Can You Capsize a Pontoon Boat?

Red Pontoon Boat Tied to a Dock With Two Chairs

Pontoon boats are generally safe, and they handle well in good conditions. They are very stable boats because of their two-tube design. However, in high seas or stormy weather, pontoon boats can nose-dive into a wave, making them unsafe in dangerous conditions, which may have you wondering if they can capsize.

Pontoon boats can be unsafe during storms with large wind and waves. As they are like big sails, it can be hard to maneuver and the waves can crash over the deck. While it’s rare for a pontoon boat to flip, it can happen under severe weather conditions. Use caution while on a pontoon boat in storms.

While pontoon boats are usually just for leisurely cruising and family fun, any water vessel can be dangerous under certain conditions. Read on to learn how a pontoon boat works, how to stay safe in one, and what to consider if you are thinking of buying one.

Pontoon Boats Do Not Do Well in Storms

When a storm is approaching, one should be heading for the dock. There is no good reason for being in a pontoon boat during a storm. Pontoon boats can nose-dive into waves, which leads them to be unsafe boats for harsh seas.  At waves above 2 feet, pontoons are vulnerable to “stuffing the bow,” or going head-on into the wave and making it prone to tipping.

This can lead to pontoon boats capsizing.  And while it is rare, there are reports of a pontoon boat flipping due to a heavy wake from a passing boat. This occurred just recently in Naples, Florida. Reports cited a large wake from a large boat forcing the pontoon to flip and land on its side. 

How to Handle a Pontoon in a Large Wave

If you find yourself in rough or choppy conditions or need to navigate your way safely out of another boat’s wake in a pontoon, most manufacturers suggest the following:

  • Go slow – at the same speed as the waves
  • Know which way your wind is and ride with the waves, not against them
  • Keep the bow above water, trim on your motor can be used to lift it.
  • Take any waves at an angle
  • Don’t go under a wave – try to stay on top of them
  • Keep a charged phone in case you need to call for help

You can watch some informative videos online or even take a boat safety course if you’re new to pontoon boat ownership. The more you know, the more prepared you are on the water.

Pontoon Boats Excel In Normal Conditions

Once again, in normal conditions, the pontoon boat is very safe and stable. It’s only in high seas or stormy weather that there is a risk of capsizing a pontoon boat. Yes, a pontoon boat can capsize if the conditions are bad enough. One must know when conditions are getting worse and bring the boat back to the dock at the first signs of a storm.

When Not to Bring a Pontoon Boat Out on the Water

When a storm is in motion, that is an easy decision: do not go out on the water. But how stormy is OK for going out on the water in your pontoon? Here’s what to pay attention to when you are considering a day on the pontoon:

  • Wind – There is no cover on a pontoon boat in high winds. If the wind is above 15 mph, you may want to stay docked. It can be hard to dock or maneuver a pontoon boat in the wind.
  • Tide – If you are in a coastal area, the depth of the water changes with the tide. This is something to get in tune with.
  • Weather forecast – You need to look ahead to see what’s headed your way. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) radio broadcast by the National Weather Service is your go-to, along with local news.
  • Lightning and thunder – Clearly, you cannot go out in the middle of active weather; lightning and thunderstorms are at the top of this list.

While much of this may seem like common sense, however, in 2019, the weather was among the top 10 primary contributing factors of accidents, as reported by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Can You Take a Pontoon Out on the Ocean?

While pontoon boats are generally safe water vessels, if you are planning to take them in the ocean, they do best close to shore or in the quitter, recessed coastal areas, like bays and inlets. The ocean can create some big waves – more than a pontoon can handle. That is, depending on the size and construction of the pontoon.

The salt water can also take a toll on a pontoon, depending on the materials and construction. If you intend to take a pontoon out into coastal ocean areas, make sure you take this into consideration as you research and shop around for the right boat. Not all pontoons will withstand these conditions in the same way.

Activities Suited to a Pontoon Boat

Many pontoon boats can manage in water as shallow as two feet deep without getting stuck, if you are careful to maneuver correctly at that depth. Above two feet is even better and they like calm waters best, thought they can handle waves under two feet.

As such, they are an excellent choice for activities close to shore or in shallower waters, such as: 

  • Casual boating and beach fun. These boats can be safely beached for a nice picnic or barbeque onshore. Pontoon boats are often purchased for these reasons alone. And they are great party boats. Everyone loves to go out on their neighbors’ boat, and a pontoon boat allows for families to get together and enjoy the water.
  • Not for watersports. Pontoon boats don’t make good watersport towboats, as most don’t go fast enough. However, a Tritoon can be a great towboat due to the increased engine size and an extra tube. If you are interested in water-skiing or wakeboarding, the Tritoon may be a good option for you.
  • Fishing. Their slow speed, high comfort and excellent storage space make a day of fishing a breeze.

Overall, pontoons make for great party boats and casual outdoor fun. If you want speed or sportiness, there are better options, but nothing beats a pontoon for family fun and relaxing cruises with a group.

Thinking of Buying a Pontoon Boat? What to Consider.

Well, with any new purchase, you usually start with the question of cost. New pontoon boats cost between $20,000 and $50,000, depending on engine size and other features.

If you are willing to buy used, you may be able to get a pontoon boat at a good price. Want to know if a pontoon boat is right for you? We’ve already covered safety. Here are some other considerations.

Pontoons Are Easy to Handle

They are easy to drive and handle, even for first-time boaters. The driver has a good view; since the boats sit so high, the boats don’t travel super-fast, and they don’t wobble a lot. If you can drive a car, you can manage a pontoon boat.

Pontoons Are Easy to Maintain

As far as boats go, pontoon boats are relatively easy to maintain, especially when precautions are taken to keep the boat in good shape, like a boat cover and regular use of polish.

Also, there is less wear and tear on a pontoon boat vs. a regular boat because the boat is lifted by the buoyancy of the tubes, creating less damage on the hull, which means less risk of the boat’s hull getting stuck on anything in the water.

They Are Roomy and Comfortable

Another great thing about Pontoon boats is their spaciousness. Plenty of room means plenty of room for entertaining out on the water. Because pontoon boats are so stable, it makes it easy for people to stand on them and even walk around.

This is an excellent added feature where pontoon boats outclass traditional boats. The safety and stability of the pontoon boat are a huge plus when considering purchasing a boat. They can also carry a good load, depending on their size – averaging 2,000 pounds and up.

They are Lightweight and Good on Gas

Another great aspect of a pontoon boat is the fact that due to their lightweight, they cost less to fill with gasoline than your average v-hull boat. Anyone who has owned a boat knows about the cost of gasoline, and pontoon boats cost considerably less.

Pontoon Boats Are Safe and a Great Buy

Pontoon boats are overall a great buy.  They offer safe boating for the whole family. And fun for years to come. While they can capsize, it’s not a common occurrence at all

Weighing the pros and cons of a pontoon boat, including the safety and risk of capsizing, one finds that pontoon boats are a great buy. They are generally very safe. They are affordable as far as boats go. They are easy to maneuver. They handle well in shallow water and less likely to experience exterior damage, since they travel at slow speeds.

In summation, the pontoon boat is generally a calmer water vessel. In rough seas, bring your boat back to the dock. But when the suns out, it’s time to play.