Pontoons as Performance Boats
1968 Weeres with a skier
1984 Harris I/O with two skiers
Pontoons have been promoted as performance boats for decades. Some manufacturers offered small block inboard/outboard engine and the trend to larger outboard engines followed. Pontoon builders were trying to get rid of their old image as grandpa’s boat. Sales brochure started showing pontoons speeding or even pulling a skier. JC Pontoon introduced the triple tube pontoon boat.in the 1968. Pontoons could get up to water skiing speed (25 mph) but they didn’t corner very well and the wake wasn’t flat. Ski ropes were tied to the stern mooring eye. The idea was that the pontoon boat was a boat the whole family could use but Ski Supreme or Correct Craft probably didn’t lose any sleep over competition from pontoons.
Even though inboard/outboard and larger outboard engines and triple tubes started in the 1980's performance pontoons remained a small niche of the pontoon business. That would all change in the modern era. Lifting strakes were added to the sides of the tubes to help cornering. Larger center tubes and tubes of varying shapes are claimed to help cornering. Modern performance pontoon boats have the bottom skinned and special attention is paid to the shapes of the transoms. Modern pontoons, even two tubes, perform better than ever before.
Besides different size and shape, manufacturers have different ways of mounting the center tube for best performance. Some protrude, some are even with the outside pontoons and some are spaced back.
Moving the engine back Boat builders have known for years that boats perform better with the engine further back from the stern. In the quest for better performance, pontoon builders have moved weight forward and the engine back. In the image to the right the engine is about three feet behind the deck. At anchor the boat isn’t squatting in the stern.
Helping distribute the weight with other performance advances has allowed builders to offer larger and larger engines. Some modern outboards weigh as much as six hundred pounds. For a while inboard/outboard pontoons were popular but in 2018 most performance pontoons have large outboard engines. Which Boat performs Best? I’ve asked this question of both dealers and manufacturers for years. Of course the boat they sell handles best but I’ve come to believe that the differences are small. There is little documentation on cornering radius, top speed, etc. I’ve come to the realization that most modern performance pontoons perform very well. One may be a couple miles per hour faster. One might turn on a slightly tighter radius but generally the difference between the best and average isn’t that much.
The 100+ MPH pontoon boat. Several years ago Forest River set a 100 MPH speed record with a pontoon. I witnessed the run on the St Joe River in Elkhart, IN. I was concerned for the driver (a friend) and there were no passengers. There was only a couple of feet of pontoon tube in the water. The entire 24’ boat was practically riding on the prop. If the boat had hit the smallest obstacle it could have been catastrophic. I recently saw on the internet that a new record of 114 MPH was set.
Pontoon owners should recognize that a pontoon is a big, wide open boat. It’s very stable in the water and a great platform for carrying a lot of people. My fear of speed is for people with teenagers. With dad driving high speeds and tight turns are probably safe. When dads away and the kids are partying on the boat, maybe doing donuts at 50+ MPH isn’t such a good idea.