How Hard or Easy Is It to Drive a Pontoon Boat ?

How Hard or Easy Is It to Drive a Pontoon Boat (2)

If you are a boating fanatic and are looking for a versatile vessel, a pontoon boat is perfect for your water adventures. 

There are so many things you can do with a pontoon, from simply relaxing on the water and doing some water sports to camping and fishing. 

What intrigues me about pontoon boats is their wide space and flat bottom that provide adequate room and stability for various water recreational activities. 

But are pontoon boats the easiest boats to drive? Or how hard is it to operate a pontoon boat for the first time? 

Well, driving a pontoon boat is as easy as driving other V-hull vessels. And if you know how to drive a car, it will be much easier for you to operate a pontoon. 

However, there are several adaptations you need to make when driving a pontoon boat for a smooth ride. 

For example, you need to learn how to use throttle controls or pull away from docks and marinas properly and easily navigate open waters. 

Whether you are an experienced boater planning to get your first pontoon or are new to boating, I’ll provide some practical tips to prepare you for your next pontooning adventure: 

Tips on How to Drive a Pontoon Boat Easily

If you want to get started in pontooning, there are several things you need to know to ensure a safe operation, from anchorage requirements to boating restrictions. 

Sure, the boat riding technicalities can be a bit comparable to driving a car, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind to ensure that you nail it for the first time. 

Whether you want to go boating alone or with your family and friends, these tips should help you drive a pontoon boat with ease:

Know Your Water Body

Before you bring your pontoon boat to the water, you need to examine and get familiar with the water body you plan to go boating. 

Ideally, take a pre-visit and see whether the water body has shallow spots and inspect the water currents at different times of the day. 

You should also check if the waterbody has certain obstructions that could lead to terrible trouble if you hit them unknowingly. 

Along with examining the water body, you also want to be aware of the local boating laws to avoid being caught on the wrong side of the law. 

If you are unsure where to start, you can take a boaters safety course and obtain your boating license, as this might provide everything you need to know. 

Be Aware that Pontoon Boats Behave Differently from Traditional V-Hull Boats

If you have been driving other V-hull boats, you may think that they sail like pontoon boats. 

However, this isn’t always the truth. Pontoon boats behave quite differently from traditional v-hull boats even though the control systems and driving principles are the same. 

So, it’s important to study your vessel and ensure that you are actually comfortable with how it operates. 

While you may have taken a demo ride when purchasing the boat, this doesn’t mean that you already know how the pontoon works, especially when you plan to ride by yourself. 

If your pontoon boat hasn’t been delivered to you yet, ask your dealer or seller to test run before bringing it home. 

Driving a pontoon boat isn’t rocket science, but not knowing what buttons to press in what situations may make the riding a complicated process. 

So, be sure to master the buttons, switches, and steering wheel before you head out on the water. 

Bring Some Safety Equipment

As with any other activities on the water, driving a pontoon boat requires you to have some safety equipment that can save you in case of an emergency. 

Some of the safety tools and equipment needed for pontoon boating include a fire extinguisher, a floatation device, and life jackets for you and all your passengers. 

You also need to secure all your gear well on the boat to ensure that nothing flies with the wind as the boat takes off. 

Bring Some Safety Equipment

Maintain Even Weight Distribution on the Boat

While the weight distribution may not seem like a big issue when your boat is idle in the open water, you should maintain a weight balance on the boat throughout the ride.

Keep in mind that if you accelerate and your boat has a heavier bow or stern, it could lead to flooding. 

If you have several passengers on board, let some of them sit or stand on the front and others on the stern.  

You also need to organize your fishing or safety gear to ensure equal weight distribution on your boat’s front and rear sides. 

Be Gentle When Pulling the Boat Away from the Dock

Once you gather all the safety gear needed for boating and are ready to get on the water, it’s time to turn the motor on and let it idle for about five minutes. 

Then head over to the captain’s seat and attach the bright red cord (emergency safety key lanyard) to its place and secure it to your belt. The switch should read ‘RUN.’ 

If you had your boat stored out of the water with the motor trimmed up, you need to trim it down before starting the boat to get the propeller into the water. 

You also want to ensure that the throttle is in the neutral position for your pontoon boat to start. Then check the battery voltage and ensure that you have enough fuel for your ride. 

When pulling away from the dock, push the throttle forward slowly from the neutral position. Once you clear the dock, check your speed when getting onto the open water. 

The bow points should also face the wind to help your pontoon boat navigate smoothly on the water. 

You should also keep in mind that the throttle works like gear shifters in vehicles. So, the more you push it forward, the faster your boat will sail. 

If you need to stop quickly while on the water, use the throttle to halt the boat since there are no actual breaks on boats. All you have to do is throw the throttle directly into reverse for a sudden stop. 

Plan Your Turns in Advance

When maneuvering your pontoon boat on the water, it’s important to plan your turns, especially if you have some passengers on board. 

Drive the boat at a reasonable and safe pace while steering clear of sharp turns. You should let your passengers know when you are planning to take a big turn to prevent them from sliding on the deck. 

Quick Tips for Docking Your Pontoon Boat

Quick Tips for Docking Your Pontoon Boat

Unlike setting off to the open water, docking requires more caution and tricks. You should be careful when maneuvering near the marina to avoid damages caused by hitting obstacles. 

Slow Down 

When approaching the shore, shift the throttle to slow down and look out for other boaters near you to avoid a collision. 

Be sure to follow the harbor rules to avoid hitting the dock and causing accidents that could harm your passengers, other boaters, swimmers, and property. 

The best way to ensure safety when you approach the dock is shifting the throttle to neutral and maintaining a slow and even speed. So, don’t exceed the designated speed limit when coming into the dock.

Pay Attention to the Wind

The wind and current directions are vital considerations for safe and efficient parking as you get on the dock. 

If the wind is blowing your boat to the marina, you’ll need to be extra careful with your handling strategy as the boat could hit the dock.

Align Your Pontoon Boat

As you gently get into the docking area, it’s crucial to align your pontoon boat to the center of the parking space. 

You can achieve this by slowly turning the steering wheel to ensure that the center of the bow points at the middle of your parking space. You can also draw an imaginary line and keep the boat on it until you are docked. 

If you are unable to align the boat to the center, you can ask one of your passengers to jump on the dock and tie ropes to bring the boat to the middle. 

The ropes will also help in pulling the boat closer and securing it to the dock with a cleat hitch or a bowline knot. 

How Hard or Easy Is It to Drive a Pontoon Boat?

How Hard or Easy Is It to Drive a Pontoon Boat

Driving a pontoon boat isn’t hard as long as you have some basics and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and safety guidelines. 

Pontoons are easy to drive compared to other types of boats. Once you safely make it to the open water with your pontoon boat, it’s incredibly easy to control the boat. 

Since they sail better with slow and controlled movement, you should plan your ride well to avoid sharp or sudden turns. 

How to Drive a Pontoon Boat on Rough Water

How to Drive a Pontoon Boat on Rough Water

To drive a pontoon boat on rough water, you’ll need a little more skill than in normal conditions. The rough conditions make it hard for you to have full control of the boat. 

So, if you want to be a responsible pontoon boat owner, you need to learn how to handle your boat in all conditions. 

Keep in mind that water conditions can be unpredictable sometimes, and you may experience a sudden change while out there, which demands better navigational skills. 

If the lake or sea you are boating on gets choppy, your pontoon boat can easily be whisked away by strong winds and lose stability. 

In such cases, you need to trim the motor when hitting waves and avoid going under the tides. Then ask each passenger to have their life jackets or life vests on for safety in case the boat capsizes. 

You should also avoid forcing turns on extreme weather conditions, as this could make your pontoon flip over. 

How to Drive a Pontoon Boat for the First Time on Vacation

How to Drive a Pontoon Boat for the First Time on Vacation

If you want to hire a pontoon boat and have fun on the water during a vacation, you can easily learn the basics within an hour. 

Pontoon boats are easy to control as they give you a good vantage point on the water. You just have to avoid riding near power boats that create huge wakes. 

To have an excellent boating experience, you need to follow the safety guidelines provided and cruise with ease.

You may also want to watch a pontoon boat driving tutorial or read online forums about pontoon driving discussions before hiring the boat.  

The good thing about pontoon boats is that they are extremely versatile to let you go fishing, cruising for leisure, or simply sailing to your swimming destination. 



Q: How Hard Is It to Capsize a Pontoon Boat?

A: It’s very hard for a pontoon boat to capsize. The pontoon tubes under the boat’s deck provide adequate stability and buoyancy on the water. 

Even if one of the tubes gets damaged, the remaining one will still keep the pontoon boat afloat. 

The flat deck also contributes to stability in pontoon boats and minimizes the risks of tipping over. 

When cruising in very rough water conditions, you need to be extra careful as the choppy water or strong winds could capsize the boat. 

If you see a storm coming, listen to your gut and use common sense to judge the situation. For huge storms that you can’t handle, turn your pontoon and take it to the shore until the storm passes.

Q: Is Driving a Pontoon Easy?

A: Yes, driving a pontoon boat is pretty easy. In fact, if you can drive a vehicle, then you can easily drive a pontoon boat. 

To drive a pontoon boat easily, you need to master controls and do exactly what the manufacturer’s instructions or safety guidelines require you to do. 

Q: Do Pontoon Boats Go Fast?

A: Yes, pontoon boats can go fast. However, not all pontoon boat models are designed to sail at high speed. 

The average speed for pontoon boats is 22 miles per hour. High-speed pontoons can drive at 40 to 50 miles per hour. 

Wrap Up

Wrap Up

Whether you want to cruise for leisure or go fishing at your local lake, it is incredibly easy to drive a pontoon boat, even if you are doing it for the first time. 

Let go of your fears, get on the water with your friends or family on a hot summer afternoon, and start pontooning. Trust me, you’ll never look back once you catch the boating bug. 

If you want to drive a pontoon boat for the first time, you should master the throttle controls, learn how to steer the boat, and approach the dock safely.

It’s also important to look for low-traffic areas when learning how to drive a pontoon boat as congested water bodies with power boats can be hazardous for beginners. 

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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