When shopping for your 'toon it's okay to periodically quote the old sayings; "size matters" and "more power, more power". Matching size and power to your needs and budget is important. Power will determine if you'll be just putting around the lake on a leisurely cruise or if you'll be able to tow the kids on tubes, wakeboards or skis. Size will determine how many of your family and friends you'll be able to cruise with. My wife and I looked at a 26' 'toon once until she said "It looks bigger than our dock". It really isn't bigger than our 50' dock but we didn't buy it. Color is subjective and I know of some folks who purchased a pontoon because it matched the color of their car.
A key and sometimes overlooked element is the pontoon boat floor plan. Not only does that cover how many seats are on board but where they are for how you're going to use the boat.
Here are two 20' Tracker brand pontoon boats. The red one is the Party Barge 20 DLX and the blue pontoon is their Fishin' Barge 20 DLX. From the carpeted deck on down, the boats are basically, identical. They are both powered by Mercury 40hp Four-Stroke engines and have a boarding ladder mounted at the starboard quarter.
Starting at the outside of the boat, the first difference you'll notice is the fence. The Party Barge has more exposed deck at the bow and stern than the Fishin' Barge. They both have bow, port and stern entry gates in the fence. But, even those entry gates are a little different. The bow gate on the Fishin' Barge is open at the bottom to accommodate a trolling motor installation. The gates on the Party Barge are designed to keep everything and everybody inside.
Inside the fence, the helm station and chair along with the bimini top are mounted pretty much in the same locations.
The two forward fishing chairs on the Fishin' Barge are mounted on pedestals for easy removal. Some folks like to fish standing up without seats in their way. Same goes for the single fishing seat located at the stern of the Fishin' Barge. Some manufacturers of fishing oriented pontoons move the fence further back, aft of any forward mounted fishing chairs.
Each boat has a curved bench seat along the port side towards the stern but the Party Barge also has a very handy feature aft of the seat. The compartment back there pops up and can be used for storage or with a curtain, a head or changing room onboard. Great features for the cruising pontoon boat.
Since the Party Barge is designed for cruising, the two fishing chairs towards the bow are replaced by long, lounging, well-padded bench style seats. The fishing pontoon has a single, forward facing lounge style seat attached to the front of the helm station. There's plenty of room on either boat for simply laying out in the sun on very comfortable seating.
Under each of the bench seats is a ton of storage room. On some boats the storage will be dry and some simply open to the deck. Many of the newer boats also have extra hook and loop material on the bottom of the seating to allow for attaching of accessories. The hook and loop material keeps those accessories, like this extra cup holder, from sliding around the seating or onto the deck.
The boat set up for fishing may even have neat accessories like rod holders or live wells already built in.
One could look at the Party Barge as having a more social floor plan. If you remove the fishing seats from all three locations on the Fishin' Barge, you have a whole lot of open deck area for fishing or for the younger kids to play around on.
Pontoon boats are one of the most popular boats being sold today. They are great family boats that allow for the wide variety of boating fun. Pick the right size, power and floor plan. They last a good long time so make the right choice up front. Remember that clearly one of the most important of those boating activities aboard a pontoon boat is relaxing.
Photos courtesy Tracker Marine Group and the author.