Pontoon Boats Have Come A Long Way
I am an unabashed fan of the internal combustion engine performance and plain old fun. I fully embrace the concept of discarding some practicality in the favor of blowing the roof off the fun factor. Heck, I actually bought a turbocharged manual-transmission Dodge Caravan (yes, a mini-van) once. For fun.
So to that end, let this sink in: 600 horsepower. Pontoon Boat. With a wet bar.
I do hope I have your full and complete attention. Because pushing the throttles forward on this thing defines "ridiculous". I couldn't stop giggling. And to be honest, I am not really sure what I found more amusing....the acceleration, or the sheer....ridiculousness of it all.
For years, the pontoon boat kind of has a bad rap in boating circles. Everyone seems to love them (they are one of only a few boat categories that are still seeing sales increases), but....well let's admit it, they aren't sexy. I suppose I am guilty of perpetuating this stereotype. I know I am supposed to be impartial here as your author, but even going back to my childhood, I was never a big pontoon boat fan. Let me explain.
I always thought pontoon boats were the Buick Park Avenues of Marineland. They were nice enough, they fit a lot of people, and when you went out for a ride in them, you could easily fall asleep. There was no style, no imagination....they really were nothing more than a motorized diving platform, something my retiree neighbor cruised around in. They were a carpet-covered plywood platform welded to a couple of aluminum tubes, with a wheezy 50 hp outboard on the back. Honestly, I couldn't even tell one brand from another. Given a choice of a pontoon boat or something else, I always went with something...well, no, anything else.
If you have been living under a rock like your humble author here, pontoon boats have been undergoing a lot of innovation these days, and Premier is known for one of the brands leading the way. Premier teamed up with Evinrude to debut the latest in Pontoon High Fashion and function. Today we are focusing on the GrandView 29.
To properly gauge the scope of the GrandView, I suggest simply walking up to it. Sitting at the dock, my 6 foot 2 inch frame needed to look up to take it all in. It's huge. For starters, the helm station is raised, express cruiser style. This gives a view around the boat that is simply panoramic. Naturally it does what all pontoon boats do well - boarding it is extremely stable with hardly any list at all. There are apartments in New York or Chicago with less room than this, and...is that a wet bar with stools???
Aimed at the luxury cruising set, the Grandview is all about fine entertaining. Fit and finish is above reproach. The seats and upholstery are plush Flexsteel, with luxury touches everywhere like LED accent lighting and stainless steel trim. The boat is customizable with two floor plans and an assortment of colors. Pop up changing rooms are standard, as are dining tables and cushy sofas. This is the Mercedes S Class of pontoon boats, and it redefines comfort.
The S Class analogy continues below the waterline, with performance that is as impressive as the topsides. The boat itself is a tri-toon; meaning it has three pontoon logs. The center tube set lower and larger than the outboard tubes. The center tube itself is shaped into a planing surface with lifting strakes. This works in harmony with the pair of 300 hp E-Tecs hanging off the back, coupled with Evinrude's Icon/SeaStar Solution Optimus 360 fly-by-wire joystick control system.
Ahhhhh those engines.....the party piece of this party platform. This is an AMG S Class. Twin 300 horsepower outboards bolted to anything has a way of reorganizing one's prejudices, even mine. So let's start with the first revelation: these things are quiet. We were not able to get sound readings, but even wide open, it was possible to have a normal conversation. Second revelation: they're so clean, you will swear they are four strokes. They aren't.
They don't smoke, but they do retain typical 2 stroke performance, like seriously impressive acceleration, as I alluded to at the top of this story. Additionally, despite being dog clutch shift, they feel like sophisticated cone clutch units. The feeling of the boat as we pulled away from the dock is "refinement". It FELT expensive.
The other piece of technology that makes this boat impressive is the Icon joystick control for the outboards. It is the SeaStar Solutions (aka Teleflex) outboard joystick control system branded for Evinrude. Those of you who have been watching the joystick gain acceptance in the pod drive and stern drive markets are familiar with the ease of use it brings.
The outboards drive-by-wire connection means no mechanical connection....in theory bringing more reliability and greater flexibility. Both outboards articulate independently during docking maneuvers.
Maneuverability can be measured in microns. The joystick control is very responsive, allowing for maneuvers like axis-rotations, crabbing the boat sideways, and also allows for one-throttle-lever control when away from the dock. This simplifies the controls when you are out on the water.
As we found out, that's a good thing. There's enough performance in this thing to make things happen in a big hurry. Acceleration is borderline brutal - you will be doing 30 mph in less than 5 seconds. Leave the throttles pinned and you will find yourself comfortably over 50 mph. If you own a ski boat or a performance boat, think twice before trying to get the hole shot on one of these. It planes instantly (no really....less than 3 seconds and at speeds in the low to mid mid-teens, with imperceptible bow rise) and at 30 mph, the outboards are relaxed and the ride is effortless.
Throw her into a hard corner and the tubes bite down, there is a slight yaw in the direction of intended travel. I have piloted sport boats that don't perform as well as this pontoon boat does.
This is a boat that does it all. It is a performer, a cruiser, a lounger, and above all, an exceedingly refined way to hit the water. It goes a long way to resetting expectations on pontoon boats.
Oh, and the price... it feels expensive, because, well...it IS expensive. Specifically, that'll be a check for about $100,000, depending on options. That's for the base boat with test boat power, and the joystick control. Is it worth it? Premier customers seem to think so....and there is no doubt the Grand View occupies rarefied air for a pontoon boat buyer so better get on the list for one soon.
Impressive... and fun! Written by Matt Train - Matt Train is a life-long boater living in the greater Chicago area with his wife/first mate, Susan. Matt has provided numerous articles on powerboats from major manufacturers.
Picking Your Pontoon
By Bill Gius
The family has made the decision to buy a new pontoon boat for the upcoming boating season. Fantastic, congratulations. Pontoons are among the hottest selling boats on the market over the past couple years. They accommodate a lot of family and friends, they're easy to maintain, they're versatile, easy to drive, easy to dock or trailer and just plain fun.
When shopping for your pontoon 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' pontoon 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 long time so make the right choice up front. Remember that clearly one of the most important of those boating activities on-board a pontoon boat is relaxing. Photos courtesy of Tracker Marine Group and the author. (Bill Gius is a three-plus decade marine industry veteran with extensive, hands-on accessory, boat and engine experience. Bill has been working with iboats.com for six years to help manufacturers and dealers use iboats' online marketing, advertising and lead generation services. Bill can be reached at 800-869-1686 x199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)