It was one of the more entertaining pontooning mishaps I have been privileged to witness, but only because no one perished. It had potential, however: ten passengers on a 24 foot platform pushed by a diminutive 9.9 hp outboard, the maximum power allowed on the suburban water supply reservoir. The slow speed and broad deck of the craft probably lent a false sense of security to the folks aboard. Their numbers didn’t crowd the capacity of the boat; it was more a question of load distribution. “A Question of Balance” as offered by the Moody Blues. (Moody Blue being a name I hope to place in gold leaf across a broad mahogany transom some day).
The lounge seats at the forward end of the boat’s ‘playpen’ were at maximum occupancy, lending the craft a bit of a bow-down profile as the pontoon made its way up the lake and toward where we were anchored and fishing from the family FloteBote. The closer they got the more apparent it became that everyone aboard was very ‘relaxed’ – in both actions and speech. We also couldn’t help but notice a full-sized, patio-style propane-fueled barbecue grill dominating the open front deck of the slowly approaching pontoon.
Like the straw on the camel’s back, it took just one reveler (who happened to be using a straw to sip from a crimson-colored Solo cup) to turn the tide as she left her place near the transom to walk all the way forward, stepping up to the grill to see what was cooking.
The shift in weight dropped the bow to the waterline just as a small wake from a fellow boater breached same. The boat stopped dead in the water as the front deck buried itself into the wave and the transom lifted high enough to allow the outboard to cut nothing but air, offering a sudden, shrill sound to the scene. The stern-high angle of the deck spilled its contents forward, the first of which being the grill that, thanks to being on wheels, slid in gracefully into the water with a dramatic whoosh! and billow of steam. The upended passengers didn’t know whether to laugh or scream, and some did both from the sound of it as they scrambled over each other to keep from entering the water where the Brinkman bobbed and sizzled just off the bow.
It was over as quickly as it had begun as the load of startled guests shifted aft and the boat leveled out, the deck awash with plastic cups and paper plates and at least two passengers who elected to stay prone until the boat pontoon pulled abreast the nearby dock. They were a disheveled, disoriented crew that stepped from the deck of the boat and onto the dock, and one that was suddenly sober following the near-tragic event.
The lesson was there for all who witnessed the debacle – from the sidelines and firsthand from the deck of the fateful vessel. They are incredibly stable craft, but pontoon boats are ruled by the same laws of weight and balance that affect traditional mono-hulled vessels.