They aren’t your grandfather’s party boats, or your father’s, or even the ones you remember.
Long considered the boat for older individuals to enjoy sedate days on the water, pontoons are quickly becoming a popular choice for all age groups.
Why the seemingly sudden change?
It’s a matter of features… as in fully loaded with amazing features. New pontoons, particularly luxury models built by Bennington, have taken the craft to the next level, explains Ryan Schilke, General Manager of The Cove Marina.
Newer, high-end models allow all the same activities as other types of boats – including towing capabilities and faster cruising speeds – while maintaining the traditional features of accommodating 10-plus passengers, as well as being safe and sturdy on the water.
“Pontoons used to have a real stigma,” he says. “But that’s been changing as the features, especially the options, are getting more advanced. Now, pontoons are the fastest growing sector in the boat market. We sell more pontoons than anything.”
Bennington’s tri-toons have three pontoons as opposed to only two. That allows the boats to operate safely at higher speeds without worry of tipping on turns or nose diving when slowing down and stopping.
The Cove recently delivered a Bennington Q-Series model to a client that included a tow tower, a 430 hp sterndrive, room enough for 15 people and much more. This boat can comfortably achieve speeds of up to 45 mph on the water. For higher speeds, you can upgrade to a 600 hp motor.
“The tow tower is optional, but it definitely adds that extra bit of fun for the whole family,” explains Dave Shaw, owner of The Cove. “The third pontoon provides the added safety you need to put a bigger motor in there to go faster and do watersports. It really opens up the versatility of the boat.”
Meanwhile, the sterndrive adds its own set of benefits. Without an outboard mounted on the stern, there’s plenty of room for a swim platform and diving space. It also offers a bit more peace-of-mind to parents.
“You’re not worried about the kids being on the back of the boat and the drive being right there, because now they’re moved a little further out, and the sterndrive is a little more hidden,” says David. “As well, it can be a little quieter because the motor is inside a compartment that helps muffle the noise.”
Almost everything on a Bennington pontoon boat is customizable, from the colour scheme to the choice of seating. They use a Simtex seating material that Ryan says is more durable than traditional vinyls and stays cooler to the touch.
He can confidently say this from experience, as his own pontoon boat also features Simtex. “It’s also very easy to clean,” he says. “I just use water on mine – it’s super easy to maintain.”
A feature unique to Bennington is the way the canvas sidewalls are secured to the side of the boat. Rather than having unattractive snap buttons protruding and taking away from the aesthetics, the design incorporates slots and tabs along the rails that fit nicely together in an almost seamless fashion.
“Not only does it look better, but these fasteners last longer as well,” says David.
Free up your dock space
For all the new elements, though, the social atmosphere remains: pontoons are still party boats that can host gatherings.
In fact, their design lets them serve as an extension of the dock – a particularly handy feature for those cottages with smaller docks that are six or eight feet wide. Rather than clutter up the dock with furniture, you can use your boat as a lounge, one which already has all the seating, coolers, and comfort necessary for a great time.
“That’s the big thing about pontoon boats – you just tripled the size of your dock,” says Ryan. “It’s a flat, safe surface, even with your toddlers: you close all the doors and they’re safe.”
Almost all models of Bennington can be made wheelchair accessible. And depending on how much customization is involved, they will usually do it for no extra charge.
“Pontoons are easy to access for people with mobility challenges and for younger passengers. There’s no need to step down into the boat. But they also have all the performance that teenagers and young adults are looking for.”
“There’s really a whole lot to love about the modern pontoon boats.”
TEXT CHRIS OCCHIUZZI | PHOTOS ANDREW FEARMAN