Pontoon boats are one of the most popular boat choices for cruising and relaxation on the water. With their spacious decks, ample seating, and party-friendly setups, pontoon boats are ideal for kicking back and enjoying a day on the lake with family and friends.
But can a pontoon boat go fast enough to allow you to enjoy thrilling watersports like waterskiing, wakeboarding, and tubing? Or are you limited to puttering around at low speeds?
The truth is, pontoon boats are capable of more speed than their leisurely reputation suggests. While they aren't built for breaking speed records, a properly equipped pontoon can reach exhilarating velocities to make your days on the water more adventurous.
In this article, we'll take an in-depth look at how fast pontoon boats can go. We'll explore the average speeds of modern pontoons, what factors affect their velocity, and tips for upgrading your boat to reach its maximum potential. Let's get up to speed on these popular pleasure crafts!
What Is the Average Speed of a Pontoon Boat?
The speed that a specific pontoon boat can reach depends heavily on its size, construction, engine, and other specs. That said, most fall within a similar range when it comes to average cruising and top speeds.
For standard two-pontoon boats of 18 to 25 feet in length, you can expect a moderate cruising pace of around 18 to 25 mph. These speeds are ideal for relaxed boating with ample time to take in the sights and enjoy the company of your passengers. Cruising too much faster on a pontoon really detracts from the laidback experience.
Under ideal conditions, with a lighter load, and when you open up the throttle, many two-pontoon boats can reach maximum speeds of 30 mph or a bit higher. For exhilarating rides and watersports fun, 30+ mph is a great range to aim for.
Tritoon boats, which have three pontoons instead of two, tend to be considerably faster. The extra stability and flotation provided by the third center tube allows them to handle increased speeds. Tritoon pontoons generally top out around 45 mph, with brisk cruising velocities of 30 to 40 mph.
Clearly, the notion that pontoons just poke along is outdated. While no one will mistake your pontoon for a speedboat, speeds of 30+ mph pack plenty of thrill for watersports fun for all ages. Next, let's look at the factors that determine how fast your pontoon boat can realistically travel.
What Factors Determine Pontoon Boat Speed?
As with any boat, there are several variables that affect how swiftly it can travel across the water. For pontoon boats, the most impactful factors are:
One of the biggest determiners of pontoon boat velocity is the size of the outboard motor. Since pontoons are relatively lightweight for their size, they can handle fairly hefty engines. Most accommodate outboards from 40 horsepower all the way up to 300 horsepower or more.
More ponies equal more speed potential. Upgrading from a 40 hp motor to a 150 hp version on the same boat can potentially double the top speed.
Of course, you'll want to stay within the engine size limits set by the manufacturer based on the transom design and weight capacity. But the thrill seeker in you will appreciate the extra horses.
Just as race cars are engineered for high-performance handling, some pontoon boats are designed with speed in mind. Models built specifically for watersports and maximum velocity feature narrower, more hydrodynamic hulls, lowered deck height, and lighter construction that reduces drag.
On the flip side, many pontoons meant for casual cruising prioritize expansive deck space over slicing through the waves. Wider, boxier leisure pontoons generally have a lower speed ceiling. Consider your needs when selecting a boat intended for speed versus one focused on space.
Number of Tubes
We touched on this earlier, but the number of pontoons supporting the deck affects how swiftly the boat can move. Tritoon boats with three tubes are inherently faster than standard two-pontoon versions.
The extra pontoon increases lateral stability, allowing the boat to handle faster planing speeds without compromising handling. It also further distributes the weight of the boat for reduced drag. More tubes, more speed!
Heavier pontoon boats with greater loads take more effort to propel through the water, reducing potential speed. That's why manufacturers list maximum weight capacities that should not be exceeded. A fully loaded party barge will go slower than the same boat with just a couple passengers aboard.
For maximum velocity, keep passenger numbers within reason and avoid overloading with gear. As a rule of thumb, every additional 1,000 pounds of weight cuts the speed by around 15%. Manage weight for performance.
A pontoon boat with clean, hydrodynamic tubes will be markedly faster than one with algae growth and aquatic vegetation clinging to the underside. Given their shape, size and displacement, pontoon tubes attract marine life if not properly cleaned.
Regularly scrub and rinse your pontoons to minimize drag. Also, a finely tuned engine performs better, so stay on top of oil changes, spark plugs, and all recommended maintenance. Well-kept pontoons go faster.
Now that you understand the factors that influence pontoon speed, let's look at ideal velocities for enjoying popular watersports.
What Speeds Do Watersports Require?
One concern boaters have when considering pontoons is whether they can reach and maintain the speeds needed for waterskiing, wakeboarding, tubing, and other activities. Let's break down the ideal pontoon boat speeds for different popular sports.
- On two skis: 15 to 25 mph
- Slalom skiing: 22 to 36 mph
- With small children: 5 to 10 mph
- With teens/adults: 15 to 25 mph
- Beginners: 15 mph
- Intermediate: 15 to 20 mph
- Advanced: 18 to 25 mph
- Beginners: 15 mph
- Advanced: 18 to 25 mph
- 25 to 35+ mph (varies based on skier's weight)
As you can see, most watersports occur in the 15 to 25 mph range, with faster specialty sports like slalom skiing and barefooting requiring speeds closer to 30 mph. This lines up well with the average top speeds of most modern pontoon boats when equipped with an appropriately sized engine.
The key takeaway is that an average pontoon boat with a 60 to 90 hp motor has plenty of speed for tubing and introductory skiing and wakeboarding. To maintain momentum for advanced tricks and techniques, a larger 150+ hp engine provides that extra kick.
Tips for Increasing Pontoon Boat Speed
If your pontoon seems sluggish and you aren't hitting the speeds you hoped for, there are some DIY tweaks and add-ons that can potentially give it more pep. Here are some tips for boosting your boat's velocity within safe limits.
Upgrade Your Engine
If your pontoon is chronically underpowered, consider upgrading to a larger outboard if your boat can handle it. Just be sure to have a knowledgeable dealer handle the install to ensure proper mounting, weight distribution, etc. More oomph equals more speed.
Add Lifting Strakes
Lifting strakes are fins welded to the underside of the tubes that help lift the boat higher out of the water to reduce drag. They can boost speed by 3 to 5 mph. Let an expert handle the precision welding. Poorly attached strakes can result in leaks or handling issues.
Watch Your Weight
We mentioned earlier that excess weight hurts speed. To get the fastest runs, limit passengers and gear to keep your pontoon boat balanced and within the weight capacity. Distribute weight evenly for best results. Every 1,000 pounds cuts speed substantially.
Fold Down Bimini Tops
When trying to reach top speed, flip down bimini tops and other canvas enclosures to eliminate the wind resistance that can rob momentum. Just be sure to use sun protection in their absence!
Keep Pontoons Clean
At slower speeds you may not notice, but algae, barnacles and other marine growth on the pontoons causes major drag when you're on plane. Give those tubes a good scrub before fast boating.
Use Performance Props
Tweaking your propeller can coax a bit more speed from a strong engine. Just be careful, as the wrong prop affects handling, fuel efficiency, and acceleration. Consult a marine tech to select ideal performance props for your boat.
By using one or more of these speed boosting tips, you can unlock your pontoon's full potential and transform it into a watersports machine. Just remember, added speed means added risk, so use mature judgment, wear safety gear, and stay within safe control.
Pontoon boats have come a long way from their slow, bulky reputation. While they'll never match the raw speed of purpose-built performance boats, modern pontoons are capable of impressive velocity when properly equipped. With an adequately sized engine, performance-focused design, and a few speed boosting modifications, hitting 30+ mph is achievable for thrilling watersports.
At the end of the day, the beauty of pontoons is their versatility. They can switch effortlessly between lazy afternoon cruises with family and friends to holding on tight during high-octane rides when needed. Their spaciousness, stability, and affordability make them ideal all-around boats for most inland waters. Just don't underestimate their speed potential before you plop down that tube!
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