Pontoon boats make up an estimated 20 percent of the recreational boat market, outpacing other boats by around 1 to 2 percent. Pontoons debuted on the commercial market in 1951. Minnesota farmer Ambrose Weeres invented them so families could spend days on lakes fishing and swimming. Pontoon boat structures sit on hollow airtight tubes called pontoons. They give the vessel buoyancy to glide over water at varying cruising speeds.
These gentle speeds were the hallmark of pontoon rides until recently. Now pontoon boats meet the consumer need for speed, according to Go Downsize.
Characteristics of fast pontoon boats
Most pontoon boats still provide slow, easy days of recreation on lakes across the United States. As the demand for performance crafts became mainstream for recreational pursuits like wakeboarding and tubing, pontoons traded slower gaits for speed. Basic pontoon boats have a baseline of around 115 hp up to 175 hp for all-purpose cruising. As you ramp up speed, it’s not unusual for pontoons to glean 200 hp or more on single or twin engines. Items like after-market lifting strakes and aluminum windshields also amp up pontoon velocity.
For maximum speeds, tritoons have an added center air tube and 250-plus hp and carry up to 25 people. According to Boating magazine, pontoons with a third tube aren’t just for entertainment; they’re seriously high performance, like the Sylvan L-3 DLZ and the PlayCraft PowerToon X-Treme 3000.
The sporty Sylvan L-3 DLZ
The 23-foot Sylvan L-3 DLZ has a unique floor plan and is a fully customizable, multipurpose pontoon that seats 12. Although it has a max of 150 hp, boaters craving higher speeds can add a third tube, maxing out at 300 hp for top engine power. The DLZ’s most economical cruising speed is 21 mph (18 knots) at 3,500 rpm.
The DLZ offers two forward-facing loungers in the bow and side-by-side helm chairs. Here’s where the back-end gets interesting, especially if you enjoy lounging while you’re entertaining. Flip the backrest down for a dual-facing rear lounge. Flip it back up for a four-person table perfect for playing cards or drinking and dining with friends.
Some Sylvan models come equipped with table base mood lighting. There’s an extended rear deck, 24-ounce carpet, and a surprise changing room that pops out of seat storage. Swimming or tubing is a snap with the stainless steel four-step telescoping ladder.
The high-performance Playcraft Powertoon X-Treme 3000
For high-speed tubing and wakeboarding, the high-performance Playcraft Powertoon X-Treme 3000 hits over 70 mph. Dual Mercury Racing 450 outboards power the vessel. The aerodynamic Powertoon takes just over five seconds to crack 30 mph. Its most economical cruising speed at 3,500 rpm is just over 33 mph (29 knots).
The Powertoon’s comfortable chairs are upholstered in UV-protected vinyl. There are limitless color choices, from the furnishings to the pontoon’s exterior, including the color-matched, powder-coated tubes and rails. Seeing over guests is easy with the raised helm. The captain’s chair swivels and reclines for maximum control and relaxation, while the fiberglass-molded helm station is fun and colorful. The Powertoon has three boarding options: its wide bow deck, a portside gate that accommodates wheelchairs, and its stern platform. There’s even an extra-long built-in boarding ladder exclusive to Playcraft.
Pontoons aren’t your grandfather’s family boats anymore. Whether you prefer casual cruising on a lazy lake or testing speed on your favorite all-sports lake, pontoons (and tritoons) are all about 21st-century performance that’s becoming industry standard.