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Ashley Lizzi

By: Ashley Lizzi on February 3rd, 2021

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How to Shop for a Pontoon Boat in 5 Easy Steps

If you’re in the market for a new pontoon boat, there is a lot to consider before you buy.  As a long time boater and part of the Barletta Boats team, I know the importance of vetting out the right brand, make, and model.

As the owner of two very different boats, I know how important it is to make sure you are getting exactly what you need out of your vessel.  It’s possible that if you’re a serial boater like myself, one boat may not cover all of your needs. 

That said, newer pontoons in today’s market have evolved into multifunctional boats that can do just about anything you need.  Doing your research before you buy may leave you surprised.  You will see a plethora of model types, price ranges, and even some of the common issues with this type of boat.  

In my case, I use my pontoon boat 90% of the time.  The other 10% of the time, I’m on our antique ski boat we use to get under a very low bridge in order to lake hop.  Otherwise, the pontoon has us covered.

While boat shopping, these were my consideration points: 

  1. A sturdy boat - my lake has a lot of rough chop
  2. Enough seating for everyone during the 4th of July fireworks
  3. Easy maintenance
  4. Pet friendly for our Co-Captain Chunk Lizzi
  5. Comfortable seating for days spent on the sandbar
  6. Somewhere to store lifejackets and auger anchors

Once I knew what was most important to me and my family, shopping came easy.  I encourage you to make a similar list and vet out what your must-haves are.  This should help you narrow down what type of pontoon you’re looking for.  

If you know what you want out of a pontoon boat and you’re ready for the next step, I've got you covered.  Here are the ways you can successfully shop for your new pontoon boat that will ensure you’re getting the most out of your purchase.  

Researching Online

Online shopping has become the way of the world, especially for big purchases.  For example, you’re probably reading this article because you Googled something about shopping for a new pontoon boat.  Am I right?

You can find answers to almost all of your questions just by combing the web.  That said, there are a bunch of ways you can shop for a new pontoon boat online.

While you search through different pontoon brands, there are a few things to look for on manufacturer websites.  Most will offer multiple shopping tools available such as boat builders, virtual brochures, and image/video galleries.  

The boat builder tool is one of the most helpful sources of information.  This is a great way to understand what standard features come with the boat, and what features you’ll be paying extra for.  It’s also a great way to see different color choices and interiors.  

Some brands will even offer an MSRP and a downloadable PDF of what you built.  This way you can walk into the dealership knowing exactly what you want to buy.

Image and video galleries will offer a ton of information you would usually only be able to get in a dealer’s showroom.  Now you can see just about any feature or color choice in the comfort of your own home.

Something else to consider while shopping different brands is the after-sale support.  Check out manufacturers’ owner resources to get a feel for how you will be supported once you own the boat.

I also recommend using different social media channels to do your initial research.  YouTube is a great resource to see and hear about different brands.  Dealers and manufacturers alike have taken to the web with walkthrough videos and how-to’s that will help guide your research.

Along with YouTube, check out different manufacturer’s Facebook and Instagram pages.  This way you get a feel for the brand community and real feedback from owners.  It’s also a great way to view images of different products.    

Find your Nearest Dealer

Once you begin to research and land on a brand you want to explore further, finding your nearest dealer is critical.  You can also find this info on the worldwide web.

Every manufacturer should have a dealer finder right on their website.  These are easy to use and typically ask for your zip code.  Remember, it’s so important to buy where you boat.  So, if you have a lake house five hours away from your main home, you might want to use that zip code to find a dealer.

I strongly suggest buying where you boat.  Building a relationship with your dealer is imperative to receiving good service after the sale.  This will also help if you plan on having your dealer pull and store the boat at their location.  

Unlike car dealers who will service your vehicle even if you didn’t buy from them, boat dealers are less inclined to do so.  Boat dealers will make their buyers priority when it comes to needing service.  

Yearly service maintenance is required to keep the boat and engine running smoothly, so being near your dealer is key.  This, along with many other reasons, is why it’s important to build a relationship with the dealer closest to where you boat.  It will make your life so much easier after the sale.

Schedule a Demo Ride 

Test driving the boat you want to buy is a great way to know what you’re getting.  There are a lot of factors that you may not realize until you’re in the captain’s chair.  If you get a chance to demo the boat with your dealer, do it.

Something to consider during a demo is different engine options.  In a perfect world, you could test drive every engine available, but that’s nearly impossible with the large number of options.  

If you’ve got a speed range in mind that you want to find, talk to your dealer about what boat/engine combo will help you get there.  They may not have it available on the lot, but they can give you an idea of what horsepower you are looking for.

While driving the boat, ask about steering options that the brand offers.  Different steering types can drastically change the way the boat handles.  It’s important to know how each type operates as it may dictate the engine you choose.  

If you have a dealer that offers demos, don’t be shy.  Drive different brands, makes, models, horsepower options, etc.  There is no better way to shop for a pontoon boat than to drive one and see how it handles first hand.  

Shop the Boat Shows

If you’re lucky, your nearest dealer will have a boat show or two throughout the year.  Typically, boat show season runs from January 1 through the end of March and sometimes trickles into April.

Boat shows are set up to sell every brand a dealer has.  That said, attending a show is a great way to see and compare different pontoon boats.  You can get a feel for what’s offered at each price point by shopping the show.

Something that’s also a bonus is show pricing.  Most dealers will offer discounted prices during their show.  It’s the perfect time to get a deal as show pricing is usually only good during the time of the show.  

One downfall is that many dealers don’t offer demos during this time.  It’s winter in most of the country so that’s part of the issue.  Otherwise, boat shows are a great resource to narrow down which pontoon you want to buy.  

Visit a Dealer Showroom

Last but not least, you can shop by simply visiting your local dealer.  Before the interwebs existed, people actually drove to the dealership and picked out what they wanted to buy in person.

A few things to consider while shopping at a dealer’s lot are inventory, special orders, and gear.  Depending on the time of year or size of the dealership, you may only see a small sample of pontoon boats.

If you already know what you want before heading in, this shouldn’t be an issue.  In that case, the dealer will special order the boat for you.

This is where that online boat builder comes in handy.  If you’re ready and armed with your virtual boat, the process should be quick and painless.  Keep in mind, there is more to consider than just the purchase of the boat.

You should know that there will be additional costs outside of the boat itself.  The price of a pontoon boat goes beyond your initial order.  Ask your dealer about freight and dealer prep costs before you buy.

Those factors along with knowing what gear you will need for the boat, will all affect the end price you pay.  Make a list of what you think you will need such as life jackets and anchors, many dealers carry this type of stuff in house.

Next Steps to Purchase

Now that we’ve discussed all the ways you can shop for a pontoon boat, what’s next?  I recommend digging in and researching until you’re comfortable with a certain brand of pontoon boat.   

Once you’ve got that nailed down, use that brand’s website as a shopping tool.  You could have all of your questions answered before ever stepping foot inside of a dealership.

Between videos on YouTube, virtual boat builders, and owner communities on social media, you’ve got the boat world at your fingertips.  Are you ready to dive in?




About Ashley Lizzi

Barletta Content Manager, 9+ years Manufacturer Marketing, Brand Management, Customer Experience, and life-long boater.