Today’s Pontoons Offer New Luxury on the Lakes

Filed in Recreation by on March 26, 2014

2014 Bennington 2550 RCBIt used to be that pontoons were simply a couple of floating tubes with decks and some railing. They were silver, gray, or blue. Maybe a stripe if you were lucky. Some fake turf or plastic-y carpet to walk on. With two seats and an open platform for you to haul your own chairs and a cooler. Boy, how times have changed.

“(A pontoon) is still relaxation at its finest,” says Ryan Braukmuller, salesman at Moorhead Marine in Moorhead. “But it’s become more luxurious and more comfortable. It’s like a floating motor home now.”

Certainly the pontoons of the past are still available. Dealers say they always will be, simply because they’re the most affordable. But a quick search for “pontoons” on the Internet brings you loads of manufactures hawking their high-end designs with amenities such as butter-soft leather, remote-control interior lighting, burber carpeting, FlexSteel furniture and engines with enough horse power to tow water skiers, kneeboarders and tubers. “There’s endless possibilities to what they’re offering,” says Brauckmuller.

2014 Bennington 2550 GSRBThe average pontoon used to be about 8 feet wide and 16 feet long, and you could buy a standard model for about $15,500. Now you can find them upwards of 9 feet across and 26 feet in length. “We have a model 27 feet in length. The do a 29-foot one, too.”

As luxury options, size and price tags have risen, so has the popularity of pontoons. “Back when I first started, we sold about 15 to 20 pontoons a year,” says Ryan Thielke, marine sales manager at McLaughlin’s RV and Marine in Detroit Lakes. “Now it’s more than 100 a year.”

Thielke says he now devotes half his boat-show space to pontoons. “Speed boats, deck boats and ski boats are all holding their own. But more and more people are coming in and trading those in for a pontoon with a bigger engine,” Thielke adds.

Perhaps their versatility is the biggest reason why – above all the shiny new additions – pontoons have grown to be so popular.

“You can really find a potoon that fits any family’s lifestyle,” says Kevin Tinjium, co-owner of J & K Marine in Detroit Lakes. “You can buy them with three tubes and a high horsepower engine and turn it almost into a ski boat.”

2014 Bennington 2575 Sport Tower Wakeboarding“It’s not putzing around the lake anymore. It’s a recreational craft,” adds Braukmuller. And it eliminates the need for having two separate boats – a pontoon and a sport boat. “What it’s doing is taking advantage of multiple activities,” he says.

As an added bonus, Timjium says, pontoons have gotten easier to use even as they’ve become bigger and stronger.

“In the old days, you had to know the quirkiness of the bat and someone’s wife might not have wanted to take the kids out on it because she didn’t know how to start it up,” he explains. “But nowadays, you just turn the key and it starts. You don’t have to have used it over and over to know your motor.”

Another reason why pontoons are the boat of choice for many people today is that you needn’t have a lake home to store one. “Pontoon trailing is becoming more popular,” says Thielke. “Back when I first started, we’d sell a couple of pontoons with trailers. Now about 35 percent of customers buy trailers with them.”

There are two types of trailers for pontoons: a center lift trailer (often called a scissor) and a bunk or drive-on trailer. A center lift trailer fits between the pontoon tubes and lifts the boat on the bottom of the floor cross members. According to the website, these trailers are most popular with marine dealers, lake home owners associations or anyone else who wants to pick a boat out of the water, set it down elsewhere and free up the trailer to use again. You can even do this in shallow water.

“The main disadvantage with this type of trailer is that it’s more narrow and can be a little tippy compared to a bunk trailer,” advises Tinjium.

A bunk or drive-on trailer is a set of carpeted bunks that sit underneath the tubes so the trailer is supporting the entire length of the boat by the tubes. It has a wider wheel base then a scissor trailer, and the pontoon is floated or drive onto this trailer. “It’s more solid and safe to carry the pontoon for longer distances,” says Braukmuller. He says bunk trailers are also more expensive than scissor trailers.

When purchasing a trailer, keep in mind how often you’ll travel with your pontoon, where you’ll launch or store it, and what type of trailer you feel most comfortable operating.

by Patricia Carlson

Photography Courtesy of Bennington

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