Sometime between the era of your grandparents’ nightly putt-putt around the lake and the more recent trend of 20-somethings partying at the sandbar, pontoon boats became cool. Cool because whether you’re young or old, hip or square, a novice boater or an old salt, you’re likely to dig what’s new on pontoons. Cool as in while they can still cruise and fish with the best, modern pontoons can also run with a go-fast, handle like a sportboat, haul you and your friends on your favorite towable and, yes, when the situation calls for it, party like a rock star.
One big reason for this is that pontoon-boat manufacturers have introduced more than their fair share of cool innovations. Some are big-ticket items, dramatic enhancements to handling or ultra-plush interior amenities. Others are of the “Why didn’t I think of that?” variety, smaller touches that make life aboard more enjoyable or fun. We’ve seen more than we can count in recent years. Here are nine of the coolest.
Manufacturers have introduced multiple variations on the aft lounge design in recent years, but most have centered around morphing the combination bench/sun pad into various stages of recline. Sibling brands Starcraft and Sylvan opted to follow the transformer theme and make the aft lounge transform into something else entirely—a bar. The one aboard the Sylvan L5 DLZ Bar really caught our eye. Pivot each half of the 5-foot-square sun pad upward, as if closing a giant book, to reveal adjoining halves of the bar complete with a faux-granite top, six recessed cup holders and LED accent lighting. A collection of bar stools awaits along the starboard rail. Remove and install them into floor mounts on both sides of the bar and you’re ready to belly on up. And should you party too hearty, that bar just as easily transforms back into a sun pad. Raise your drinks! This design deserves a toast. sylvanmarine.com
Pets Are Crew Too
Barletta has long manufactured some of the most pet-friendly pontoons on the market. Slide-out food and water bowls tuck into the base of every helm. But though the easiest way to a pet’s heart is likely through its stomach, the Indiana manufacturer also acknowledges that most pets’ other favorite pastime is watching the world go by—something a pontoon’s fenced-in perimeter often prevents. Enter the Doggie DockView, a finely perforated panel in both the bow and side gates we saw on the Barletta Lusso 25M that lets pets take in the view without jumping on the furniture. (Not that jumping on the furniture is discouraged; Barletta also advertises its vinyl as ready to stand up to paws and claws.) Bonus? The Doggie DockView likewise improves the captain’s visibility when docking or pulling alongside a downed skier or tube rider. barlettapontoonboats.com
One Small Step for Man…
Lillipad’s REVO boarding ladder aboard the Bennington Q25 Fastback immediately appealed to our keen eye for innovation. Or maybe it was just our aging physiques. Whatever the case, the REVO promised to get us aboard without requiring the muscle—and flexibility—of an American Ninja Warrior. The secret to the REVO’s design is that it’s less like a boarding ladder and more like your porch steps. Deploy the five-step REVO and it angles away from the boat at a gentle slope and extends nearly 4 feet in length. Broad, flat treads offer traction while proving more comfortable on bare feet than traditional rungs. Even pets can clamber in and out with ease. Does that sound overly bulky and hard to handle? The hinged, two-part design can be deployed and retrieved from a standing position and measures only 2 feet tall, 7 inches deep when closed. lillipadmarine.com
V-hull designs have long dominated the boating market. They knife through wakes and chop to deliver a superior ride in rough water and bank into turns with the tenacious grip of a race car at Daytona. How to give a stable but relatively flat-turning pontoon that same sporty feel? Manitou does it with V-Toon Technology, a patented bottom design that pairs smaller outer pontoons with a larger center pontoon dropped over 5 inches deeper in the water. The effect gives a pontoon boat deadrise. Crank into a turn and a V-Toon-equipped Manitou banks much like a V-hulled sportboat while dramatically decreasing the boat’s turning radius—manners far removed from the party barges of old. Add positive-angle lifting strakes and the design also enhances stability, improves the boat’s hole shot and acceleration, and even increases top speed. We got to experience the full effect on board the Manitou Explore 26 Navigator. manitoupontoonboats.com
The Split-Level ’Toon
Any boat that puts crew forward of the captain—think not just pontoons but also bowriders and deck boats—creates a visibility issue. Forward passengers can obstruct the captain’s line of sight, a challenge in open water, but one that proves especially troublesome when docking. With abundant forward seating and fenced-in perimeters, pontoons only add to the clutter. Bennington’s bowrider design tucks the issue out of sight. The secret? Seat bottoms are essentially placed at floor level while a molded, recessed footwell drops into the interior of the V-shaped center pontoon. The result? The forward half of the boat sits a full foot below the norm. That V-shaped central ’toon, combined with the boat’s lower center of gravity, also sharpens handling, improves ride quality, and offers a close-to-the-water feel rarely experienced on a pontoon. Check it out on the Bennington 25R Swingback Bowrider pontoon boat. benningtonmarine.com
Not just one but two products from Lillipad? Yes, Lillipad’s diving board is just too cool to ignore, enticing kids young and old to cannonball or dive into the drink without rocking the boat. Rather than flexing like a traditional diving board, Lillipad’s board combines an aircraft-grade aluminum platform with urethane springs at its base that allow the entire board to drop and then rebound. The solution provides the necessary bounce without placing undue stress on the board’s mounting location. A connection pin between the spring and board can reposition to adjust tension and accommodate a wide variety of users, with a 250-pound weight limit. When not in use, the board folds vertically to free up space on the platform and allow for easy docking, or it removes from the boat entirely. We saw this aboard the Viaggio Diamante 23S. lillipadmarine.com
Stacking the Deck
Pontoons have an abundance of deck space within their perimeter enclosures, but aft platforms often suffer from sterndrive envy. Outboard motors bisect any attempt at an uninterrupted platform, making everything from fishing to gearing up for watersports more cumbersome. The props are exposed to swimmers and boarders. Manitou addressed the issue by redesigning the aft platform and the outboard motor itself. BRP’s stealthy Rotax outboard pairs a horizontal powerhead with a propeller drive, resulting in a low-profile motor that sits partially submerged and tops out at only gunwale height. The design, which we saw on the Manitou Cruise 22 MAX Switchback, allows up to 38 square feet of added space on an uninterrupted platform that extends over the engine. The result clears sightlines, offers room for recreation, and even provides space to mount coolers and water toys to declutter the interior deck. manitoupontoonboats.com
Switch It Up
If there’s one thing the pontoon market has in abundance, it’s floor plans. But once built, the placement of topside furniture is pretty much set in stone. Sea-Doo’s Switch breaks the mold with a floor plan boaters can reconfigure like a supersize Lego set. The key to the design is in a simple locking interface between the individual tiles that form the craft’s deck and the modular furniture pieces that mount above. Like to lounge? Assemble individual seats to form lengthy couches and stretch out. Want to create separate areas for more intimate socializing? Rearrange seats into cozy nooks. You can even go crazy and fashion school-bus-style rows. Accessory pieces like pedestal or corner tables, coolers and storage boxes can also factor into the mix. Or pop out much of the furniture and clear the deck for hardcore fishing or a floating dance floor. sea-doo.com
Looking for a pontoon that’s its own adventure island? Fill the Premier Escalante 350 with up to 19 of your closest friends and get the party started. The 350 features a massive 36-foot-4-inch-long platform filled with cushy couches forward, a club-worthy booth amidships, and a sizable aft galley with a sink and refrigerator. A pop-up changing enclosure? Puh-leez. The Escalante’s adult-size changing room trades clingy curtains for a hard-sided room complete with a sink, shower and portable head. And that’s just the downstairs. Ascend an LED-lit, curvy staircase to the second-story rooftop lounge and find more spots to kick back and chill. A waterslide awaits to plunge second-story occupants into the cool waters below. It’s not even an intimidating beast to drive. Joystick piloting will have you slip-sliding into the dock to pick up partygoers with ease. pontoons.com