they might be willing to include the grill with the price (if that’s your thing).

While you should expect to see some signs of wear and tear, obvious defects like tears in upholstery and dings or cracks in tubes should be red flags. (Be sure to inspect the tube welds to see any obvious signs of water damage. While aluminum is a rust-free metal, residual discoloration from algae and lake water can indicate how much love the boat received from its owner.

Check on the boat’s battery strength, age, and motor mileage. When inspecting the outboard motor, look for oil leaks and loose connections. Evidence of these kinds of things can indicate problems with the motor, and this is what you don’t want when you own a new pontoon boat. If you see anything that causes you concern, walk away. (There are plenty more fish in the sea).

You should remember that maintaining a pre-owned pontoon boat will be higher than a new one. Factor in storage, fuel costs, insurance, and upkeep before making a final decision.

What’s the Best Time To Buy a Pontoon Boat?

The best time to purchase a pontoon boat is off-season during the winter when prices are deflated. Visit your local dealer and discuss exactly what type of boat you need and whether what you want fits your budget. Doing your research and not being afraid to shop around for the best price is always a good idea.

Are the Certain Boat Brands To Avoid?

While no website will tell you outright the pontoon brands to avoid, there are ways to determine which ones might be better. If you think that all pontoon boats are created equal,  think again. Some boatbuilders care more about their craft and use better materials than others. While every maker has its quirks, you should research what factory processes are used, what other pontoon boat owners say, and what separates different brands. As you investigate, determine what other accessories are most important to you.

Some of the best, most dependable pontoon brands that receive the highest consumer ratings include -

  • Bennington
  • Harris
  • Manitou
  • Premier
  • Barletta,
  • Crest.

Are Pontoon Boats Good Investments?

The truth is that any motorized vehicle generally depreciates, and pontoon boats are no exception. While pontoons tend to decrease in value fairly sharply at first, the depreciation decreases after three years. Most pontoon boats are like cars in that they are not worth the price that was paid for them brand new.  If you are looking for an asset that will hold its value or increase in worth a decade from now, don’t buy a car, truck or boat.

What is the Bottom Line in Buying a Pontoon?

Deciding on your first boat is essential because you will spend much of your time on the water sitting in the driver’s seat. While engine power and deck space are crucial, so are other items like seating arrangements, amenities, and conveniences. The most important thing to consider is your family and the fun they will have on the water. Whether towing a tube, water skiing, or cruising to your favorite romantic cove, a pontoon boat is the way to go.

What To Avoid When Buying A Pontoon Boat
Jacob Collier

Jacob Collier

Born into a family of sailing enthusiasts, words like “ballast” and “jibing” were often a part of dinner conversations. These days Jacob sails a Hallberg-Rassy 44, having covered almost 6000 NM. While he’s made several voyages, his favorite one is the trip from California to Hawaii as it was his first fully independent voyage.

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