They keep the family afloat, so make sure the pontoon's logs are ready for action.
It’s that time of year again. Longer days, warmer temps and mild breezes signal that boating season is in high gear and pontoon enthusiasts are powering ahead for a summer of boating adventures. Today’s pontoon boats are miles ahead of the first design by Minnesota farmer Ambrose Weeres, in 1952. That wooden platform on twin columns of steel barrels welded together end to end in no way resembles the versatile models traversing today’s waterways — some topping out in the 70 mph range.
The pontoon lifestyle provides an array of on-water experiences, from cruising and entertaining to fishing and watersports. It’s important, however, to know what steps to take toward maintenance, especially preventive maintenance. A top priority is making sure the pontoon’s tubes are seaworthy. After all, an on-the-water mishap that lands the vessel in the shop for days shouldn’t be on anyone’s boating itinerary.
In an effort to provide pontoon owners with insight into the importance of proper care and maintenance of pontoon tubes, we posed a list of need-to-ask questions to a group of industry leaders for their input and recommendations. Our experts weighed in with valuable guidelines that should steer summer cruising excursions forward on smooth seas.
While it’s too late to take care of preseason maintenance, take a look at the “Tube Care” sidebar to see if there’s anything you can do better next year. For this year, however, read on.
Q: What do owners need to do during the season to care for the tubes on their pontoon boat?
Several things can be done, but it’s always a good idea to pull the boat out (if it’s kept in a mooring slip) and power wash the tubes so they are devoid of algae and barnacle growth. Bottom painting is a great way to inhibit algae growth. There are several products out there to help ease cleaning or help release elicit growth. The existence of algae will slow a boat down substantially, costing it up to several miles per hour at top speeds.
— BRAD DUPUIE, ANGLER QWEST EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, QWEST PONTOONS
Q: What are the ways tubes can get damaged?
For sure, the most common damage on the tubes is caused by the bottom of the lake and the docks. If an owner hits the dock with the nose or the side of the tube, he might crack it, and it could start leaking. The bottom of the lake or a shallow obstacle is one of the biggest issues. We are not talking about beaching a pontoon but really hitting something underwater. This could bend or crack the tubes and then create a leaking point at the same time. Every single year, when an owner thinks he might have an issue with something, he should ask his dealer to inspect the tubes. Sometimes, a really small crack could potentially become a real safety issue.
— JEAN-PHILIPPE MARTIN-DUBOIS, MARKETING AND CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE DIRECTOR, PRINCECRAFT
Impacts from an object at or under the waterline are common in the springtime, after heavy rains or storms, where the waters can be contaminated with debris in the water.
— JOHN SCHMIDTBAUER, TECHNICAL CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE, MARQUISLARSON GROUP
Trailering has a high potential for damage. If your roads are “rough” and pothole riddled, then damage can occur.
Q: How can an owner tell if it’s serious?
Higher stress impacts can cause serious damage and affect the safety of one’s pontoon. These strong impacts can sometimes puncture a tube and allow water to enter the inner structure. When shopping for a pontoon, look for brands that have sectioned baffles and compartments in their tubes. This confines any puncture damage to that section of the tube. If an impact is strong, it’s advised to inspect the area and all the welds both above and below the waterline for damage. Owners with questions should consult their local dealer.
— MIKE MENNE, CAPTAIN AND PRODUCER, STRAIT PRODUCTIONS
It’s easier for a dealer to tell if it’s serious, but if the owner takes a look at the tube where it was hit and he sees a dent, this is the first sign. But a dent isn’t always leaking. Then, if he looks at the pontoon when it’s sitting at the dock and the pontoon doesn’t seem to be level, there is a good chance that one of the tubes is filled with water. Tubes are built with two, three, four different airtight chambers, so it could potentially not affect things that much, but if a pontoon is losing weight capacity, it’s not really safe to [drive it]. The owner could also feel that it’s “sinking” when he’s driving around. If the pontoon isn’t exceeding its weight capacity, this is another sign that something could be wrong.
Before owners start thinking about care during the season, they should think about preseason tube prep. If tubes are worn or stained, they should be pressure-washed, cleaned and treated with a chemical that restores the aluminum finish. Once the tube is completely clean, multiple products in the industry can be used to apply a layer of protection. A couple of popular options are Vantage Pontoon Shield and Sharkhide aluminum coatings.
Wash or chemically treat the pontoons to ensure they have a smooth finish, because growth prohibits performance, and clean ’toons should discourage growth.
Once the tubes are clean and looking good, they should be covered and wrapped with a protection product such as Vantage Pontoon Wraps or Vantage Protection Film — products that adhere to the pontoon tubes and cover the aluminum tubes with a clear or colored wrap material. This wrap protects the tubes from wear and dock rash and creates a barrier of entry to the elements, keeping them off the aluminum.
After a wrap is applied, the tubes are easy to wipe clean, and good wraps will make pontoon tubes look new for years to come.—Menne
You might want to hold on to this list until next year, when it’s time to launch after the boat spent the winter in storage.
MOTOR MAINTENANCE. Make sure your local dealer has serviced and gone through the basic maintenance schedule.
BATTERY STATUS. Taking a battery to an authorized dealer is critical to make sure a battery has not had cell life loss. Charging an existing “good” battery may also be necessary. Ensure there is not corrosion at the battery posts and ensure good continuity exists.
SWITCH FUNCTIONALITY. Always check switch functionality and that all critical items — navigation lights (front port, starboard and Bimini lights), horn, helm gauges, livewells, etc. — are functioning correctly.
TUBES. Most pontoon manufacturers recommend removing the plugs from tubes after the summer season to ensure there isn’t water in the tubes from condensation. Ensure the plugs are in the tubes and sealed before spring launch (consult owner’s manual and/or manufacturer).
LOOK IT OVER. Examine the boat for any fatigue or wear before starting the season.
GEAR INSPECTION. Make sure safety gear such as horns and life jackets are in good condition. Ensure that fire extinguishers and safety flares have not expired. —Dupuie
BILGE AND PLUMBING. If you have a bilge, clean and test it. Sinks, galleys and plumbing should be tested and run through with fresh water, to ensure proper operation.
TRAILER. Conduct a walk-around and full inspection of the trailer. Check the tires, brakes and lighting. Check the tie-down strap(s) for wear and replace them as needed. The trailer manufacturer should have a full checklist in the owner’s manual.
MOORING AND DOCKING. Make sure you have proper dock lines, bumpers and equipment to properly dock. —Menne
Q: What kinds of nicks/dings/dents can an owner fix? Which ones require more help?
Dings, dents and scratches can occur during normal outings. If the ding has a sharp edge, in most cases, the barb can be lightly sanded and buffed with an aluminum polish. Painted surfaces can be touched up with some touchup paint, which usually can be obtained from a dealer or a service center.
Larger dents may require special tools to pop out, and those will require a certified specialist to fix. —SCHMIDTBAUER
Q: How can owners protect their pontoon’s tubes?
Most companies offer keel guards that get welded to the side of the outside of each outer tube. This can help minimize damage from floating docks, vertical members on docks, etc. Rubrails should help keep damage minimal, too, but sometimes side keels can be the best preventive measure, if the boat is susceptible to damage on the docks the owner is using.
Q: What about the joinery between the tubes and the boat deck itself?
The area between the tubes and deck should be supported by the boat builder during the construction on the boat. High-end boat builders use a large-footprint “M bracket” to support the area between the tubes and the deck. Quality builders also use a foam tape and don’t pre-drill their decks where rotting can occur. Look for pontoons built with screwed decks or tek-fasteners with multiple points of connection for secure decks.
Owners should examine the tubes and deck connection on an annual basis. Inspect the welds and connection points to ensure everything is fastened properly. When the boat is out of the water, I recommend a tube and undercarriage inspection to make sure the pontoon is structurally sound. On tripletube models, also inspect the performance kit or underskin sheeting for loose fasteners or damage.
Q: What issues can owners spot to head off trouble?
Examine riser welds near the rear of the boat. Heavy impact loading can damage tubes or the connection zones of risers to tubes. Owners should always have a “transom saver” if they have a twin-tubed boat or a center-tube bunk support if they own a triple-tube boat.