Sunday, February 13, 2011

This Ain't Your Grandpa's Pontoon Boat!

Nothing has spawned more confusion in boating than the emerging popularity of pontoon boats, a.k.a. party boats, float boats, or party barges.   It seems that only a few years ago big, powerful sport boats were the ticket to family entertainment.   Now, a much larger and younger sect of buyers are scouring boat shows and dealerships nationwide for the perfect pontoon boat for entertaining, water sports, fishing, or often all three.

The rising popularity of pontoon boats is no mystery.  Operation and maintenance costs are much lower than fiberglass runabouts, and pontoon boat manufacturers have stepped up to the plate with new styling, features, and performance options that will compete with the best sport boats on the market.

Shopping for a pontoon boat is not for the faint of heart.  Compared to sport boats, the buying process is often much more complex.  Sport boats are fairly easy to compare.  All you have to do is choose the proper layout, check performance (seconds to plane, top end speed, and fuel consumption),  research the warranty, and most from a reputable dealer.  Often the most difficult decision facing a consumer buying a sport boat is choosing color.

This is not the case with pontoon boats.  At Hamlin’s Marine, we offer forty-three different pontoon boat models to choose from.  Each model has a unique layout, size, or style.  Choosing a model is actually the easy part.  The biggest challenge is deciding on a brand and a dealer.

What Brand?

Choosing a brand is a challenge because boat builders in this segment seem to follow the old adage, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”  Each brand seems to have an entirely different set of construction  guidelines.   Of course, each brand believes they are building the best boat.  The problem the consumer faces is that there is no consistency, and it’s impossible to make accurate quality comparisons.   This is troubling because most of the cost of the boat is wrapped up in the build and not the layout.
Here is some common sense advice when it comes to identifying quality construction. 
  1. Wood is good, and comes with a lifetime warranty against rot.  Nearly every manufacturer agrees that marine-grade, pressure treated plywood is the answer for the deck.  Wood provides superior anchoring for top-deck upholstery when it is properly fastened with stainless bolts, backing washers, and nuts. 
  2. Carpet linings in storage compartments are bad.  Even if ventilated, the carpet will hold moisture and encourage mildew and mold growth. 
  3. Check under the deck to verify that upholstery has been anchored through the deck with stainless bolts, washers, and backing nuts.  It is less time consuming for a manufacturer to screw upholstery to the deck, but eventually the seats will come loose.
  4. Be wary if a dealer tries to sell you on one or two features that make their boat superior.  Buying a boat is like buying a house.  Just because the kitchen has beautiful granite counters, doesn’t mean the roof isn’t going to leak or the foundation won’t crack.
  5. Finally, choose a manufacturer that has been around at least twenty-five years.  The best boats are built with experienced hands.
Which Dealer?

After you’ve chosen a brand, you need to choose a dealer.  For convenience it makes sense to buy from the dealer nearest you.  That way if you experience any problems, the dealer will make your problem a priority and get you back on the water quickly.  Make sure that your local dealer has the facility, personnel, and equipment necessary to provide the best service experience.

Which Boat?

This is the fun part.  For example if you plan on using  your boat for fishing, and you have to trailer the boat because you don’t live on the water you might consider the Sweetwater Tuscany 1880 FC.   
This model has four fishing seats...two at the stern for trolling and two at the bow for bass fishing.  There is also a comfortable L-shaped seating near the helm for resting after a hard day’s fish.  The boat measures 18’ long and 8’ wide, so it’s a breeze to tow and squeeze into tight landings.  Fishermen should consider the vinyl floor option, seat covers, Ez Loader 2075 lbs rated pontoon trailer, and Yamaha High-Thrust 25 fourstroke outboard for slow trolling.

If you are lucky enough to own a camp or home on the water, a larger pontoon boat designed for entertaining may be the answer.    As is the case with any other type of boat, it usually makes sense to go larger than you think necessary.  Your family will only grow...and so will your circle of friends when they hear about your new boat!  Chances are if you do live on the water, you will be spending a great deal of time on your boat.  The more you use the boat, the more you’ll want to consider comfortable upholstery and options that cater to entertaining.  Those of you fitting into this category may want to consider a model like the Aqua Patio 220.  Our line of Aqua Patio boats feature beautiful styling and upholstery with comfort in mind.  Pontoon diameter is standard at 25” to handle even the roughest of lakes.  It’s impossible to appreciate an Aqua Patio without taking the time to lounge in one of the chaise seats with armrests.  Then make sure you do your homework and check out all of the onboard storage.  There is an extensive list of options available on our Aqua Patio line of pontoons, but our recommendations might include a changing room curtain, vinyl floor covering with snap-in carpet, seat covers, stainless pull up cleats, stainless cupholders, and a Yamaha F90 fourstroke (if you plan on watersports like tubing or wakeboarding).  If you do have a waterfront home, you may not need to purchase a trailer.  Why? Because Hamlin’s Marine offers pick-up and delivery service for our  pontoon boat customers.

For some, only the best will do.  That makes a decision easy...the San Pan line of pontoon boats.  No other brand even approaches the styling, functionality, and sheer beauty of a San Pan.  The 2010 models were actually inspired by the 1930’s Dusenberg automobile.  Stepping aboard a San Pan is comparable to stepping into a fine lounge or a luxury suite.  The list of standard equipment is voluminous.  If you must add options, here are some recommendations: lifting strakes (high performance option), changing room curtain, vinyl floor, snap-in carpet, seat covers, stainless steel grill center, pull up cleats, flag pole, raised teak helm pedestal, and I-Pod adapter.  Go for at least a Yamaha F115 for plenty of power.

Final Thoughts
A boat show is the best place to help you decide on the right boat for your family.  First, take the time to meet each dealer and research each brand.  When you’ve found a dealer and a brand that you are comfortable with, the rest is easy….just pick a layout, a color, and wait for spring to arrive.  Good times await!

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