Can You Waterski Behind A Pontoon Boat?

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

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

March 10, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Pontoon boats can be used for waterskiing.
  • A pontoon boat needs a large engine (at least 90 HP) to pull a waterskier.
  • A pontoon boat will not make as large a wake as a V-shaped boat.
  • Waterskiing is a contact sport, so please, ski safely.

Whether fishing with family, cruising with friends or having fun, a pontoon boat can do almost anything, but can you waterski behind a pontoon boat?

While pontoon boats are not built for speed usually, they can generate enough wake to make waterskiing a fun event if the engine is large enough. In addition, a pontoon boat will have a harder time reaching the correct speed if loaded with passengers due to the additional weight.

Many families are discovering the versatility of pontoon boats as they seek to find a watercraft that can be used for whatever weekend adventure they plan. From swimming, sunbathing, or just a place for a little socializing (party), a pontoon boat can do it all. But when it comes to hitching a rope to the back of the boat and dragging a skier through the water, it is vital to know a few things first. Don’t assume that your pontoon boat can pull a waterskier just because you think it might be fun. Not all pontoon boats are made equal.


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. These tubes or pontoons displace enough water to keep the boat afloat. The advantage of a pontoon boats is that they can accommodate more passengers than regular V-shaped boats. They are built for cruising and are ideal for fishing or other water sports.

The pontoon boat was invented by a farmer in Minnesota who wanted to float a pier out onto the water so he could fish. He welded several oil drums end to end, bolted them to a deck, and cast off. The displacement of the drums kept the deck afloat. The farmer continued making “Pontoon” boats for friends and family until boat manufacturers adopted the idea and mass-produced them.

What Does It Take to Pull A Water Skier?

The biggest factor in pulling a water skier with any boat is speed. The towing boat has to have enough horsepower to get up to speed. This is why waterski boats are ideal because their engine doesn’t have to push the mass that a pontoon boat has.

To get a pontoon boat up to the speed it will take to pull a waterskier, you will need a reasonably sizable engine. Generally, the towing boat must go between 25 - 30 mph (which is plenty fast on water). To accomplish this, your pontoon will need to be equipped with at least a 90 HP motor. If you plan on pulling a skier with a fully loaded boat, you will need a larger engine, 115 HP or more.

Remember that the boat's size and load will factor into the ability to reach cruising speeds. A fully loaded boat will require more power and fuel to get to the right speed. In addition, a smaller pontoon (20’) will be easier for the engine to push through the water than a larger (26’) one might.

What are the Differences When Skiing Behind a Pontoon Boat?

You should expect a couple of differences when pulling a waterskier behind a pontoon boat.

The Wake is not the Same.

If you have waterskied behind a speed boat, you know what kind of wake to expect, and you also know that you can get some serious air. Unlike a V-shaped boat that produces a large wake in the center from a single propeller, the pontoon boat produces smaller wakes (one from the propeller and two from the metal pontoons). This condition means it is harder to get any air from the wake of a pontoon boat. If you are a skier who likes doing tricks and lives for lift, then a pontoon boat is not going to cut it, no matter how fast it is going.


A ski boat can turn quickly, which helps the water skier cross wakes, creating a thrill. Unfortunately, a pontoon boat is not as maneuverable, so the sudden zig-zags popular with some skiers aren’t possible.

As you might expect from a pontoon boat, it takes longer to turn around when a skier crashes. That means that if a skier loses their grip and splashes head-first into the water, it will be a minute for the boat to turn back. Since water skiing can be a contact sport and cause serious injury, a pontoon may not have the advantage of a speed boat.

What are Some Safety Tips to make Water Skiing More Fun?

You need to know some things about enjoying the fun of waterskiing.

Wear a Life Vest

It does without saying that anytime you are on the water, whether in a boat or not, you should always wear a life vest. Since skiers always crash into the water, a life vest is needed to keep a swimmer buoyant. Be sure the skier is equipped with one and a crash helmet if needed.

The Coast Guard recommends a Class III life vest that will not interfere with skiing. This type of life vest is designed to keep a person afloat but is not guaranteed to turn an unconscious swimmer face up, so if someone goes down, be ready to get the boat back to them in a hurry.

Have the Right Equipment

Ensure that the tow rope is designed for water use and is not frayed or worn. The skis should also be free from cracks or broken spots.

Know the Hand Signals

There are various hand signals that can help communication between the skier and the driver of the boat. A thumbs-up means going faster, while a thumbs-down means slowing down. If the skier has had enough and wants to return to the boat, then a pat on the head is the signal. Anytime a skier crashes, two hands clasped above the head mean that the skier is all right and responsive.

Have a Spotter, not the Driver

It is always a good idea to have a spotter who can watch the skier continually and not rely on the driver glancing back. With a spotter, they can inform the driver if trouble happens, and the boat driver can concentrate on direction and speed. This also helps keep the boat from running into other obstacles or getting too close to another boat's personal space.

Be Aware of the Surroundings

Boating etiquette means always staying clear of other boats when possible. Since a water skier can extend the personal space around a pontoon boat, be cognizant of piers, other boats, or other swimmers and stay clear of them.

Have a Plan for When the Skier Goes into the Water

Safety cannot be stressed enough when participating in water sports like waterskiing. The skier will always start in the water, and end up in the same way. Be sure that all participants know how to tread water and swim to the boat once it stops near the downed skier.

Can You Waterski 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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