You’ve had your pontoon boat for a while now and it’s served you well. After countless days out on the boat at the local lake or reservoir, you’re starting to dream of an adventure a bit larger than any you’ve had before and you’re wondering, “Can a pontoon boat go in the open ocean?”
The good news is, yes, pontoon boats can be used in the ocean, but with some caveats. Since pontoon boats are really designed for use on inland lakes and rivers, they weren’t designed with big seas in mind. However, as the performance, handling, and stability of pontoon boats improve over time, they are becoming more and more seaworthy and better for ocean adventures.
Before you take your pontoon out onto the open ocean, however, there are a few things you ought to know. To help you out, we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of taking your pontoon out on bays and intracoastal waters, as well as into rough seas.
We’ll also discuss whether or not a tritoon is safer than a pontoon for ocean use and give you some advice on the best pontoons for the big blue beyond.
What About The Bays and Intracoastal Waterways
If you’re looking to take your pontoon out on the open ocean for the first time, it’s actually a great idea to do a test run or two in various bays and intracoastal waterways.
These waters are generally sheltered, so they tend to be much calmer than the ocean, so they’re a great first step for anyone looking to get a good idea of how their pontoon will handle in rougher seas.
Sheltered bays, the Great Lakes, and even the famed Intracoastal Waterway are great places to take your pontoon out for a spin. That being said, the water can get rough in these places in particularly bad weather, so it’s not always smooth sailing.
Our advice? Take your pontoon out for a spin in nice, calm water in a bay or intracoastal waters to get a feel for how it handles in something a bit less sheltered than a lake or inland river. Then, gradually build up toward cruising around the bay when it’s a bit windier (think 10-15 knots).
Even though it’s not a great idea to go out in foul weather, you need to be confident that your pontoon can handle bigger conditions than you’d normally find on a small lake before you ever get out on the ocean.
This is because the weather and sea conditions can change rapidly in the open ocean, and you don’t want to get stuck out in water you’re not prepared to handle.
Are Pontoon Boats Safe in Rough Waters
Pontoons are pretty stable boats – when handled correctly. When handled incorrectly, a pontoon, like any vessel can capsize in rough water, but when all goes well, they can make it back to port without any major issues.
Thus, pontoons can do just fine in rough waters with a bit of common sense and preparedness. Before you head out onto the ocean with your pontoon, however, you need to know how to handle the boat, should the conditions deteriorate rapidly.
Here’s what you should keep in mind when encountering big waves:
- Keep an even distribution of weight across the pontoon. Maintaining a stable distribution of weight on both sides of the vessel’s centerline can have a huge impact on its ability to withstand big water in a positive way. That being said, the added height of double-decker pontoon boats and boats with other such modifications can negatively affect the vessel’s center of gravity and cause it to more easily go off balance.
- Don’t slow down as you go over big waves. The trick to staying afloat in rough waters is to keep the pontoons above the waterline and to avoid dipping their nosecones directly into the waves as this can cause a big wave to crash on top of you. This happens most commonly when you slow down as you hit the trough of a wave and can pose a huge hazard to the well being of you and your boat. Instead of slowing down as you head into the waves, consider maintaining your speed or even speeding things up just a bit to help you lift the bow slightly higher above the water.
- Maintain a good course through the water. Riding waves properly makes a huge difference in how your boat handles. Instead of cruising directly into waves, try to maneuver your boat so you’re taking the waves at a 30 to 45-degree angle off the centerline. By doing so, you can help ensure that your bow will stay above the water more consistently through crests and troughs. If it feels like the corner of the boat is starting to dip, then adjust your course so you’re taking the waves a bit more toward the center of the boat.
Is a Tritoon Safer Than a Pontoon in The Ocean
Many people think that a tritoon is more seaworthy than a pontoon because of its third hull. This is partially true but doesn’t tell the whole story. While, yes, a third hull can give your boat more stability and reduce your risk of capsizing, this extra stability helps only to a point.
This is because pontoons and tritoons display excellent primary stability, but aren’t too great when it comes to secondary stability. Pontoons and tritoons sacrifice secondary stability – which is the ability of a boat to right itself at larger angles of heel – in favor of better primary stability – the boat’s ability to stay upright at low angles.
Ultimately, the big, wide decks that make pontoons and tritoons so nice for hanging out in the sun are their downfall in big water.
But, where tritoons do shine in the open ocean is in the added benefit of the weight of a third hull. As we’ve mentioned earlier, good weight distribution and a low center of gravity are all helpful in keeping your boat upright during a storm.
The tritoon’s third hull helps maintain a low center of gravity in the vessel, so it can be helpful as you’re trying to keep control of your boat in rough seas.
Best Pontoon Boat for Going in The Ocean
Since pontoons aren’t made to have great secondary stability and they aren’t specifically made for the ocean, there really aren’t any pontoons that are great for open ocean cruising in foul weather. That being said, you can find pontoons that are suitable for cruising in sheltered bays and intracoastal waterways, where your risk of hitting big water is pretty low.
The main thing to look for in a pontoon boat for use in a sheltered ocean water environment is that it is adequately protected from the destructive properties of saltwater. Unlike in freshwater, where corrosion happens at a fairly slow rate, the salt in saltwater acts as the perfect conductor for the process of galvanic corrosion to occur.
This can quickly destroy your boat and cause your maintenance bills to pile up, so using a pontoon that’s painted with special anti-fouling and anti-corrosion paint is critical in saltwater. Luckily, this is a modification you can do to your boat after you buy it, so you don’t need to go out and buy a brand new pontoon just for some corrosion-resistant paint.
Other than making sure your boat won’t fall apart after long-term exposure to salt water, you’ll also want to make sure that your pontoon boat is a model that’s ready to take on the ocean. Generally speaking, pontoons boats that are really long, really wide, have a lot of modifications, or have two decks aren’t great at sea.
This is because all of these features alter the weight distribution and center of gravity of a boat in a way that makes it more difficult to handle in rough seas. Medium width, medium length single-deck pontoons with only the manufacturer’s recommended modifications are likely to be your best bet at sea.
At the end of the day, the seaworthiness of pontoon boats really depends on the boat in question. Although some pontoon boats can handle slightly rougher seas than others, there aren’t really any pontoon boats that are specifically made for the open ocean. Rather, pontoon boats are designed to cruise on calm lakes and inland rivers but can be taken out into sheltered bays or intracoastal waterways in mild to moderate conditions.
Thus, the question, “Can a pontoon boat go in the open ocean?” is best phrased as: “Can my pontoon boat go in the open ocean?” and “Am I prepared to take on the conditions that come with the terrain?”