When you go boating, you bring all your necessary equipment, like flares, lights, and life vests. You want to get there and back safe and sound, after all. So, are Pontoon Boats safe?
Pontoon boats are among the safest boats available. Their wide size and rectangular shape often resists capsizing, while their flat hull limits their speed. Overall, that means you should have a very low-risk experience on one of these boats.
There are some caveats, of course, which we’ll address in this article. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be as safe as possible in your pontoon.
Are You Safe in a Pontoon Boat…
In the Ocean?
It’s generally not advised you ride your pontoon boat in the ocean. Doing so is just begging for trouble. High tide can easily lift your boat and tip it over. As you know, your pontoon boat does not have any dedicated walls. There are railings, sure, but not real walls. You might have a canvas awning for a roof, but again, this is not a dedicated structure.
If your pontoon boat were to tip, everyone would fall into the drink. The ocean can be unforgiving, especially during high tide. Riptides are another danger that can claim lives if you’re not careful.
The only scenario where it’s even slightly permissible to ride your pontoon boat in the ocean is if it’s during low tide. Even then, you shouldn’t linger. If you somehow end up in an ocean in your pontoon boat, venture towards the coastline or a dock so you can get out of there. It’s not worth the risk.
In a Lake or River?
Lakes and rivers are generally safe, but you have to know the body of water you’re venturing out to. Some rivers have jagged rock surfaces. If your pontoon boat were to snag on one of these, the inflatable components could be punctured and start leaking.
Sharp dips and turns as well as strong currents could also pose problems for your pontoon boat. These could tip your vessel over, leaving you capsized.
In Windy Weather?
The biggest enemy of pontoon boats is wind. Riding in a slight breeze might be okay, although we’d still suggest you consider calling it a day early. Once the winds really kick up, you could be at risk of incident.
The wind can take your boat and send it in all sorts of wild directions you don’t want to travel. If it were a gusty enough day, there’s a chance the wind could lift your boat and potentially tip you over.
Make sure you check the weather before you head out for a ride in your pontoon boat. If the gusts are over 20 miles per hour, then reconsider riding that day.
If you do ever find yourself in a situation where you’re riding in windy weather, don’t panic. What you want to do is get back to shore and dock your boat as soon as you can. Don’t fight the wind by trying to work against it. Instead, move in the same direction it’s blowing so you can safely get to land.
In the Rain?
Most of the time, rain doesn’t pose a severe problem to pontoon boat owners, but it certainly depends. If it’s just a drizzle, you should be able to continue enjoying your day on the water. If you have a pontoon awning, your passengers shouldn’t get very wet.
In more severe rains, you have to be careful. When a thunderstorm strikes, get out of there. Your pontoon boat has a lot of metal parts that can act as lightning rods and possibly get you struck. Besides, thunderstorms tend to bring with them strong wind gusts, which you’re trying to avoid. You’ll also have decreased visibility, making you more likely to hit other boats, rocks, docks, and anything else near the water.
Can Pontoon Boats Capsize?
As you can see from reading the last section, pontoon boats can be absolutely capsize. By riding in inclement weather such as high winds or thunderstorms, you put yourself at risk of tipping over. The same is also true if you try to go out in the ocean during high tide.
Pontoon boats have a reputation for being tip-proof, but that’s just not true. It is indeed unlikely for your pontoon to capsize. However, it can happen. Embarking on a voyage on the seas thinking your boat is essentially invincible is a recipe for disaster.
A Note on How Safe Pontoon Boats Can Be
While we’re talking about invincibility, we have this to say: while pontoon boats are known for being safe, they’re only as safe as the driver is. The right attitude is everything. You already know that, while it’s unlikely to happen, your pontoon boat could tip over. If you’re an especially cocky driver, the chances of capsizing increase.
Whether you’re riding in a little lake or a bigger bay, you have to have respect for nature. You must also respect your boat. If you get behind the wheel of a pontoon and think you can do anything, you’ll learn very quickly that’s not true once you capsize or get in an accident.
Besides your attitude, you also have to be skilled in pontoon boating. If you’ve driven other, smaller boats in the past, adjusting to a pontoon will take time. You have to get used to its bigger size, slower speed, and the way the boat just kind of rides through the water rather than on it. Until you make the full adjustment, it’s best for you to ride slowly in placid bodies of water. Then, once you’re more familiar with the way a pontoon boat handles, you can upgrade to rivers and bays.
Again, while pontoon boats are known for being safe, they’re only as safe as the driver is.
Here is a table from the American Boating Association. It showcases every boating death, accident, and injury from 1997 to 2016. While this data isn’t for pontoon boats specifically, these would be factored into the total for sure.
Compared to 1997, 2016 data was much better. While in 1997, there were 821 boating deaths, by 2016, that number was down to just 701. The amount of boating accidents was almost cut in half, too, going from 8,047 to 4,463. The rate of boating injuries was practically halved as well, from 4,555 in 1997 to only 2,903 in 2016.
In fact, in almost 20 years of recorded data, 1997’s death toll was the highest. In the ensuing years, boaters have become safer, which is great news.
Still, the data is out there. Every year, hundreds of people will needlessly die in a boating accident. Thousands more will be injured. This is all preventable by being a conscientious, careful boat driver.
Safety Items to Have Onboard Your Boat
Not only is it a good idea to have safety items on your pontoon boat, but many states may legally mandate it. The rules of what you need will vary from state to state. The size of your boat may also necessitate which safety items you must have onboard.
To be on the safe side both literally and figuratively, make sure you always have the following items:
- VHF radio(s), ideally two, as they let you call for help even if you can’t get any electricity to your pontoon boat (if the radios are battery-powered).
- A gallon of freshwater in a jug; this can be used as a bailer, to bring down the temperature of an engine that’s overheated, to help you treat a wound, and to provide a source of hydration if you ever get stranded.
- A first-aid kit that includes sunscreen, bandages, scissors, adhesive, antiseptic, gauze pads, cotton balls, a thermometer, calamine lotion, tweezers, ibuprofen, hydrocortisone cream, antibiotic ointment, and splints.
- Flares for visually capturing the attention of the coast guard or other passing boaters in an emergency.
- Air horns and whistles for creating a source of noise to attract attention, again in an emergency.
- A fire distinguisher if a fire ever breaks out on your pontoon boat.
- Life vests or life rafts; make sure you have enough for all your passengers onboard with one left for you, too.
While pontoon boats are regarded as some of the safest vessels in the water, don’t abuse the privilege. Riding your pontoon boat in the ocean is never a good idea. No matter what other body of water you prefer, keep away during strong winds and heavy rains.
If you’re an inexperienced boat driver or an arrogant one, you could also end up in trouble. Pontoon boats can capsize. It may be unlikely to happen, but riding in the above weather conditions increases your chances of tipping over. Get to know and respect your pontoon boat for safe driving.
Finally, while you hope you’ll never need them, you should have a slew of safety items onboard your pontoon. These include VHF radios, freshwater, a first-aid kit, flares and air horns, a fire distinguisher, and plenty of life vests or life rafts. For more information, checkout out our complete Pontoon Boat Safety Guide. You can never have enough information and knowledge in keeping your Pontoon Family safe!