While some boating basics are the same, you should learn how to drive a pontoon boat the correct way. Practice and experience are the best teachers. In this in depth guide you will learn how to drive a pontoon boat
1. Pre Checks Before Startup
- Engine, Fuel & Radio Check- Make sure that your engines have adequate oil, your fuel tank is full and that you should also have a working radio system on the boat that you can use in the event of an emergency. A radio check is vital to make sure for certain that your radio is working. Make sure you have a fully charged smart phone on board as well
- Turn Your Engines On- Let your motor idle for about 7min to warm up. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for the exact idle time needed for your boat
- Trim the motor– The trim button, usually on the throttle, adjusts the motor and determines how it sits in the water. You should always trim your motor at a higher number, this will make pulling away from the dock much smoother. Never pull away from the dock with the motor trimmed out the water this can damage your engine.
- Life Vest- In some states its the law that your passengers wear life vests while in open water. Violation can come with hefty fines. Here is a list of states that require life vests and the fine amounts. Your life vest should be in great condition, working properly and should fit properly in the event of an emergency.
2. Taking Off From The Dock and Pulling Away
- Untie Ropes-Before backing up make sure there is someone to assist you with untying your boat ropes.
- Pulling Away-As soon as you are release from the boat ropes gently put your throttle in reverse so you can back away from the dock. Make sure to look around you with caution for any boat or obstruction that may be present. You can use short controlled burst of reverse throttle until you are completely clear of any obstruction.
- Heading & Steering- You can at this point steer your bow into the direction you will be heading. Throttle down and increase speed in increments until you reach a cruising speed. Never throttle down hard and take off too quickly this can cause you to lose control or cause your passengers to fall and hurt themselves.
3. How To Drive A Pontoon Boat in Open Water
- Adjust Trim-Once in open water trim your motor downward deeper into the water. This will prevent your bow from rising out of the water and you getting the maximum performance from your engine. Keep one hand on your steering wheel and the next hand on your throttle .
- Maintain A Equal Weight Balance-to reduce the risk of injury or flooding make sure passengers are seated equally on the bow and stern of the pontoon boat. There is not much of an issue of balance if the boat is idle or anchored.
- Proper Cruising Speed- The rule of thumb is boats don’t have brakes that is why it’s important to be at a reasonable speed to be able to slow down in the event that there is an obstruction oncoming. The ideal speed for pontoon boats is 4500 rpm. If you want to conserve your fuel, at around 3000 to 3500 RPM
- Plan your turns in advance-Turning a pontoon boat can be tricky, as the stern can fly sideways if the turns are too sharp. Look ahead in front of you and plan out your turns so you can make them in a gentle, sweeping motion
- Turn the boat downwind at a medium speed. The wide shape of a pontoon boat can make turning into the wind difficult, as the boat may push against the wind and not get very far. You can turn more effectively by pointing the bow of the boat downwind, away from the direction of the wind, so the wind can help the boat to turn smoothly
- Alert your passengers before you make a sharp turn. Sometimes when you are driving the pontoon boat, you have to make a sharp turn. Sharp turns can cause the boat to lean and rock due to its shape. Before you make the turn, let your passengers know so they can make sure they have braced themselves against the boat or they are sitting in a secure position.
How To Dock A Pontoon Boat
- Slow Down-When docking your pontoon boat you want to be mindful to any “No Wake Zone” rules of the harbour. Steer your boat into the direction of the dock and reduce your speed. This is also a good time to have your pontoon boat fenders in place.
- Neutral & Momentum- heading towards the dock you want to use your pontoon boat forward momentum to your advantage, observe the movement of the boat, slow down when necessary and use forward throttle when necessary .Maintain a slow, even speed so you have just enough power to maneuver the boat into the spot.If you end up slightly crooked or to one side in the slip, shift into “reverse” and turn the wheel slightly to make adjustments. Try to get the center of the bow lined up with the middle of the slip as much as you can
- Turn the wheel so the center of the bow is pointing at the middle of the slip. Draw an imaginary line in an arc from the center of the bow to the middle of the slip. Try to keep your boat on this imaginary line as you turn the wheel. If the boat drifts to the left or right of the line, lightly move the wheel so it stays on the line.
- Have a crew member jump on the dock and use the ropes to adjust the boat. If you are struggling to park the pontoon, ask a crew member to hop out and grab ahold of the ropes on the boat. Then, have them help you by dragging the boat into place using the ropes.
- Tie the pontoon up on the dock. Once the pontoon is properly docked in the slip, use the ropes to secure the pontoon to the dock. Use a cleat hitch or a bowline knot to tie the boat to the dock so it stays in place.