Best Pontoon Boats For The Money

Best Pontoon Boats For The Money | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

January 31, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Pontoon owners should do extensive research before purchasing
  • The best boats allow for easy transformation of seating areas.
  • Ensure that you are purchasing a large enough motor to do what you want.
  • Take the boat you are considering on a test drive if at all possible.

Pontoon boats are growing in popularity across American waterways, and you want one. But with so many brands, what are the best values in pontoon boats?

We made a list of the best pontoon boats and why we think these have value.

  • SeaDoo Switch
  • Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16 XL Select
  • Lowes SS 210
  • PrinceCraft Jazz 190
  • Barletta Cabrio
  • Bennington LX Sport
  • Harris Grand Mariner
  • Avalon Excalibur LTD
  • Premier Escalante 350
  • Manitou 27 XT SRW

There is no question that pontoon boats have been outselling every other kind of watercraft on the market. You can use a pontoon boat for cruising, watersports, or even pulling your crazy cousin on an inner tube. A pontoon boat can do it all. But which one is best? What brand of pontoon should you choose? What amenities should you purchase? What is the best boat to meet your needs and be affordable enough not to break the piggy bank? This article will examine some of the best values in pontoon boats on the market today so that you be confident that you are making the right decision for your recreational activities.


Table of contents

Who Invented the Pontoon Boat?

If you could take a deck and float it out on the water, or put a motor on it and drive it anywhere you wanted, you would understand the basic premise of a pontoon boat. A pontoon boat is loosely based on a catamaran-style watercraft, where twin aluminum tubes are welded to the bottom of the decking and powered by one or two outboard motors. An aluminum or fiberglass fence (called the playpen) is built around the edge of the decking, and different seating configurations are built inside that area. A Pontoon becomes a floating room, with the furniture arranged along the rails as the boat’s owner feels is best for their situation.

A Minnesota farmer named Ambrose Weeres is credited with inventing pontoons as we know them today. He welded several oil drums together end to end and built a wood deck, and then he tied the two together. The idea worked, and soon, the old farmer was building these boats for friends and family. After several boating manufacturers began to see the potential, the pontoon boat began to appear in lots of lakes and rivers. In the 1970s, many manufacturers jumped into the water and developed their version of this new and wonderful boat, which boaters were happy to purchase.

What are Pontoons Used for on the Water?

One of the attractions of a pontoon boats is the versatility that they provide. Because of the flat deck, the possibilities for different seating arrangements are endless. Passengers do not need to sit facing front, as in a traditional boat. Instead, they can lounge on benches built to wrap around the edge of the deck, which promotes conversation and intimacy. If the owner wants to put in a couple of fishing stations, then with some simple modifications, the pontoon’s playpen area can be added.

Pontoons are great cruisers, but they can also be excellent fishing platforms, or if the engine is powerful enough, engage in water sports. Many families use pontoon boats for water sports, like tubing, water skiing, and swimming. These types of watercraft are best used for freshwater applications, although some pontoons are used for saltwater cruising. Due to the vulnerability in high winds, the pontoon differs from the kind of boat that can handle deep seas.

What are Some Questions to Ask Before Purchasing a Pontoon?

There are several questions before deciding which pontoon boat to purchase. One of the best things a pontoon owner can do is to reflect on the type and size of the boat that will best fit the needs of their situation. Many owners have rushed out to the dealer, bought the first thing they saw, and then regretted their purchase.

  • What is the activity that my family enjoys most on the water?
  • Will my boat be used for skiing, tubing, cruising, or as a fishing vessel?
  • How many people will be traveling on the boat?
  • Do I need fishing stations or multiple swimming decks?
  • What other expenses do I need to consider, like a trailer, insurance, or storage costs?
  • Are there specific amenities I know my family will want?
  • What are the owner’s online reviews for the brand I am considering?
  • What is the budget that I am working with?

The Best Pontoon Boats For Value-Minded Budgets

Before you plop down money for a new pontoon boat, let’s review some of the best pontoon and tri-toons available on the market. Choose one of these if you want to purchase one of the best pontoon boats for the money at under $50k.

Sea-Doo Switch

Sea-Doo Switch
Sea-Doo Switch

If you had to pick one innovative, affordable pontoon that seems to be everybody’s favorite, with sales that are on fire, it would be the Sea-Doo Switch. This compact pontoon has become so popular that Boating Magazine named it “Boat of the Year” for 2022.

Many millennials love this boat. The company knew the one rap that PWC (personal watercraft) have is that a jet ski only holds two people. So, if you have a group of three or more, someone stays on the beach while the other two play, or you buy another jet ski. The Switch solves the problem of what to do when you have a group, and everybody wants to be on the water together by marrying a jet ski, three tubes, and some decking space.

You drive the Switch just like you drive a jet ski. The helm consists of a chair with motorcycle-like handlebars that the driver grabs to steer and power the craft. (If you have ever ridden a bike, chances are you can drive a Sea-Doo Switch).

Another innovation is how owners can modify the furniture. The manufacturer uses composite movable tiles that allow for different arrangements, even on the fly. There is adequate storage for a small pontoon, rod holders, and a smooth ride. The Switch seats six - ten passengers. A trailer is included with the Switch, which is priced at $21,995. At this point, with all that it offers, it wouldn’t surprise us if it won the same award two years in a row.

Things We Like:

  • A boat that is easy to drive
  • Quick ability to change seating arrangements
  • A Best value for the price
  • Jet Ski motor uses less fuel
  • Storage space underneath.

Things We Didn’t Like:

  • Unstable in rough water - no saltwater applications

Build Your Boat: To build and price your Switch, see the Sea-Doo website.

Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16

Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16
Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16

Instead of catching perch and baby bass from a dock or the bank of the lake, wouldn’t it be great if you could find a way to take the dock to your favorite fishing hole? Well, the Bass Buggy does precisely that very thing. On this little fishing platform, you have room to spread out, cast multiple lines, and even take the boat close enough to the shallows to land some giant bass, catfish, or whatever type of fish you’ve been hoping will strike.

Even the basic model of the Sun Tracker Bass Buggy has an outboard motor that will move you across the lake and get you to your favorite fishing holes. The inner playpen provides plenty of room for intimate family adventures and has a decent seating capacity. The boat has cushioned fishing chairs, plenty of rod holders, and a storage well to stash your latest catch. The Sun Tracker is priced at less than twenty grand, which makes it an excellent fishing pontoon.

Things We Like:

  • Good warranty
  • Great boat for small families
  • Excellent fishing boat
  • Built in Missouri
  • Easy to maneuver
  • Room for tackle and rods.

Things We Don’t Like:

  • 50 HP engine means you cruise more slowly.
  • Not made for saltwater applications.

Build Your Boat: The Sun Tracker website will let you build your Bass Buggy.

Princecraft Jazz 190

Princecraft Jazz 190
Princecraft Jazz 190

The Jazz 190 is an excellent value for the money, considering that you find many amenities you might expect in other, more expensive pontoons. The pontoon boat sells for around thirty thousand and remains popular among boating enthusiasts. The Princecraft is versatile enough to accomplish almost anything you ask of it. A swim platform extends off the rear to give swimmers clearance into the water. A stainless steel boarding ladder makes re-entry easy.

Sun worshippers will have lots of space to lay out and soak up rays, and fishing stations allow for fantastic family interactions.

One thing that we love about this pontoon is all the available storage. There is ample space under the seats for all items and cubbies scattered around for smaller things like shoes or sandals. The Jazz 190 can seat six, and while there are two fishing chairs on the front swim deck, the Captain and 2nd mate chairs are toward the rear (where the live well is located). The front swivel chairs can be removed and stored when not needed. Four adults have room to fish without getting into each other’s way.

What We Like:

  • Portable gas tank makes refueling easier
  • Lots of storage
  • Love the four separate stations
  • An affordable boat that looks more expensive

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Small gas tank limits range
  • Built in Canada

Build Your Boat: To build and price your Jazz 190, see the Premier website.

The Best Mid-Range Pontoons for the Money

Lowe SS 210

Lowe SS 210
Lowe SS 210

The Lowe boats make almost everyone’s best pontoon boat lists. While the pontoon boat has many of the same features as most others, the 25” aluminum tubes are a bit wider, which helps lift the boat a bit, and smoothes the ride. A 115 HP ELPT Mercury outboard is the motor plant, with a top speed of 50 mph, which is as close to flying across the water as you can get.

The 20-foot deck is spacious, and the interior playpen seats 11, which gives your passengers room to walk around comfortably. There is lots of storage underneath the bench seats, and the Captain’s chair is comfortable with upgraded vinyl. The boat exudes a rich and nostalgic feel, and is priced near $55k when nicely equipped.

What We Liked:

  • Built in Missouri
  • Very affordably priced
  • Good sized motor
  • Swim transom fits more than one.

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Warranty could be better.

Build Your Boat: The Lowe website will help you build your SS 210.

Barletta Cabrio

Of all the pontoon boat brands, Barletta is one of our favorites. This beautiful tri-toon offers the most amenities for the money and gets our nod for the best pontoon boat. The Cabrio is not the most affluent pontoon that the company makes, but as an entry-level luxury pontoon, it has a lot to offer.

From the raised Captain’s chair to the quad lounging area, this boat is a joy to behold. (Even my dog was impressed with the feeding drawer that pops out from the side of the helm just off the helm area. Solid I-beam cross members provide stability and support for the decking but also aid in smoothing the ride. Vibration pods, wave tamers, and reinforced nose cones ensure that you can safely navigate into any harbor.

There are nice details everywhere, like integrated armrests with Yeti cup holders on the front lounge seats, and a rear seating area that easily transforms into a full-sized bed. The bimini top is powered and moves with the flip of a switch, and a rear ski tow bar allows everyone to enjoy a little tubing. There are lots of safety features that you find with other pontoon brands, but we were impressed with the frame built around the outboard, to help give swimmers on the rear deck something to hold onto, as they walk over the slick rear tow deck. It’s details like this that make Barletts one of our best pontoon boat brands.

What We Like:

  • Pet-friendly
  • Solid construction
  • Powered bimini top
  • Safety features like stainless steel rails around the outboard.

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Not as sleek or athletic as other pontoon boats.

Build Your Boat: The Barletta website can help you build and price your Cabrio.

Bennington LX Sport

One of the newest players in the pontoon boat world is Bennington Marine. Since its inception in 1997, Bennington Boats has consistently risen to the top of the makers of quality luxury pontoons and tri-toons.

The LX Sport is our pick for the best luxury pontoon boat, even though it is not the most expensive tri-toon Bennington makes. (Their QX 30 is over $300,000, and the RX line is among the most popular boats sold). New for 2023, the LX Sport seeks to steal some design cues from its RX brothers and has succeeded in inheriting a fast, athletic appearance.

There are high-quality features everywhere. The interior has a small galley, three lounge areas, and a removable dining table with four chairs. Ample storage compartments under the seating positions make stowing items like anchors and tools accessible.

One of the best features of the LX Sport is the helm area. It is raised a step to help elevate the helm and provide a clear line of sight for keeping track of tubers. While the driver needs to remember the step from the deck to the Captain’s chair, there is a feeling of importance when a driver sits higher than everyone else. A well-equipped LX Sport will set you back less than $100,000, but we think it is worth the money.

What We Like:

  • Affordable
  • Bennington reputation for quality
  • Built in Indiana
  • Lifetime warranty on structure and pontoon tubes.

What We Don’t Like:

  • Nothing

Build Your Boat: The Bennington website will help you build your LX Sport.

The Best Luxury Pontoons for the Money

If you want a more affluent feel on the water, check out some of our picks for the best luxury pontoon boats.

Harris Grand Mariner 250

Harris Grand Mariner 250
Harris Grand Mariner 250

The Harris Grand Mariner is another award winner (applause, please). Boating Industry has named the Harris Grand Mariner 250 one of boating’s top products for 2022. Now, lest you think that this is some participation trophy everyone gets, we can assure you it isn’t. It is one of the top prizes in the boating industry. Consider it the “Oscars” of the marine industry.

Harris Boats incorporates fiberglass in their topsides rather than painted aluminum. The fiberglass is easier to mold, lighter, and less wind resistant. The result was a boat that pontoon owners couldn’t stop drooling over. (Not only does the fiberglass improve the look, but the lighter pontoon boat uses less fuel).

At a 27-foot deck, there is enough room for entertaining guests, which makes it a dynamic pontoon cruiser. An extended rear deck is perfect for swimmers. The 200 HP four-stroke engine is more than adequate for any kind of water sports that you want to do and the lifting strakes help the boat rise above the waves. Hydraulic steering makes cruising very comfortable. The powered bimini top and pop-up cleats are a nice touch. Lighted cup holders help keep things contained where they need to be. (A pontoon boat can never have enough cup holders, just saying). The helm station is functional and high-tech, which we love.

The Harris Grand Mariner will set you back around $125,000, but considering how good it rides, many pontoon owners feel this is the best boat for the money.

What We Liked:

  • Multiple engine choices.
  • Many standard amenities
  • Fiberglass creates a sporty look, less wind drag
  • Built in Indiana
  • Lighter craft than other pontoons

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Nothing

Build Your Boat: To Build Your Grand Mariner 250, see Harris Boat’s website.

Avalon Excalibur LTD

This Michigan boat maker has made every component that goes into their boats for decades. (every bolt, bracket, and baseboard is made in-house). Since most pontoon boats use components from other smaller manufacturers. This dynamic gives the company a high degree of control and parts quality because they don’t depend on separate companies to make anything.

Excalibur LTD is their flagship model. The tri-toon seems more stable and secure on the waves. Beautifully polished aluminum walls with fiberglass accents give this pontoon a luxurious image and make it a real head-turner. The deck is over 27 feet long and has enough space for over a dozen people. Twin 450HP outboards provide the power needed and are almost too much engine thrust.

One of the best features is the portside food prep area, with a fridge and storage cabinets. galley, refrigerator, and food prep area.  These amenities make the Excalibur the ultimate party boat. We loved the RGB underwater lighting and cupholders situated in the armrests. The Avalon Excalibur LTD is luxury at its finest. This luxury boat is the perfect pontoon boat for saltwater applications.

What We Liked:

  • Electric everything.
  • Reclining helm chair
  • Built in Michigan
  • A refrigerator and galley for preparing food.
  • RGB lighting is very chic.

What We Didn’t Like

  • Might be too much boat for fresh-water applications
  • Options are costly.

Build Your Boat: The Avalon website will help you build your Excalibur.  

Best Ultra-Luxury Pontoon Boats for the Money

There is a massive market for folks who like to have the finest possessions. Here are a couple of good choices if you have the money to spend.

Premier Escalante 350

As far as double-decker party boats go, there is nothing better than the Escalante 350 by Premier Boats. This boat is the kind of party barge that has everything for everyone. The kids can use the slide, and the teenage diva of a daughter can sunbathe on the upper deck lounge. Need a place for drinks and appetizers while hosting the HOA? The main deck of the Escalante has enough deck space to accommodate.

The Escalante 350 has a spacious main deck with seating everywhere. Ultimate features like a galley with fridge and food prep area. (Add a charcoal grill, and you could have a party barge that sells food). The stern lounger areas are lush and convenient, and there is more than enough storage under the seat areas or in the countless cubbies and storage pockets.

This boat is more than adequate for saltwater applications as long as you intend to navigate the coastal inlets and harbors that are so much a part of coastal life. The upper deck could mean a more frail craft in high winds, so deep waters and open seas with rough waves should probably be avoided.  Premier makes this boat in Big Lake, Minnesota, and this pontoon boat is right at home in the land of a thousand lakes. The Escalante retails for around $375,000.

What We Liked:

  • Great cruising boat
  • Water slide from upper deck
  • Docking lights change color - improves the nighttime look of the boat.
  • Amenities everywhere
  • Built in Minnesota
  • Changing room.

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Not for deep sea travels.
  • Expensive.

Build Your Boat: The Premier’s website can help you build your own Escalante 350

Manitou 27 XT SRW

If you are looking for a very fast high-quality pontoon boat, you will want to investigate Manitou. Their XT model scoots across the water at close to 80 mph (although we wouldn’t recommend going that fast). Manitou uses a V-shaped tube for their tri-toons, and this dynamic allows better water displacement as the boat travels through the waves.

Many pontoon owners love this brand. Founded in 1986, the company dedicated itself to building luxury pontoons with premium materials. The XT has all the amenities you might expect, six lifting strakes, 900 HP dual engines, and a 90-gallon tank for plenty of range.

The painted fiberglass walls are exquisite looking, with contrasting accents. This pontoon boat uses the latest technology, including controlling your pontoon via a smartphone, key fob, or even a Garmin Quatix watch that every owner receives as a part of the purchase. There is a joystick for the inboard trolling motors allows maneuvering in tight spaces. The helm station has the latest tech stuff like GPS, touchscreen controls, and well-lit displays.

The boat offers interior seating areas made with CoolTouch vinyl have lots of storage space. Fishing seats are located at the rear, with a live well. A tow bar hangs from a power watersports tower that can be managed from the helm by an electric motor. The folks at Manitou will build you one for around $350,000. (There is so much to like about this boat, we can’t list everything that makes this pontoon the best of the luxury pontoon boats we reviewed).

What We Like:

  • Lots of Tech
  • A joystick for tight spaces
  • The power bimini top and watersports tower
  • 900 HP will set speed records
  • RGB lighting
  • Lifetime structural warranty
  • 10-year hull and deck coverage

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Nothing. (This boat is as close to perfect as it can get)

Build Your Boat: The Manitou website will help you build and price your 27 XT SRW.

Best Pontoon Boats For The Money
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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