If you haven't been hiding under a dock somewhere, you're probably aware that pontoon boats are currently experiencing a significant resurgence. But what is the reason for all the hype? With advancements in pontoon tube design and boat building materials, improvements in outdoor fabrics, and the availability of lighter and more efficient outboard engines, pontoon boats have surpassed their previous reputation of being slow and unwieldy "party barges." Are you contemplating whether a pontoon boat is suitable for your needs, or are you still perplexed about pontoon tube design? Let's explore the basics of pontoons and examine the particulars of this boat category.

Pontoon boats are designed for activities like fishing, watersports, and cruising. Image via Bennington.


A pontoon boat is a vessel with a large, flat deck mounted on two or more metal tubes called pontoons. Boats that have three pontoons are sometimes called “tri-toons.” These pontoons — or “tubes” for short — hold reserve buoyancy and allow designers to create massive deck plans with accommodations like oversized lounge areas, stand-up bars, and sun pads. Advances in tube design have also allowed builders to increase the amount of horsepower on the pontoon's stern.

This Godfrey AquaPatio 275 CBE is an excellent example of a tri-toon pontoon boat. Image via Godfrey Pontoon Boats.

Construction and Design

Your basic pontoon boat has two simple round tubes that taper to a point at the forward end. Fuel tanks reside inside the tubes or in the boat's stowage areas.The tubes are usually constructed from welded sheets of marine-grade aluminum. Deck support channels and cross beams are welded atop the tubes. Cross beams are the support structures where the pontoon’s deck is mounted. The support channels give the pontoon its rigidity, which is key to the ride and feel of the boat.

Most builders choose plywood covered with carpet or vinyl material for the deck. Aluminum fencing and side panels are installed around the deck's perimeter before the seats, lounges, helm unit, mechanical systems, electrical systems, and other interior components are added. Lastly, the pontoon boat receives its engine or engines before it's rolled off the factory floor.

When purchasing a pontoon boat, you'll want to inquire about any warranties covering tubes, deck, and other components. It is also worth researching materials and construction. Start with questions like “how do you waterproof and treat the deck?” and “how are the support structure and tubes engineered?" The quality of the materials, craftsmanship, and engineering will directly influence the quality of the boat and how long it will last.

Types of Pontoon Boats

Pontoons are popular among boaters interested in activities like watersports and fishing. While you can find plenty of pontoons in coastal regions, they’re largely concentrated on inland lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Let’s take a look at the top pontoons for these activities and waterways.

Performance Pontoon Boats

Tri-toons like the Manitou Legacy offer handling and performance that's more like a V-hull than a traditional pontoon boat. Image via Manitou

If you’ve got a need for speed, a pontoon with lots of horsepower on the stern might just be your ticket. These “rocketoons,” as they're referred to, can have as many as 900 ponies. And, with