Catamaran Sailboat Vs Pontoon

Catamaran Sailboat Vs Pontoon | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

August 30, 2022

Catamarans and pontoons have various differences and similarities that stand out. The debate between a catamaran sailboat vs pontoon continues to grow.

For some individuals, one is better than the other based on their needs of getting on the water. So what are some key differences between a catamaran and pontoon?

Catamarans generally have more deck space, you can access the hulls, and are used in sailing. For pontoons, the deck sits on hulls that you cannot access, are not used in sailing, and are much cheaper than a catamaran. While they both show similarities, these boats are easy to tell apart.

To the untrained eye, these boats are sometimes mistaken for one another. Once you learn the key differences, they are easy to tell apart.

According to experts in sailing, catamarans are similar in a few ways to pontoons. However, a catamaran is the one you want when sailing.


Table of contents

Key Differences Between Catamarans and Pontoons

If you are in the market to buy a new boat, you have to ask yourself where you will be spending a lot of your time on the water. If you are in shallow but calm waters like a lake, a pontoon could be worth it. For ocean sailing, a catamaran is best.

A catamaran has independent hulls that are joined by a wing structure. If the space between that is filled with a deck, then you have a pontoon.

Size of Deck

Pontoon boats have a deck that is on top of a pair of pontoons, which could be two or more if the pontoon boat is quite large. While they are generally made from aluminum, their sole purpose is to support the deck.

Since the decks completely cover the pontoons, you cannot access them. As for catamarans, this is not the case.

Catamarans have a pair of hulls that support the deck, but they can be accessed for storage or living sections. Since they can be accessed, it cuts down on the total deck space.

In addition, a lot of catamarans will have an area on the deck enclosed for the captain to sail the boat. This takes up space on the deck too.

Depending on the size of each boat, it can make a difference on the deck size. Generally, pontoons have more deck space because they lack other features found in catamarans.

Size of Hull

As mentioned, pontoon boats do not have hulls you can access. For catamarans, this is a win if you are trying to live on your boat.

Catamarans often have many options in the hulls to live or provide storage. The larger the boat is, the more living space and features are available in the hulls.

Even if you find the smallest catamaran out there, they still have access to the hulls. The living space might not be comfortable, but you can still make it work.

Where to Sail

If you are wanting a boat that has sailing capabilities, the catamaran is the only option out of the two. Pontoons are not meant for the ocean, as they are built for lakes, rivers, or bays.

Pontoons are generally used for recreational purposes and found in two forms. These are standard pontoons and house boats.

Catamarans can even be used in races against other catamarans. While these are not like racing cars, you can still have fun trying to race another.

Due to their size, catamarans can handle tougher conditions that the ocean or storms might bring. As for pontoons, they are designed for you to have a relaxed time.

Ease of Use

When looking at ease of use, the pontoon is one of the easiest boats to learn how to operate since you simply drive it on the water. With catamarans, you need to know how to sail in order to successfully operate the boat.

If you have never operated a pontoon boat, it will likely take you a few minutes to get the basics down. If you have never sailed before, you are going to be on a major learning curve trying to do it alone on a catamaran.

The experience levels are nowhere near the same to operate both boats. It is recommended that you have some experience sailing a catamaran before heading out to sea with one.


Looking at standard pontoon boats, they can reach up to 30 miles an hour. Some luxury brands might go faster, but likely not too much.

Catamarans have mixed results on speed depending on the size and wind. They can reach up to 50 miles an hour in the right conditions.

While a pontoon boat has the potential to go fast, it is recommended that you do not race them. These boats are not meant to cut through waves or wakes, which could potentially damage or flip your boat.


Catamarans are some of the most stable sailboats you can have. If one is ever flipped over in rough conditions, they will still float. You could potentially hold onto the hull at that point, but hopefully you never have to experience this.

As for pontoons, they are also fairly stable. If one of these are flipped, it will likely not sink either. Keep in mind that you should be handling either one properly, but their stability makes it easy to do so.

Size of Boat

Pontoons are typically anywhere between 15 to 50 feet depending on the type of boat it is. As for catamarans, they average between 40 to 50 feet with some being smaller and some are as long as 145 feet.

When docking either boat, you will likely have to pay more for the catamaran. Depending on the size, you might be charged twice for taking up two spots at a marina.

The size of the boat makes a huge difference with your adventure goals. If you want to have a handful of people in calmer waters, the pontoon is a great option.

If you want to sail on the ocean but also have plenty of people on board, the catamaran is the way to go. The size of the boat greatly affects deck space, living quarters, and storage.

Price Differences

Since both boats are designed for different purposes, the price points are greatly different. For a pontoon, these can range between $10,000 to $140,000 depending on size, brand, and features.

For a catamaran, you are looking anywhere between $30,000 to several million dollars. Factors that influence the price are the brand, size of boat, additional features, and how luxurious the boat is.

If you are planning on spending recreational time on the water for the weekend with your family, it makes sense to buy a pontoon. If you want to potentially live on your boat for long periods of time, a catamaran makes sense to purchase.


Catamarans often have two motors, which means double the maintenance cost for this. Pontoons can rely on one motor since they are narrow enough to fit just one.

Since catamarans are designed for the ocean, they are equipped with sails. These need to be regularly inspected and maintained in order to function properly.

If one of the sails are ripped or damaged, these need to be replaced or you risk potentially damaging your boat. Without proper sails, the boat becomes hard to steer.

Catamarans are also made out of different materials, such as fiberglass. Pontoons are generally made out of aluminum.

With that being said, fiberglass is delicate and can potentially get a hole when scratched. As for aluminum, it can handle a beating before it takes on water.

Since catamarans have living spaces and storage in the hulls, this is another maintenance cost to consider. Pontoon boats simply have the deck, motor, and pontoons to worry about when trying to maintain the boat.

Value of Boat

Pontoon boats fall in value quite quickly after they are purchased new. Depending on the size and brand, you could potentially hold some value.

It is usually better to buy a pontoon boat around three years after the date it was made. As for catamarans, the resale value is fairly high.

Catamarans are not as commonly made as pontoons are, meaning you can name your price on the used market. While this is good for the seller, it makes it harder for the consumer to find one at a great price.

Perfect for Your Situation

Both pontoons and catamarans can help you reach your goals of getting out on the water. While there are major differences in where you can take either boat, they do offer different options.

For the ocean, it is a no-brainer to take the catamaran. For calmer bodies of water and a relaxed time, take the pontoon. If you are worried about price, then a pontoon might be the way to go.

There are a ton of possibilities to consider, and they will only be relevant to your situation. Narrow down your goals to get on a body of water and see what works best for you.

Catamaran Sailboat Vs Pontoon
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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