How to Drive a Pontoon Boat | How to Safely Rent and Dock a Pontoon

How to Drive a Pontoon Boat

Known as "a living room on the water," pontoons are an ideal boat rental option for vacationing tourists who just want to cut loose and relax after punching out of work on Friday afternoon. Pontoons are easy to drive and dock, can comfortably seat up to 14 people (on larger models), and are great for cruising, fishing, or just anchoring and hanging out at your favorite swimming spot.

Despite being easy to operate, pontoons are boats – and with boats come a lot of responsibilities. To help you safely rent, drive, and dock a pontoon, we've put together this guide. Here’s everything you need to know about driving a pontoon boat!

How to Rent a Pontoon Boat

There's no shortage of marinas and businesses that will rent pontoon boats, but picking the right one can be a challenge. Here, we'll cover some basics behind picking a reliable company to rent from.

Look for a Credible Company

The last thing you want to do on your vacation or day off is rent a pontoon boat that breaks down an hour into your rental. Hence, the first thing you should look for when selecting a pontoon rental company is one that takes good care of its boats. Like anything, pontoons endure wear and tear over time – but proper maintenance and care can ensure they continue to work well and be safe. 

That said, you want to be working with a company you know is caring for its fleet of boats so you don't have to risk cutting your excursion short. Do your homework to determine what type of company you're renting with. Visit websites and look for customer reviews. It might even make sense to ask around. Talk to your neighbors, co-workers, or anyone else who might have experience renting in the area to see if they can offer recommendations.

Make Sure You Get a Tutorial

Once you rent, you'll want to be sure you get a rundown of the boat and the body of water you'll be cruising on before leaving the dock. The rental company should show you how to start the boat and drive it. They should also point out areas that might be of interest and areas to stay away from. If you operate any type of boat – let alone a pontoon – in water that’s too shallow, you could damage the motor or other parts of the boat.

Know Where Life Jackets and Other Safety Supplies are Located

Finally, it's imperative to know where life jackets, a fire extinguisher, and other safety supplies are located on the boat in the event of an emergency. By law, all boats are required to have appropriate safety equipment on board. Don't leave the dock until you feel confident in the equipment provided.

How to Drive a Pontoon

One of the reasons why pontoons are such a popular boating rental choice is because they're one of the easier vessels to drive. Because driving a pontoon is such a breeze, renters can spend less time trying to learn how to drive it and more time enjoying their day out on the water. But despite pontoons being easy to maneuver, there are still some things that you need to know about driving one. A good rental company should cover most of the basics with you, but here are a few other pointers just in case.

Leaving the Dock and Docking

Learning how to dock a pontoon boat can be challenging, especially if there's a bit of a breeze. To leave the dock, make sure everyone is safely boarded, and then start the engine. Next, untie the boat and gently push it away from the dock to give yourself a little bit of space. Once you have adequate space from the dock, give the pontoon a bit of power as you steer toward open water. Make sure you go slow until you're clear of the dock and other boats.

To dock the boat at the end of your ride, slowly drive up to the dock and apply short bursts of power until you're in the proper position. If possible, have someone in your party hop onto the dock to help secure the pontoon. You can operate both in drive and in reverse until the boat is in the proper position at the dock.

Operating the Pontoon

Driving a pontoon is fairly easy, especially compared to other boats. It's similar to driving a car, except rather than an acceleration pedal, there's a throttle lever that's usually mounted on the side of the driver's side area. 

The rental company should show you how to start a pontoon boat. On a typical pontoon, you'll put the key in the ignition to start the motor. To put the boat in drive, you'll gently tilt the throttle lever forward. The further you tilt it forward, the faster the boat will go. There are no "brakes" on the boat. To stop, you'll just pull back on the throttle until it's in neutral. You can also put the boat in reverse to bring the pontoon to a stop faster.

Other Intangibles

One thing that you'll always have to be mindful of is the wind. Since pontoons largely sit above the water, windy days have the potential to cause problems. You should always know the weather conditions before you leave the dock for the day. If it's going to be windy, consider staying near the shore where it's not as rough. If you do catch yourself in rough waters, there are a few tips to follow:

  • Don't turn into the wind. Instead, try to turn with it.
  • Make sure weight is distributed evenly throughout the pontoon to help you manage the waves better.
  • Try to stay on top of the waves.
  • Move to calmer waters or back to the dock if you're uncomfortable.

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