Can You Wakesurf Behind A Pontoon Boat?

Can You Wakesurf Behind A Pontoon Boat? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

December 7, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Wake Surfing should not be attempted behind a pontoon boat
  • Wakeboarding should only be attempted on a boat with an outboard motor.
  • Many states have regulations that limit wake surfing activities.
  • Tubing and Waterskiing are done at safer distances behind a pontoon boat.

Whether cruising with the family or just having a fun-filled afternoon, a pontoon boat can be a water lover's dream, but can you wake surf behind a pontoon?

A pontoon boat is ideally suited for various water activities, like water skiing, tubing, or even wake surfing if the engine is an inboard motor with enough power. If the pontoon boat is equipped with an outboard motor, wake surfing can put people at risk of getting tangled up with a propeller.

More and more families are discovering the versatility of pontoon boats (in fact, the market is expected to almost double in the next five years to over $4 billion in sales). And while pontoon boats might not create as much wake as a traditional V-shaped craft, they can still be ideally suited for almost any activity you or your family wants to do.


Table of contents

What is a Pontoon Boat?

A pontoon boat is a flat-decked boat kept buoyant by two metal tubes on either side of the deck. They are built for cruising and ideal for fishing.

Generally, these boats provide a larger area and can carry more passengers. Pontoons are built to be family cruisers, leaving the need for speed to other boats on the water. While it might be fun to see how fast a pontoon can go, these boats are not built for wave slapping. We don’t care if your neighbor has outfitted his pontoon with different engines. A pontoon boat is made for a leisurely pace.

Because they are not generally made to produce a large wake, a pontoon boat probably won’t cut it as much as a standard V-shaped boat when it comes to wakeboarding. And the reason is simple. They just were designed for a different purpose.

Why Is Wake Surfing not a Good Idea?

There are several reasons why wake surfing should be discouraged behind a pontoon boat.

A Pontoon Boat Does Not Make the Right Wave to Wakesurf.

Typically, a pontoon boat has two or three metal tubes that keep the boat afloat. These tubes produce a much smaller wake than a regular V-shaped boat. (The wake is cut up into thirds (engine in the middle and two side wakes from the pontoons). A wake surfer is liable to be disappointed by the generated lack of wake a ponton boat has.

A Pontoon Boat May Not Have Enough Power

If you have ever tried wakeboarding, you know that the tow boat needs enough power to pull the surfer up and out of the water. Unfortunately, the board must have an engine with substantial horsepower. Many pontoon boats are not able to push their larger frame, the weight of passengers, and handle the added strain of a wakeboarder.

A Pontoon Boat Needs More Space Behind.

For wakeboarding to be done safely, there must be plenty of open, unobstructed space directly behind the craft. Because the wake is the greatest within a few feet of the motor, a wakesurfer would need to be pulled by a much shorter rope than a standard tuber. This condition puts the surfing person in much closer proximity to the propeller. (You can see what might happen if a propeller blade might cut or slice through the arteries of a leg).

Assuming that a wakeboarder should try to be within ten feet of the motor (which you would need to be to ride any kind of decent wave), there is always the question of exhaust fumes. Since marine motors are all internal combustion engines that burn gasoline and emit exhaust fumes, any wakeboarder would be breathing in toxins. Just like no one would want to be pulled by a rope behind a car’s exhaust, no one should have to endure the carbon-monoxide fumes of a boat, either.

A Pontoon Boat May Have an Outboard Motor

Many reasonably priced pontoon boats have outboard motors, which means there is nothing to keep a wake surfer from plowing right into them. If a surfer loses their balance and falls head first toward the boat, there is always the potential for injury.

A Pontoon Boat Has a Wider Turn Radius

Assuming that something disastrous happens to a wake surfer, it takes more effort to get a pontoon back around to rescue. Because most pontoon boats have their ladders close to the rear motor, an injured party might need more time to wait for the motor to stop swirling.

Why Can Water Sking or Tubing Be Done, but not Wakesurfing?

The answer to this question has to do with distance. The pontoon boat is ideally suited for tubing or waterskiing because they generally use a longer tether rope (at least 100 feet). This distance keeps the tuber or skier safe from the back of the boat.

If a Wakeboarder used a long enough rope to be a significant enough distance from the propeller, then the waves would be more like ripples in the water than outright waves. Short of just standing on a wave board and being pulled through the water, there isn't enough wake of making it fun.

What Kind of Boat Can You Wakesurf Behind?

Just because your friend recently purchased a wakeboard does not mean they can go out and surf behind any old boat. The only safe boat to wake surf behind is an indirect drive inboard motor built into a V-shaped hull. The inboard motor is built into the structure of the boat, while an outboard motor looks like a giant engine was slapped onto the back of a boat. Because the engine is not visible on an inboard vessel, the potential for harm is minimized.

No attempt should ever be made to wake surf behind ANY boat with an outboard motor.

What is the Advantage of a Boat With an Inboard Motor?

Apart from being contained inside the structure of the boat, which makes tangling with the propeller less likely, an internal engine generally produces a bigger wake, more towing power, and a lower site line for a tow rope. This situation prevents the rope from getting wrapped around a propeller or an engine.

Boats with inboard engines are considered to be the safest on the market for pulling wave  riders, tubers, or even waterskiers. While it is possible to find a pontoon boat with an inboard engine, 99% of them will be equipped with an outboard engine.

What is the Cost of A New Pontoon Boat?

A new 22 ft pontoon boat will likely cost around $35,000, not counting transportation or docking costs. Many luxury pontoons with inboard motors can bring upwards of $60 - 100 thousand a piece.

How Far Away From Shore Do I Need to Be to Wakesurf?

Most states have regulations that limit where you can wake surf. Due to the need to create more giant waves, a minimum distance of 200 feet from piers, structures, swimmers, or even other boats is considered acceptable.

Can You Wakesurf Behind 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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