By: Ashley Lizzi on February 27th, 2023
Can Pontoon Boats Sink? Here’s the Answer.
Pontoon boats have come a long way from the original floating deck with stiff blue carpet. Everything from the exterior look to the electronics onboard has seen a massive glow-up in the last 10-20 years.
Even the speed offered in this segment has changed drastically with the upgrades that have been made to outboard engines. We’re seeing horsepower up into the 600s at this point and it will only continue to get bigger.
Over the years, there’s a question that continuously comes up regarding pontoons in the marine industry. Whether you’re new to boating or just new to pontoons, you may have wondered can pontoon boats sink?
As a lifelong boater and member of the Barletta Pontoon Boats team, I’m going to debunk all of the rumors or misinformation you may have heard surrounding this topic.
Can Pontoon Boats Sink?
Drumroll please… the answer to this question is yes, pontoon boats can sink. It is a vessel that when used improperly can take on water and land itself on the bottom of the seafloor. This is the case for any type of boat out there.
That being said, I want to share with you what to do to avoid sinking a pontoon boat and why it’s not likely to happen to you. These boats are some of the safest recreational boats on the market.
They’re said to be SUVs on water and are great family boats. The way these vessels are constructed and laid out makes for a comfortable boating experience for all ages. That also includes boating with pets.
Built for comfort and safety, it’s rare that a pontoon boat would sink even with an inexperienced driver behind the wheel. For that reason, most rental boats are pontoons.
That would not be the case if these boats required a ton of skill and experience. Although I recommend that anyone who gets behind the wheel of a boat goes through a boater’s education course, learning how to drive a pontoon is not hard.
When it comes to rough water no matter where you’re boating, it is important to know what you’re doing behind the wheel. For example, on busy weekends my lake gets very choppy.
Depending on the brand, age, and build of a pontoon boat, I’ve seen plenty of boaters nose dive and take on water over the deck. This is more typical in older pontoons and far less likely to happen on a tri-toon.
That said, even a nose dive in rough water will rarely sink a pontoon boat. The deck will get wet, and you might have a few boat accessories floating around but eventually, the water will dissipate and the boat will still be floating.
Although not a fun experience, generally speaking, pontoon boats can handle rough water. Now they’re not built to head out into the middle of the ocean for deep sea fishing, but if you run into typical choppy waters on a lake, river, or intercoastal, you should be just fine.
How to Sink a Pontoon Boat
Now that we’ve discussed a pontoon taking on water from a nose dive and how that will not be the source of the boat sinking, let’s talk about how the boat can be sunk. The reason it’s not easy to sink a pontoon boat is due to the pontoons themselves.
The metal tubes filled with air create so much buoyancy that they will not go down easily. That’s why taking on water from a nose dive or heavy rain will not be enough to sink the boat.
The only way to sink a pontoon is by water entering the tubes. In many cases, even if one tube fills with water, the other one or two will still keep the boat mostly afloat and you will likely be able to get it to shore without going down completely.
From experience, I have been on a pontoon that has sunk. It was an older bi-toon and the owner of the boat forgot to secure the plugs on the toons that spring before launching the boat.
Over time, water leaked in both toons and as we were coming across the middle of the lake, it started going down. That boat sank but luckily help was nearby and we made it off before it went down completely.
Something to note is that not all toons have plugs on them, especially on newer pontoon boats, this was just the case for the old boat I was on. However it is critical that the plugs are secured if you do have them on your boat, no matter what type of boat it is.
Many brands have evolved the way they build the toons and that situation I just explained is far less likely to happen with new builds.
Depending on the brand of pontoon boat you choose, the toons themselves are constructed to be less susceptible to taking on water. The new design and craftsmanship make pontoon boats an even safer option than they’ve ever been, and that’s saying a lot.
For example, here at Barletta, each toon is built with baffles down the entire length of the tube. These baffles act as watertight doors that create compartments in the toons. If an object were to pierce one section of the toon, only that chamber will take on water.
Throughout the construction process, Barletta also performs pressure testing on each tube at multiple different stops on the production line. This is done utilizing Schrader valves that are attached to the toons.
A soapy substance is applied to the tube for this process so that if there is a leak, bubbles will form and alert the production team it needs to be fixed. They’re checked multiple times to ensure that the boat is not leaving the factory with any leaks.
Barletta goes the extra mile to make sure boats do not leave the factory with leaky toons. Not all brands take these extra steps but you might find a few that do some of this process.
Most pontoon boats don’t leave the factory with leaky toons. It’s not something that’s common straight from the source. Most, not all, instances where a pontoon boat sinks completely are due to user error.
If you have no experience behind the wheel of a boat, do yourself a favor and educate yourself before launching the boat. This might entail taking a boater’s education course as I mentioned before and even going as far as obtaining a boater’s license.
At the very least you should learn how to drive a pontoon boat. You can do this a few ways, first I recommend asking an expert to teach you. Most of the time, your local dealer who you purchased the boat from is more than willing to teach you.
Some marinas and dealerships also offer driving classes. This is a great way to go because you’ll also learn how to stay safe on your local body of water. There may be shallow spots that only locals are familiar with or underwater obstructions that you may not know exist.
For example, one 4th of July the fireworks barge caught fire and sank to the bottom of my lake. It wasn’t in a very deep area so those who were not in the know of this happening did not know to steer clear of that spot when cruising the lake.
It’s underwater obstructions like this that are one of the main causes of taking on damage that could sink the boat. You don’t know they exist, you cruise over them and they tear into the toons. If this happens, you should seek help immediately.
Don’t wait for the boat to be halfway underwater. Call for help as soon as you see the toons taking on water. If it’s a small tear and your toons are baffled as Barlettas are, you may be able to make it to shore on your own.
However, you should always take any damage to the toons very seriously. If you can get it home and up on a lift or to the boat launch and pull it out with a trailer, you should do that immediately.
I hope I’ve cleared up any questions you have about pontoon boats staying afloat. Taking on a little water over the bow isn’t a huge concern. This happens less and less with newer-built pontoons.
Be diligent about knowing your body of water or learning how to spot underwater obstructions. Depth finders and chart plotters do help if you’re well-versed in how to use them. Talking with local experts is a great way to go also.
Remember, pontoon boats are some of the safest recreational boats on the market. Although they rarely sink, it can happen if the toons are compromised. Safe boating is smart boating so stay educated and you should have a great boating experience always.