How To Start A Pontoon Boat

How To Start A Pontoon Boat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

January 11, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Most marine boats are equipped with a kill switch.
  • Be sure to follow all safety guidelines and local regulations.
  • Ensure that the driver is conscious of their surroundings.

You just rented a pontoon boat and are about to take it on the water, but you need to know how to start the pontoon. How do you start a pontoon boat?

Starting a pontoon boat is relatively easy, but there are a few things to remember.

  • Follow all safety precautions
  • Sit in the driver's seat
  • Attach the safety lanyard to the kill switch
  • Insert the key and turn to start
  • Let the Boat Warm-up
  • Put the Throttle into Reverse. Steer away from the dock.
  • Once clear of the Dock, put the throttle into the forward position.

With the explosion of pontoon ownership sweeping across American waterways, owners have many questions. From maintaining the boats when out of the water to proper etiquette and operation when on the lake, a pontoon boat requires a responsible person to make the right decisions. In an ongoing effort to help educate owners about pontoon ownership, we want to share the right way to start your boat so that nothing unfortunate happens. The last thing you want is to scrape your boat or cause an accident because you don’t know what you are doing.


Table of contents

How To Start A Pontoon Boat

There are several steps to ensure everything goes smoothly.

Follow Safety Precautions

You want to ensure that you and any occupants of the pontoon boat are wearing approved life jackets. Have guests sit down, so they do not block or obstruct your view as you back away from the dock. A responsible boat captain has complete control of his boat and its occupants, so if someone refuses to cooperate, you have the right to ask them to disembark.

Take a Seat in the driver's Chair.

In order to start your pontoon boat, you will need to be on the boat, sitting in the driver's seat. This is an excellent time to have a buddy untie any ropes connecting the boat to a dock. If you are by yourself, you must have untied your boat before getting into the driver’s seat).

Attach the Safety Lanyard to the Ignition Kill Switch.

Since most pontoons are less than 26 feet, kill switches are likely a part of your boat’s configuration. This kill switch is designed to cut power to the engine if the driver of the boat is thrown off the helm (or walks away from the driver’s seat). One end of the lanyard is attached to the kill switch (usually near the ignition slot for the key), and the other is connected to the driver's clothing or wrapped around the driver’s wrist.

These emergency ON/OFF switches were mandated by Congress in 2018, even though most manufacturers had been installing them into their boats for decades. Since most boating accidents occur when someone or a driver falls overboard, these kill switch lanyards have saved countless lives over the years.

Insert The Key and Turn the key to the ON position

If the boat has a separate battery dial, you need to turn the boat’s power to the ON position. (Sometimes, the Key has an ON position). This allows the motor to be trimmed up or down into our out of the water.

Once the dial/key is turned On, trim the boat's motor down into the water (the button is usually located on the side of the throttle).

Turn the Key to Start and Engage the Engine.

Turn the key in the ignition and listen for the boat’s motor to engage (just like a car ignition). Some newer model pontoon boats have a push-button start and keyless fobs that operate with the stab of a finger, so you will need to know which your boat has.

Let the Boat Warm up.

It is always a good idea to let the motor warm up for a couple of minutes before you return from the dock. This technique lessens the wear and tear on the engine by allowing it to reach operating temperature before throwing it into full throttle.

When the boat’s motor has been stationary for a while, the engine’s lubricants settle into a pan. The moving parts are cold and need lubricants circulating through them as they move. Starting the engine and letting it warm up will ensure that the lubricants spread through the engine to reduce friction. Allowing your engine to warm up can increase the longevity of your motor, so it is worth doing for that reason alone.

Slowly Put the Throttle into Reverse.

You want to ensure that everyone is seated and that you have looked around enough to be mindful of your surroundings.

Be wary of where the dock is, other boats in the vicinity, and other obstructions that might pose potential issues. Turn the wheel in the direction you want the boat to go. (This is an excellent time to stand up to get a better idea of where the edge of the boat is, this helps the boat from not scraping the dock s the pontoon backs away).

Once Clear of the Dock, Put the Throttle, Forward.

Once your pontoon has cleared the dock, shift the gearshift forward and increase the throttle. (if you need to trim the motor down completely, do it now). You need to move slowly until you are in open water. Many lakes, rivers, and bays have posted speed limit signs or channel markers that must be followed. If you are new to the waterway, knowing any rules or regulations is essential before you travel.

Why is the Pontoon Boat Not Starting?

There are a couple of reasons why a pontoon engine might not be starting.

The Engine Needs Priming

Sometimes, an outboard motor will have a primer bulb that presses gasoline into the engine (like the bulb you press on your lawn mower before you pull the starter cord). The fuel bulb is generally located on the fuel line between the gas tank and the engine. Squeeze it a few times so that the engine is primed for starting, then return to the driver's seat and turn the key again to see if it doesn't start.

The Battery is Dead

If you turn the key and nothing happens, the battery is likely dead. It will need to be charged or replaced before continuing. Corroded battery terminals or broken or damaged cables can also keep a boat from starting.

The Kill Switch is OFF.

Ensure the battery dial or the ignition switch is ON rather than OFF. If the lanyard has become disconnected from the switch, this can keep the pontoon from starting. The lanyard quickly gets disconnected from the ignition (even without the driver realizing it) so just check to ensure it is still connected.

There is No Gas in the Boat.

While this is rare, if you rent a boat, you want to ensure that it has an adequate amount of gas before leaving the dock. If you need more, fill the tank. Many pontoons have a small gas can stored on board so that if the boat runs out of gas on the water, there is enough to get back to the marina.

How To Start 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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