Qwest’s new 818 Splash Pad may be small in size, but it will make a big impression.
Author: Alan Jones
When people think of compact pontoons, many of them conjure up an image of a spartan fishing boat with few amenities — certainly nothing that onlookers would see and say “wow!” Well, that’s sure to change when they get a gander at Qwest’s new 818 Splash Pad, the little pontoon that’s going to change a lot of people’s minds about how much entertainment you can pack into 18 feet, 4 inches of space.
The new feature that’s going to drop jaws is the Splash Pad bar on the stern of this petite party platform. Three swiveling stools surround a generous faux-granite working surface that has six secure cupholders. Meant to be used at rest, this alfresco watering hole isn’t closed in by fencing and gives people relaxing out back a connection to the water. The rear platform is exceptionally roomy and covered with gray Aqua Trac nonskid surface. Something I’ve never seen, even on 30-foot pontoon boats, is twin stern boarding ladders. But anyone with young kids knows how they love to jump in the water, climb back aboard, and do it again and again like mini perpetual-motion machines, so having twin ladders with swimming pool-style grabrails and wide, deep steps is a bonus.
Another surprise to first-timers coming aboard the LS 818 is the plush interior appointments, but the LS stands for Luxury Series, so it shouldn’t be a shocker. Qwest makes its seats in house and uses stain-resistant, 33-ounce Soft Touch X-panded back vinyl stretched over Lifetime Cushion foam that’s laid over stout 1/2-inch plastic seat frames for longevity. Underneath the seats are Apex’s unique storage compartments, which have the Ultra-Flow ventilation system to make sure the compartments don’t become a mushroom-growing environment. The seating arrangement maximizes capacity using an L-lounge with a recliner to port of the captain’s chair and a chaise recliner couch in front of the helm, along with a one-person settee on the left. The 818 is rated for nine passengers, but seating that many will be a bit cozy. A worthy addition to the options list might be a filler cushion for the port entrance, or owners might consider bringing along a two-person beanbag chair to prevent standing-room-only at max capacity.
Our test boat features Qwest’s standard twin 23-inch pontoon setup. The tubes have exceptionally large splash caps overhanging the front to knock down spray and provide an added measure of security against submarining into a giant cruiser wake when most of the passengers are sitting up front.
Powering our boat is the Yamaha F70, which is among the newest models in Yamaha’s lineup and destined to become a classic, right up there with the F150. Weighing just 257 pounds, the in-line four-cylinder outboard is up to 142 pounds lighter than other brands’ 70 hp outboards. It gave the Qwest a good holeshot, putting it on plane in 3.3 seconds and propelling it to 20 mph in 6.5 seconds. Top speed was clocked at 24.6 mph, which is fast enough to thrill kids being towed on inflatables.
Being a twin-tube pontoon, it experienced a bit of outward lean in hard corners, but because the 23-inch tubes are proportionally large for its length, it didn’t dive alarmingly and threaten to bury the outboard tube’s nosecone. The tubes have a slender leading edge to assist with slicing through the waves rather than battering against them. We had cable steering, which is expected for this horsepower range, but the steering effort isn’t overly onerous. So when you are dragging the kids around on tubes, you don’t have to man-up when they want you to crack the whip … again. The ’toons on the Quest LS 818 also feature full-length keels to assist with tracking.
Because the boat weighs only 1,345 pounds, you can tow it with practically anything that has a trailer hitch, allowing you to take your pontooning act on the road, to expand your boating world without feeling like you are towing a carnival ride down the highway.
The Qwest LS 818 Splash Pad is like a compact Swiss Army knife. While some people might see just a bar on the stern, anglers will view it as a great place for people to fish. And because fishermen are multitaskers, many will plan to use both functions at the same time. Qwest also has a fishing option with a livewell and fishing seats, if that is your main activity.
The large ski tow means watersports are in the picture, and because the stern chairs are on pedestals, they can be removed easily to make room to store even giant inflatable towables without having to bring them in the cockpit.
As you might imagine, having a bar makes this a natural entertainer, and there’s an additional cockpit table for the forward seating group. No party is complete without tunes, and the Qwest LS has a state-of-the-art Infinity Bluetooth stereo system that’s part of the standard package. Our test boat has been upgraded to a six-speaker system that includes pop-up speakers that swivel in any direction, so when guests are swimming, the music can be directed toward them. The bass response and fidelity are superb, making the sound system another pleasant surprise for people experiencing compact pontooning for the first time.
The stock configuration is loaded with standard features such as the Humminbird 385c color fishfinder, which also has GPS navigation for exploring new areas. The helm console is a full fiberglass unit, not the cheap rotomolded doghouses you see sometimes on other compact pontoons. For added panache, there’s wood-grain trim and an Italian-style sport wheel. Our test pontoon is equipped with the optional high-backed reclining captain’s chair, which is a homerun.
Your biggest choice will depend on how you use your pontoon. With the two-tube setup, you are relegated to towing inflatables and kneeboards, though there is just enough speed for junior skiers to wakeboard. Qwest has recently added a three-tube option that really ups the performance quotient. Last year, we tested an 818 Cruise with the Fusion Triple Tube high-performance package, which turned the Cruise into a pontoon with sportboat handling and allowed you to power it with a 115 hp outboard. Even with a 90 hp Honda, it reached 34.6 mph, which is fast enough for all watersports. Another plus with the three-tube setup is improved seakeeping on larger bodies of water, especially if you have a large group on board.
You can substitute faux teak or Sea Grass deck covering for the rear deck, for some additional ambiance. And upping the wow factor are raised chrome logos, 3-D graphics, optional lighted cupholders and an in-seat courtesy lighting system. The Splash Pad option is a huge upgrade that turns this 18-footer into a versatile, head-turning entertainment monster.