Can a Pontoon Go Into the Ocean: Knowing a Pontoon Boat’s Limitations
When you’re on a pontoon boat and the ocean beckons, should you answer the call?
Can a pontoon boat go into the ocean is a question commonly asked; however, it’s also the wrong question to ask. The right question is, can a pontoon boat enter the ocean in the current conditions?
Understanding a pontoon boat’s limitations is no different from understanding any other boat’s limitations. And truth be told, on a calm day in ideal conditions, if you take the proper safety precautions, just about any boat can go into the ocean.
Because on some days, in some places, the ocean can be just as calm and placid as a pond. On other days in other places, of course, the ocean can be a raging beast, and it would be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous to go out there even on a 60-foot yacht.
- Pontoon boat limitations
- Best pontoon boats for the ocean
- Other things to consider before heading out
Pontoon boat limitations
We need to point out right up front that just as all boats are different, all pontoon boats are different, too. There’s a world of difference in the limitations between an 18-foot pontoon boat with two “logs,” as the pontoon hulls are commonly called, versus a 30-foot tritoon with triple logs.
That said, generally speaking, pontoon boats do have less buoyancy in the bow than monohull fiberglass boats, so the bow can dip in or get washed over by a wave more easily. Pontoon boats with three logs have more buoyancy and handle seas better than similar models with two, and the weight of the load and how it’s distributed has an effect on seaworthiness as well.
It should also be noted that since most pontoon boats get used on lakes and inland waterways, many aren’t built for saltwater use. In some cases riding into the oceanic brine will cause corrosion to set in on countless metal parts ranging from fasteners to wiring, and serious damage can result.
Any time you plan to take a pontoon boat into the ocean you need to first make sure that it’s designed and rated for saltwater use.
Best pontoon boats for the ocean
If you were going to buy or rent a pontoon boat with the idea of going into the ocean, what should you look for? Which are the best pontoon boats for the ocean? First, size matters. As a general rule of thumb, the bigger a boat is, the better it will be able to handle waves.
So there will be days and sea conditions where an 18-foot pontoon should not go through the inlet, but a 28-footer can do so without any problem.
Second, consider the pontoons themselves. Tritoons definitely have a leg up on regular pontoon boats and tend to handle the waves much better. Larger diameter pontoons are also an advantage since they have additional buoyancy as compared to smaller logs.
Third, how old is the boat and how well was it built? Even on a calm day, the ocean (and especially the inlet going out to it, which can grow rough on calm days when the tides and currents change) will likely have bigger waves and stronger currents than the body of water it’s attached to.
And hitting numerous large waves can put a lot of stress on a pontoon boat. If it’s cheaply built or was built a decade or more ago and isn’t in good shape, a trip into the ocean could cause structural damage.
Finally, does the pontoon boat have a DSC-equipped VHF radio on top of all the required safety gear? Any boat entering the ocean should have a means of communication in case of emergency, and cell phones don’t cut it because their reliability is questionable and they can fail when waterlogged.
A VHF radio gives you a direct line to the US Coast Guard and vastly increases the safety margin on any boat.
Other things to consider before taking a pontoon out into the ocean
Beyond all the things we’ve already talked about, there’s one big question you need to ask yourself with complete honesty: As captain of the boat, do you have the experience to take a pontoon boat in the ocean?
If you’re unfamiliar with the boat and its abilities, and you don’t have extensive experience running it in various conditions, you probably shouldn’t drive it into the ocean.
On top of that, you should always ask yourself these additional questions before deciding whether or not it’s a good idea to take a pontoon boat in the ocean:
- Is the weather forecast at all questionable?
- How far into the ocean do you plan to go? (The farther, the more wary you should be).
- Does the pontoon boat have all the proper safety gear to go into the ocean?
- Are there lots of other boats nearby, or if something goes wrong will you be on your own?
- Have you checked the tide tables, and will the tide turn any time soon (which can make inlets and the waters near them suddenly become rougher)?
If any of these questions leave you unsure or if the opportunity doesn’t seem right, don’t go in the ocean. But if the pontoon boat you’re on is up to the job and all the conditions seem ideal, yes, a pontoon boat can go in the ocean. At least, it can when the conditions are right.
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With over three decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to dozens of boating and fishing publications and websites ranging from BoatU.S. Magazine to BDOutdoors.com. Rudow is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow’s FishTalk, he is a past president of Boating Writers International (BWI), a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.