Author: Alan Jones
Sometimes, when you see a company’s value line of pontoons, it seems like the designers went out of their way to make sure you can see at a glance why their more expensive pontoons are worth the extra bucks. And the bean counters will often chop the warranty down to the minimum, but SunChaser doesn’t play that game with boats such as its SunChaser 8524 LR, the 25-foot, 10-inch flagship of this “family value” line.
Despite being a package that’s priced in the low- to mid-20k range, the 8524 LR boasts a number of thoughtful features. Many pontoons today feature the popular rear-lounger configuration, but unlike most others that end at the fence or a chain, the seats on this model wrap around at the stern so riders can also sit facing forward. The starboard-side lounger is incredibly long, with enough room to allow opposing people to stretch out.
Sometimes the small things are what get your attention, such as the standard changing room that’s integrated into the port-side layback seat, and SunChaser made the chore of hiding the curtain easy with the addition of a net. You just give the curtain a couple of twists and then stuff the tail end of the curtain into the net, and when you flip the hatch back down, it stows away neatly.
The warranty is outstanding, with a lifetime warranty on the things you can’t see, such as the pontoons, deck and transom, and six years for everything you can see.
This boat is advertised for less than $22,000 with a 60 hp engine, but unless you appreciate life in the slow lane, you’ll do better with the rig we had, which is powered by a Mercury 115 hp FourStroke outboard. Our test boat comes with the standard two-tube, 25-inch-diameter round logs. But thanks to the low-end grunt of our Merc and the cockpit-forward design of the 8524 LR, which helped push the bow over, we reached plane in 2.6 seconds with barely discernible bowrise. Time to 20 mph was 7.1 seconds, and we reached a top speed of 26 mph.
A random check of the dealers handling this boat shows that the most popular rig is with a 90 hp outboard (SunChaser will rig any major brand), which will likely be a mph or two slower than the 115 hp engine. SunChaser gives pontooners five under-deck performance options, to make sure they have exactly the right rig for their pontooning lifestyle: twin tubes; twin tubes with an underskin for better hydrodynamics; twin tubes with underskin and lifting strakes on both sides for better lift; triple tubes with an underskin; and triple tubes with an underskin and lifting strakes on the outsides to allow up to 200 hp for better performance, ride and passenger-carrying ability.
Our model is rigged with the optional SeaStar hydraulic tilt steering, which makes the 8524 LR a pleasure to drive. Without having to fight the steering torque and resistance of a cable steering system, little effort was needed to turn the SunChaser. It’s especially important to have hydraulic steering on a pontoon without lifting strakes, because the logs ride lower in the water and add even more resistance. The only caveat to having hydraulic steering on a two-tube pontoon is that if you crank the wheel as fast as you can, the nose of the outside tube tends to dive down, especially with sharply tapered nosecones like our model has. But the designers at SunChaser gave the 8524 extra-large splash guards on both sides of the nosecone, which give the bow extra lift to prevent submarining. The sharp leading surface helps slice through the chop to reduce slamming.
One of the most notable features of the 8524 LR is the huge rear deck that’s covered in vinyl for easy maintenance and better grip for wet bare feet. Combine the rear deck with an adequate amount of power, and the 8524 LR is highly adaptable to watersports and gives anglers enough room to add some fishing chairs so they can wet a hook while at anchor.
Like most pontoons, this model has storage under all its seats, but instead of having to remove the entire seat bottom like you do on other value-driven models, these hinge open toward the centerline, like more upscale models. With rotomolded tubs inside and a rain gutter that drains overboard, you won’t have a dark, moist environment more suitable for growing mushrooms than for storage.
The 8524’s giant rear deck makes it a great pontoon for watersports such as tubing and wakeboarding, when rigged with a 115 like our test boat. Equip it with 150 hp or more, and all watersports are brought into play. And with the rear-lounger configuration, keeping track of the kids cavorting behind the wake becomes easy duty.
If wakesports are high on your agenda, the optional ski tow is a must, and it can handle any load with its stout four-post design. Not only is getting the triple-tube setup with lifting strakes and a 150 or 200 hp engine needed to achieve critical mass with regard to performance, it also gives you the option to add a centerline ski locker.
With a passenger capacity of 14 people, there’s no reason to leave anyone behind, and with the maximized seating arrangement, guests won’t have to play musical chairs. And speaking of music, while the two-speaker JBL system with a J-port for an MP3 player is a good starter kit, taking it to four speakers will up the jamming quotient. There is no subwoofer option, but that’s an easy aftermarket addition. Access to the cockpit is good with three wider gates (two are 30 inches wide), but they could use stops to keep them open when passengers are loading, which you can also add.
If pontoon camping is your thing (see page 52), the 8524 is available with a full camper option for creating a floating hotel. And an available option for a Porta Potti will take care of any onboard emergencies.
Our helm station has an upscale helm seat with flip-up armrests and the basic gauge package, which includes a tachometer and gas gauge, but you can option your way to a full array that even includes a depthfinder.