Are Pontoon Boats Safe In the Ocean?

by Gabrielle DeSantis

The weather is warming up, and some people are turning to boats as a way to cool off, spend time with family, and relax in the sun. However, there is a wide range of boats on the market, and not all of them perform well in the ocean. If you’re considering setting sail in a pontoon boat, here’s everything you need to know before leaving shore.

Can you sail a pontoon boat in the ocean?

If you would like to sail a pontoon boat in the ocean, it is possible to do so. Although they are designed more for freshwater areas, such as inland lakes, sturdier pontoon boats can handle ocean waters with certain caveats. According to Manitou, whether a pontoon boat will work well in the ocean depends on three major factors: the boat’s construction, size, and performance.

Pontoon designs are improving every year, meaning that more recent models will typically be able to handle short forays into the ocean. However, even the sturdiest pontoon is not designed to go further than a few miles away from shore.

It is vital for the captain to be aware of the weather, and to know how quickly they will be able to return to shore should a storm suddenly occur. Manitou recommends choosing a pontoon with a minimum of 150 hp if you are planning to sail in the ocean, as this ensures that you will be able to return to shore quickly enough in case of inclement weather.

Additionally, it is important to opt for a pontoon with larger and thicker tubes. This type of construction provides greater stability, which is incredibly important when sailing on the ocean where larger waves may occur.

Pros and cons of pontoon boats

A pontoon boat | Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

RELATED: Buying a Pontoon Boat Might Not Be the Best Idea

Pontoon boats have the benefit of being versatile, as you can sail them on lakes, rivers, and ocean waters. They are also available in many modern designs, making it easy to find a model that suits your specific needs.

However, although it is possible to sail pontoon boats in the ocean, they may not be the best choice for someone who is planning to exclusively sail in the sea rather than on lakes or rivers.

This is because while sturdier pontoons can handle the ocean, they will not hold up well against rough weather. As such, their use is limited to areas closer to shore, preventing you from safely sailing further out to sea.

Another downside of pontoon boats is that they are often built using aluminum, which will corrode when exposed to saltwater. It is, therefore, necessary to take extra protective measures before and after taking the boat into the ocean.

Manitou suggests using an anti-fouling bottom paint to coat the tubes prior to setting sail, and rinsing the hull with fresh water once you’re finished sailing.

What are the best boats for ocean sailing?

If you’re specifically looking for a boat designed for ocean sailing, you may want to opt for something other than a pontoon. According to Discover Boating, the specific best choice for you will depend highly on your goals — for example, people planning to go saltwater fishing would be wise to choose a walkaround, a sportfishing yacht, or a center console. 

For more general use, you have a wide variety of options. These include cabin cruisers, sailboats, trawlers, and catamarans.

Discover Boating points out the most important thing is not which type of boat you choose, but rather what attributes it has. Boats that will sail in the ocean must be strong enough to handle the local water and weather conditions. They must also be equipped with navigational gear and appropriate safety equipment, such as a VHF radio.

Ultimately, it is possible to sail pontoon boats safely in the ocean. If you’re planning to do a significant amount of ocean sailing, however, you may be better off opting for a different type of vessel.

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