A niche market among boat owners has been growing steadily in recent years. Many prospective boat owners face some challenges in owning and keeping a boat. This is especially true of city dwellers who must find a place to keep and store a boat. Some people want pontoon boats that can operate on smaller bodies of water, on rivers, or in shallow water environments. This often calls for a specialized small pontoon boat.
Small pontoon boats are classified as compact, mini, or narrow. A narrow pontoon boat is approximately nine feet long and six to eight feet wide. A compact boat can range up to twenty feet with a beam of eight feet. Mini pontoons usually have a deck space of less than 50 square feet with a maximum capacity of two persons.
A smaller pontoon boat makes a lot of sense in some situations and for some people. Many parks and recreation departments use these small pontoon boats as part of their daily maintenance and patrol duties. These small boats are also handy during search and rescue operations. Many small pontoon boats are restricted to electric motors, they are considered environmentally sound. The small size also lends itself to fishing in areas that larger boats just can’t go.
What Are the Different Types of Small Pontoon Boats?
There is no official definition of what constitutes a small pontoon boat or how these petite watercraft are designated. However, the boating industry has adopted some unofficial standard classifications that are generally used to classify smaller pontoon boats into three categories.
Mini Pontoon Boats
Mini pontoon boats are usually the smallest, lightest, and least expensive boats that actually qualify to be identified as pontoon boats. Most manufacturers classify a pontoon boat in the mini category if the total deck square footage is 50 square feet or under. If you consider what you can do on 50 square feet, you quickly realize that these really are small boats.
The small size of these pontoon boats limits their capabilities greatly. The smallest of these mini pontoon boats are not rated for even a small electric trolling motor and are meant to be paddled or rowed.
These make excellent choices if your on-the-water activities are limited to small ponds on in protected areas of larger lakes. These make great fishing platforms and can easily go where it is impossible to get a larger boat.
Some pontoon boats at the upper limits of what is considered a mini pontoon may be rated for a small outboard motor and can achieve some impressive speeds under the right circumstances.
However, these small watercraft are not meant for open water activities. Remember that you must abide by your local registration and safety laws when you are on the water, no matter the size of your boat.
Narrow Pontoon Boats
Many full-size pontoon boats have a beam, the width of the deck across the boat, of nine feet or even more. Narrow pontoon boats feature beam widths of six to eight feet wide. A full-width beam does have its advantages. You get more deck space for your on-the-water activities.
In general, the wider the beam, the more stable the boat is when it is operating under power. Full-size pontoon boats are popular with large families or anyone who wants to entertain their friends with a day on the lake.
However, wider pontoon boats pose other problems that a narrow pontoon boat solves. In some states, the width of the actual load on a trailer cannot exceed eight or eight and one-half feet. A nine-foot-wide pontoon boat must be tilted to accommodate this requirement which requires a special trailer that can get quite expensive. A narrow pontoon boat eliminates these problems.
Some boat slips and marina facilities won’t accommodate a full-size pontoon boat. A narrow pontoon boat typically fits in standard marina boat slips without problems. A wider beam boat also means more weight which requires a larger motor to propel the boat through the water efficiently.
Overall, narrow pontoon boats make much more sense unless you intend to leave your pontoon boat in the water all the time and have the space to moor it properly.
Compact Pontoon Boats
If a manufacturer refers to their model of a pontoon boat as compact, you can generally expect the pontoon boat to be no longer than 20 feet long and have a beam of 8 feet or less. You can expect to have a pontoon boat with between 100 and 160 square feet of deck space which is enough area to entertain most families or have a gathering of friends for a day at the lake.
Because compact pontoon boats have beams less than eight feet, they can typically be easily trailered from your storage area to the lake. Launching and retrieving compact deck boats is also much easier than larger boats. The tow weights of most compact pontoon boats are easily within the tow capacities of most SUVs. This makes a compact pontoon boat a good choice for most families.
In general, the majority of pontoon boats that you will find at most boat dealers fall within the compact pontoon boat category. The manufacturer’s description may not say compact, but if the boat is within these length and width ranges, it fits the category. These compact pontoon boats are probably the most popular category of pontoon boats for most boat-owning families.
Small Pontoon Boat Sizes
The size differences between the three categories of pontoon boats can be quite significant. The size dictates how large of a load the pontoon boat can safely carry, what size engine, if any, the boat can accommodate, and how easy it is to trailer or move into and out of the lake.
How Big is a Mini Pontoon Boat?
The mini pontoon boat category is probably the broadest category of the three generally accepted pontoon boat descriptions. If you search on mini pontoon boats, you will find many sizes, designs, and capacities, from small inflatable single-person watercraft to pontoon boats that push the limits of the mini category definition.
Generally, a mini pontoon boat can carry two people maximum and has about 50 square feet of deck space. If you consider basic proportions, this limits a mini pontoon boat to a length of about eight feet and a width of about 6 feet. Pontoon boats larger than this often slip into the compact or narrow pontoon boat categories.
On the smaller end, inflatable single-person pontoon boats are becoming more popular. You can find these inflatable pontoon boats on the internet for less than $500.
Some are even rated for a small electric trolling motor but typically will only handle 350 pounds of load. The upper end of the mini pontoon boat category features pontoon boats with aluminum pontoons that can accommodate up to 650 pounds on the boat and are rated for motors up to 3.5 horsepower.
How Big is a Narrow Pontoon Boat?
According to some industry information, narrow pontoon boats are a niche category that typically has a beam of fewer than 8 feet and is generally closer to 6 feet in width. The overall length of pontoon boats in the narrow category rarely goes longer than 20 feet. If a narrow pontoon boat goes much more than 20 feet in length, you may encounter stability problems with the boat.
Narrow pontoon boats can have very generous capacities that make them good for families or for entertaining on the water. The narrow beam of these pontoon boats also makes them popular on rivers rather than on lakes. Narrow beam boats can turn in a smaller radius and allows you to navigate in much closer quarters than wider pontoon boats. Narrow pontoon boats are also easier to trailer and launch than full-size pontoon boats.
Some of the larger narrow pontoon boats have onboard capacities approaching 2,000 pounds. This is enough weight to support six or seven adults with food and beverages. However, when calculating your boat’s total capacity, be sure to include the weight of the outboard motor and fuel.
How Big is a Compact Pontoon Boat?
There is often some overlap between compact pontoon boats and narrow pontoon boats. Compact pontoon boats are considered to have a beam of eight feet maximum and a length of up to 20 feet. You can easily see how this category can be confused with narrow-beam pontoon boats. Overall, compact pontoon boats are the largest category of pontoon boats on most boat dealers’ lots.
Most pontoon boats that fit the compact category can easily handle eight adults with daily supplies on the lake. The manufacturer’s rating label will give you more specific information about the capacity of your compact pontoon boat and should be adhered to carefully for safety’s sake. A compact pontoon boat may require a heavier and more powerful outboard engine as well.
Trailering and launching fully equipped compact pontoon boats can also present challenges. These bigger boats require larger tow vehicles and larger trailers. Ensure your vehicle has the towing capacity to move your pontoon boat, when necessary, safely. A typical compact pontoon boat can easily weigh 2,000 pounds without the motor or any of the required safety gear. A compact pontoon boat with a hard top also presents some wind challenges that can push the limits of smaller tow vehicles.
What Are Small Pontoon Boats Used For?
In general, the uses of small pontoon boats are unlimited. Even the small inflatable single-person pontoon boats have wide applications shared by larger boats.
Small one or two-person pontoon boats make excellent fishing platforms that can easily reach areas where other types of boats cannot maneuver. Many search and rescue organizations deploy these mini-pontoon boats to search banks and inlets on small bodies of water.
Narrow and compact pontoon boats are perfect for families that want a stable water platform for entertaining or enjoying water recreation at their favorite lakes. Pontoon boats make great fishing platforms for larger groups.
The shallow draft of most pontoon boats makes them perfect for accessing areas that other types of boats can reach. This can be advantageous when operating in shallow bay areas or where tides can change the water level quickly.
Pontoon boats are routinely used for search and rescue operations, particularly as diving platforms for underwater recovery operations. The larger deck surface of these pontoon boats makes them popular with sailing clubs and fishing tournaments for committee boats. However, the most popular use of smaller pontoon boats is for personal and family water recreation.
Why Should I Buy a Small Pontoon Boat?
A small pontoon boat may offer you the most opportunities for the least amount of money. For the money, pontoon boats almost always provide more opportunities and better value than other kinds of boats. Several factors may influence your decision to purchase a small pontoon boat.
Overall, pontoon boats are much more economical to purchase than many other styles of boats. A small inflatable single-person style mini pontoon boat can be easily found for less than $500. The most lavish single-person mini pontoon boat with all of the bells and whistles is usually under $1,000. This makes small pontoon boats one of the best value-to-size purchases among any boat style.
Larger compact and narrow pontoon boats follow the same pattern. For the carrying capacity, you can expect higher numbers on a pontoon boat than on a comparably sized traditional boat and spend considerably less money. Nationally, the average cost for a modestly equipped compact pontoon boat is about $20,000. Of course, you can spend much more if you want to outfit your pontoon boat to the max.
Other budget considerations are operating and storage expenses. Smaller pontoon boats can often be stored at your home rather than having to rent storage space at a separate facility. Some inflatable pontoon boats will store easily in a garage. Pontoon boats generally have much smaller engines and are more economical to operate long-term.
Ease of Use
If you are a solo fisherman or usually fish with a partner, a one or two-man inflatable mini-pontoon boat may be perfect. In some cases, you can find a mini pontoon boat that will fit all of your needs for under $1,000. In addition, these lightweight inflatable pontoon boats are easy to transport and launch for one or two people.
Families can appreciate the advantages of narrow or compact pontoon boats for family outings to their local lake. The lighter weight of pontoon boats makes them easily towable with almost any SUV on the market. Launching and trailering most pontoon boats is easy since the trailers are designed to self-center the boat in the cradles.
Pontoon boats typically make it easier for people to access the water. Most compact and narrow pontoon boats offer easy-to-use boarding ladders or swim platforms as part of the boat package. Hard hull pontoon boats are easy to beach when a shoreline picnic is on the schedule. Inflatable pontoon boats meant for one or two persons are practical for fishing hard-to-reach spots and are easy to transport and store without trailers or other special equipment.
Great for the Environment
Concerns about how large boats can affect the environment in and around our lakes is a growing matters. Pontoon boats, on the whole, are considered to be a much more environmentally friendly option than other types of power boats. The impact that these pontoon boats have on water quality, wildlife, and shorelines is, in many cases, minimal.
Smaller pontoon boats designed to be propelled by leg power or oars have the least impact on the environment of our lakes and shorelines. These craft produce little or no toxic waste and do not create large waves that can disturb the shoreline. The lack of noise from engines is also a consideration of the environment.
Even larger, powered, compact and narrow pontoon boats do less damage to the environment than you make think. Pontoon boats, on the whole, tend to have smaller engines for their size and create less turbulence in the water. Smaller engines produce less toxic exhaust and waste as well.
Typically, all boats have a horsepower restriction as part of the manufacturer’s information label attached to the boat. This label also details carrying capacity, dry weights, and other factors about the boat. Pontoon boats are no different, and each boat has its restrictions for the size and weight of the motor that can be used with the boat.
In general, the wider and longer the boat, the more horsepower the boat can handle. It must be remembered that pontoon boats are not really meant for water activities like waterskiing or wakeboarding. Some smaller pontoon boats may be restricted to a small battery-powered trolling motor or even hand power alone.
In general, small pontoon boats are restricted to engines of no more than 25 horsepower. You must follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to safely operate your small pontoon boat. Overpowering a pontoon boat can lead to structural damage or failure, which can be catastrophic.
Use in Shallow Water
Pontoon boats are notable for the shallow draft they require even when fully loaded. This makes pontoon boats extremely popular in lakes, rivers, and bay areas along the coast, where water depths can vary. This feature is especially popular with fishermen who often want to get into places where regular boats cannot go.
The shallow draft of most pontoon boats also means that beaching a pontoon boat on the shoreline is easier and safer than some deep draft boats. This can give you access to places that enhance your water recreation activities.
On the whole, even the largest of pontoon boats easily floats in two feet of water. However, this doesn’t mean you should routinely take your pontoon boat into these shallow areas. Underwater obstructions may interfere with your motor even if your boat floats clear. However, the ability to get into areas where other boats cannot go can be a fun and enjoyable activity.
Is a Small Pontoon Boat Worth It?
This is a question that only you can answer. You must consider what you expect from your pontoon boat, how it will be used, and what you can afford to pay for your boat. For many of us, the return in value is not so much about the financial angle as it is about the times and experiences we have with our families and friends on our pontoon boats.
It is these kinds of rewards that are hard to value and difficult to judge from a financial standpoint. All in all, if your family is outdoors-oriented and loves to be on the water, a small pontoon boat may be well worth every penny you spend to provide the experiences and memories.