Saltwater boating is open to all types of boats, and pontoons are no exception. As with all boating activities, preparation, both mentally and physically, is vital for the safety of the vessel and all on board and is a key part to the overall enjoyment of your time.
Choose the Right Pontoon for Saltwater
There are really two main differences to keep in mind between boating on a lake and boating in sheltered saltwater bays is the nature of saltwater and the effect it has on the components and the conditions you will experience. Choosing the right pontoon for saltwater boating really comes down to the seaworthiness of the vessel. On the ocean and even on some inland lakes, conditions can change or deteriorate rapidly and the inherent design of a pontoon boat with its low freeboard and flat deck is not be ideal for choppy, windy conditions. That said, the stability of pontoons can make for an enjoyable ride in calm conditions and the high performance of many modern pontoons can be exhilarating in saltwater. If you have any questions about the limits of a particular model’s ability to navigate saltwater, all questions should be directed to the manufacturer.
What Makes a Good Saltwater Pontoon Boat
Even on a sunny day, the conditions you can experience on the water can vary and can change rapidly. You’ll want a boat that is stable, provide as dry a ride as possible and has the power to get you back to the dock or boat ramp quickly and safely if the weather changes. Pontoons and tritoons have the benefit of ample seating and plenty of storage options so you can move guests and gear for good weight distribution.
Prepare for Pontoon Boating in the Ocean
As stated before, preparation is vital for safe boating, regardless of where you choose to boat or how you want to spend your time on the water. This preparation is two-fold, preparing yourself and preparing your boat.
A key to safe boating is having the confidence in your abilities and experience to plan ahead. You should make sure to practice with your boat on calm conditions before jumping into more challenging situations. For example, knowing how to work your throttle to keep an even speed between waves, which will help keep the bow from diving into waves, takes some finesse. Also, turning into waves as they come toward you and pass under you, will keep you heading in a straight line, while taking larger swells at an angle will keep you from burying the bow.
Much of boating gear related to safety is required to be on board a vessel, regardless of conditions. These include items such as good fitting lifejackets – one for each passenger – and methods for signaling distress like lights or flares. In addition, it is prudent to bring along extra equipment related to real-time weather forecasting, a chart plotter for navigational assistance and a distress beacon or EPIRB in the event of an emergency.
Be mindful of weight distribution on the deck – pontoon boats, which are inherently lighter vessels tend to have a more fluid center of gravity and depending on where passengers or items are on board, it can be easily skewed. In addition, staying close to shore is important, to cut the distance required to return to land if weather kicks up or there is an emergency.
Fun Activities for Saltwater Boating
The activities that every boater loves on freshwater are all possible, and maybe even enhanced, by saltwater boating. Keep in mind the corrosive nature of saltwater – all gear should be cleaned well to avoid damage, and it might be a good idea to check that all equipment is designed to be functional on the ocean.
For many anglers, saltwater fishing is a must. It is often seen as more exciting, with more space to spread out between fishing spots and even larger fish. Fortunately, fishing pontoon boats designed for inland freshwater will provide similar advantages on the ocean, from gear storage to equipment crafted precisely to enhance the fishing experience.
If your pontoon boat is designed for watersports, as many are these days, then expanding to the wide-open waterscapes of saltwater bays can really enhance the experience. If not, there are numerous upgrades available to turn any pontoon boat into a watersports boat.
Snorkeling & Sightseeing
There’s a reason that snorkeling is associated with the ocean – there’s so much to see! This is also true above the water, as coasts are home to many beautiful destinations, some of which can only be accessed by the water, or look better from a boat. There’s always plenty to explore.
Grilling on board a boat is a popular activity for a reason: it’s a delicious combination of summer pastimes. Grills are a particularly common addition to pontoon boats, whether in the form of a light, carry-on version, or one that can be mounted right on a railing. Either is a great option and will serve well for those times when the sun is setting and it’s the perfect time to cook dinner on the water.
Caring for Your Pontoon Boat in Saltwater
Unlike freshwater, saltwater is corrosive. Because of its chemical composition, it will react with metals and electricity, and can cause damage to any part of a boat that is underwater. But of course, boats travel on the ocean all the time – there are easy solutions to these problems. All it requires is diligence and care.
Pontoon Boat Maintenance
To avoid long-term damage, it’s vital to stay on top of a pontoon boat’s maintenance. This is always true, but especially so for a saltwater pontoon, and will include frequent inspections for damage as well as thorough cleanings. In addition, a good way to keep a pontoon boat in good health is to install anodes, if they are not already part of the vessel. These “sacrificial” pieces of metal attach to a hull or motor and protect these parts from corrosion.
Storing Your Pontoon
Storage options for a pontoon boat will likely be between keeping it on land or on the water, in a marina or dock. For those who take their boat out between seasons, this will be the perfect time to make sure it is clean, and any potential issues are addressed for next summer. If storage in the water is the best option, taking the time to still do that necessary maintenance between seasons will help keep your boat ready for season after season of fun on the water.