So, you want a versatile boat that handles easily, features plenty of seating and storage, and is designed to be able to bring along a big crew? Sounds like you may have already narrowed down your choices to two choices that are among the fastest-growing segments in the entire boating industry: pontoons and deck boats. Since the very first aluminum pontoon was introduced in 1958 at the Chicago World’s Fair (it was a Sanpan), boaters have been drawn to their unapologetically simple design, ease of use and the no-frills ability to get lots of folks aboard to get the party started. Back in those days, you broke out the folding lawn chairs, fired up the charcoal grill, and slowly putt-putted your tiny outboard to the nearest cove of like-minded revelers.
Similarly, the deck boat concept really started in 1974 when a company called Hurricane started building a fiberglass V-style hull to add better performance and handling, but still retain the a pontoon-style topside and wide-open floor plan that people loved so much about pontoons. It was so popular, in fact, that the first deck boat (called FunDeck) has been in constant production ever since. But my, how times have changed. These two boat types have come a long way and have been refined to the point that they really stack up against any other powerboat style. And today, they really go head-to-head when families are in the market for a new boat. Let’s examine the pros and cons of each.
This is perhaps the most subjective part of comparing pontoons and deck boats, and it all comes down to your personal tastes and what turns your head. Today’s pontoons are tricked out with coordinated graphics, a choice of rail skin colors, high-quality vinyl seats, and tough and attractive marine-grade carpet. But since every inch of a pontoon is built for maximum seating and storage, some folks find them a little utilitarian. Today’s deck boats are designed similarly to other fiberglass runabouts, but with the bow section carried as far forward as possible to accommodate more folks in the forward seating area. You’ll see coordinated upholstery accents, bimini tops and carpet, and the exterior graphics tend to be a little bolder. Many deck boats also have integrated wake tower options, which adds a distinct watersports profile.
With a fiberglass, V-style hull, you typically would compare the handling of a deck boat to a similarly sized open-bow boat. Look for a stable ride at all speeds, little or no bowrise, and superior turning at higher speeds. The option of outboard or I/O propulsion is a big plus for deck boats as well, depending on your needs. Even with a full load, pontoon boats (by design) are going to plane easily with less horsepower than a deck boat. Sharp turns are helped by the addition of hydraulic steering systems, but you will still cut a wider swath in a pontoon, unless you choose a performance model with triple (center) tube system, which provides extra buoyancy and stability.
Both styles of boats truly shine when it comes to the ability to do a lot of different things on the water. Fishing, watersports, cruising, camping, entertaining, etc. are all right in the wheelhouse of pontoons and deck boats. In fact, depending on your family’s needs, there are all sorts of different packages to dial in your preferred activities, such as rod holders, tackle storage and livewells for more hardcore anglers. If you’re like most folks considering one of these boats, though, you will find that the basic features will serve you well, and allow you to fish in the morning, pull the kids on tubes in the afternoon, and finish the day with a beautiful sunset cruise.
Ease Of Operation
In the world of trailer boating, you really can’t get much easier than pontoons and deck boats. With their stable platforms both are fairly easy to master when it comes to everything from launching and retrieving to cruising out on the water. Look for a raised helm or a captain’s seat that features a fold-up bolster to increase visibility. Pull-up cleats conveniently installed around the deck will make it a cinch to pull up and dock from any angle. Make sure you’ve got docking lights for bringing the boat in safely in the evening, and an all-off master switch to make sure you don’t run down your battery when you leave the boat.
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