One thing remains unscathed in this temporarily scarred economy — a family's desire to spend time together. Perhaps that's why, when you observe families at boat shows and dealerships, they're often climbing onto pontoons and fishing boats instead of big fiberglass status symbols. They're drawn to the competitive price tags, naturally. Moreover, these boats just make perfect sense for families, regardless of what the Dow Jones is doing, and never has that been truer than in 2009. After spending quality time on nearly 30 new pontoons and fishing boats, we identified five key reasons these latest models are destined to become family favorites.
There are few pleasures more basic than lounging on the sofa of an anchored pontoon or kicking back in a fishing chair. The serenity aboard a modest 'toon or fishing boat is refreshing. "Most of our customers are metro families with weekend cabins," says Melissa Grover of central Minnesota's Nisswa Marine, which specializes in pontoons and freshwater fishing boats. "They come to the lake to get away from the weekday grind, veg out on the lake or fish."
New tube designs with better flotation and higher-horsepower capabilities mean a pontoon can fulfill every boating activity, from parties to high-energy water sports.
That same do-all attitude exists in today's aluminum fishing boats. We've found light-on-the-trailer models that will appeal to die-hard fishermen. But we know from using these boats that they're also being designed with wives and children in mind. Again, follow families at the showrooms as they drift toward these styles of boats. That speaks volumes.
PICK YOUR SPEED
Watch the pontoons and fishing boats on your waters. Most ease along. You don't see many rooster tails, even though pontoons can reach speeds in the 40s, and performance bass and walleye boats can hit the 70s with enough horsepower. Walleye pro and fishing guide Rich Boggs says it well: "A boat ride is what anglers endure in order to get to the hot spots and start fishing."
All but the top-level bass fishermen like light hulls, because they plane well at slower speeds. Having mega-horsepower isn't critical for most of us. Translation: There's savings on the sale price and on fuel consumption.
EASY DOES IT
For novice boaters, there's definitely an intimidation factor when sliding behind the helm. This is especially true in big, high-nosed glass boats. But driving a modestly powered fishing boat or pontoon is simple, since both designs offer such a fine view from the helm. The operators at Adventures at Sea Watersports in Panama City, Florida, are often asked whether experience is necessary to rent their 24-foot pontoons. They assure customers that it is not. "That's why pontoon boats are immensely popular with tourists," they say. The learning curve is so short that a person with little or no time at a boat helm can safely and confidently use one all day. The experience will not turn people off boating, like, say, a first-time snowboarding or golf outing might do.
For anglers, the simplicity of owning a 16- or 17-foot fishing boat comes up when it's being towed — its light weight makes for an easy time on the vehicle and on the nerves — no matter the experience level.
IT'S YOUR PICK
In other boat categories like bowriders and cruisers, models are essentially offered "as is" when you get inside. The choice in layouts isn't very broad. The opposite is true with pontoons and fishing boats. The wide range of floor plans allows boaters to get exactly what they need. And often, "convertible" features exist to serve dual purposes. Lawrence Kaiser, who recently purchased a family pontoon in Quad Cities, Illinois, says: "We chose a pontoon with the front half built for fishing and the back half set up for entertaining. It gives us the best of both worlds."