You’ve had your pontoon boat for a while now and it’s served you well. After countless days out on the boat at the local lake or reservoir, you’re starting to dream of an adventure a bit larger than any you’ve had before and you’re wondering, “Can a pontoon boat go in the open ocean?”
Pontoon boats can be used in the ocean with some caveats. Pontoon boat owners must avoid big swells and bad weather as well as consider anode installation, metal protectant, galvanized trailers, as well as additional cleanup steps with fresh water. Furthermore, investing in a tritoon will enhance stability.
That’s just the beginning–make sure to read on since there are a lot of preparation steps to think about that you might miss.
By the way, as an Amazon Associate, I earn when buying qualified products through links on my site.
We’ll also discuss whether or not a tritoon is safer than a pontoon for ocean use and give you some advice on the best pontoons for the big blue beyond.
Can You Actually Take Your Pontoon Boat In the Ocean?
People do indeed take their pontoon boats on the ocean–it’s not as common because pontoon boats really are designed for inland waters, but you won’t be the first person to try it if that’s any comfort.
There are 3 things you have to consider when thinking about taking a pontoon boat out in the ocean:
- Safety: There are horror stories of pontoon boats flipping (yes… flipping!) in the ocean (see one terrible story here). It’s a good idea to stay within sight of shore and know the limits of your pontoon boat so if the weather starts to get rough you can get home. Avoid storms, avoid big swells and high winds. Make sure and see our section down below for tips on how to handle rough waters.
- Stability and Performance: If your pontoon boat barely can go over 20MPH, then it’s likely your boat will not be powerful enough to fight unexpected ocean waves. Lifting strakes and a 3rd pontoon can help your performance, but having a strong engine (at a bare minimum of 115HP, preferably more… perhaps even twin engines) and even a 3rd pontoon can help here. Read below about whether a 3rd pontoon can help prepare you for the ocean.
- Preparation and Maintenance: It turns out that your pontoon boat is likely not prepped for ocean use when you buy it from your dealer. There’s a lot to consider–I’ll walk you through some of the basics to get you started in the below section.
Maintenance Required For Your Pontoon Boat To Go On the Ocean
If you’re wondering how to get your pontoon boat on the ocean, this section will talk about what steps you need to consider to keep your pontoon boat from damage.
Anodes, Anodes, Anodes
When you combine non-reactive metals with saltwater, nothing much happens. But when you combine non-reactive metals with saltwater and electricity, you can experience intense metal corrosion.
Corrosion is the death of a pontoon boat since you are relying on the integrity of your pontoons. It becomes critically important to make sure your pontoon and hull stay safe.
Anodes are sacrificial metal parts that attach to the hull or to the motor. They are more reactive than the metal of your boat and will corrode before the rest of your boat.
For saltwater, you should use zinc anodes. In brackish water, you can use aluminum anodes, while magnesium anodes are generally used for freshwater.
Anodes need to be replaced when they begin to corrode away about 50% or less.
For a pontoon boat, you should have anodes on all of your pontoons (2 or 3) as well as on your motor.
If you are not sure what type of anodes you have on, you might be able to look up the information stamped onto the anode, directly. Check with your dealer or wherever you maintain your pontoon boat to install zinc anodes on your pontoon boat.
You might not think about it (before it’s too late), but in order to get your boat into the ocean, you need to submerge your trailer. Your trailer is also made of metal. Unfortunately, metal and saltwater are terrible enemies.
Use a galvanized trailer if you are going to be bringing your pontoon boat to saltwater.
Even then, some trailers (galvanized or not) are hollow, and if water gets inside it can be difficult to impossible to get the saltwater out. You have to submerge the trailer in freshwater to wash it out in those cases.
In any case, it’s important to spray off or submerge at nearby freshwater or otherwise wash your trailer and pontoon boat after being in saltwater.
Paint Your Toons
The truth is that your pontoons are often made of aluminum–and aluminum is very reactive. When combined with saltwater you are bound to experience corrosion–even with proper anode installation.
That’s why a common recommendation is to paint your pontoons (without any paint containing copper) to add an additional layer of protection. This is an essential step in protecting any aluminum hull boat.
Sharkhide (see on Amazon) is a metal protectant that you should apply to any metal surfaces on your boat.
Sharkhide will help prevent corrosion, and will additionally keep off any growth from being in the water. You have to apply multiple coats of the stuff to get the best results.
Sharkhide can be used additional to paint for the pontoons themselves but should be considered an additional protection layer and not be relied on by itself for your pontoons.
Clean Your Boat With Freshwater Afterward
You can’t skip this step–make sure and wipe off the seats, and spray off the hull of your boat after being in saltwater.
Any leftover saltwater can corrode and damage your boat and it’s important to get all the saltwater off.
Flush Your Motor For a Few Minutes In Freshwater
Your motor is also not meant to have saltwater sitting around in its body so it’s important to spend a few minutes flushing the motor in freshwater after you go in saltwater to ensure your motor’s longevity.
This is probably the biggest headache of a maintenance step, but it’s also a chance to submerge your trailer–this can help hollow galvanized trailers to remove any excess saltwater.
Don’t Use Your Pontoon Boat As An Electrical Ground
As is typical with a car, it’s important to avoid using your pontoon boat hull as a ground. Saltwater conducts electricity and so you are inviting a ton of corrosion if you do this.
In addition to this, it’s really important to have a solid and protected electrical system that won’t have any stray current which causes corrosion.
How To Handle Pontoon Boats Safely in Rough Waters
Pontoons are pretty stable boats – when handled correctly. When handled incorrectly, a pontoon, like any vessel can capsize in rough water, but when all goes well, they can make it back to port without any major issues.
Thus, pontoons can do just fine in rough waters with a bit of common sense and preparedness. Before you head out onto the ocean with your pontoon, however, you need to know how to handle the boat, should the conditions deteriorate rapidly.
Here’s what you should keep in mind when encountering big waves:
- Keep an even distribution of weight across the pontoon. Maintaining a stable distribution of weight on both sides of the vessel’s centerline can have a huge impact on its ability to withstand big water in a positive way. That being said, the added height of double-decker pontoon boats and boats with other such modifications can negatively affect the vessel’s center of gravity and cause it to more easily go off balance.
- Don’t slow down as you go over big waves. The trick to staying afloat in rough waters is to keep the pontoons above the waterline and to avoid dipping their nosecones directly into the waves as this can cause a big wave to crash on top of you. This happens most commonly when you slow down as you hit the trough of a wave and can pose a huge hazard to the well-being of you and your boat. Instead of slowing down as you head into the waves, consider maintaining your speed or even speeding things up just a bit to help you lift the bow slightly higher above the water.
- Instead of cruising directly into waves, try to maneuver your boat so you’re taking the waves at a 30 to 45-degree angle off the centerline. This helps you maintain a good course through the water. Riding waves properly makes a huge difference in how your boat handles. By doing so, you can help ensure that your bow will stay above the water more consistently through crests and troughs. If it feels like the corner of the boat is starting to dip, then adjust your course so you’re taking the waves a bit more toward the center of the boat.
Required Safety Equipment For Taking Your Pontoon Boat On the Ocean
Pontoon boats are incredible for their huge deck size–they’re great for parties. So it can feel weird and irksome to people to have to think about safety equipment. The ocean is no joke, though–make sure you have the following safety equipment so you don’t run into a terrible situation:
- All passengers should wear lifejackets: This may seem annoying and unnecessary, and while you can get away with not having a lifejacket on in a calm lake with the boat not moving the ocean, however, is a different story. The ocean conditions can change in seconds–and big swells can happen without any warning. Wearing your life jackets constantly is crucially important. Your pontoon boat is not a cruise ship.
- Bring a way to monitor real-time radar weather patterns: If you have an iPad or other device with cell service (this implies that you should stay within the line of sight of a cell tower), there are apps that can monitor satellite weather. This will give you as much advance notice of bad weather as is possible
- Bring a VHF Radio (test to make sure it works before you go out): A VHF (very high frequency) radio is how to communicate without cellular service. You won’t be able to predict what kind of cell signals you will always have and so having a VHF radio is critically important so you can call the coast guard as well as any other boats. Even though a VHF radio isn’t legally required, a pontoon boat has its risks and you’ll be glad you have one if you’re stuck in a bad situation.
Is a Tritoon Safer Than a Pontoon in The Ocean
Many people think that a tritoon is more seaworthy than a pontoon because of its third hull. This is partially true but doesn’t tell the whole story. While, yes, a third hull can give your boat more stability and reduce your risk of capsizing, this extra stability helps only to a point.
This is because pontoons and tritoons display excellent primary stability, but aren’t too great when it comes to secondary stability. Pontoons and tritoons sacrifice secondary stability – which is the ability of a boat to right itself at larger angles of heel – in favor of better primary stability – the boat’s ability to stay upright at low angles.
Ultimately, the big, wide decks that make pontoons and tritoons so nice for hanging out in the sun are their downfall in big water.
But, where tritoons do shine in the open ocean is in the added benefit of the weight of a third hull. As we’ve mentioned earlier, good weight distribution and a low center of gravity are all helpful in keeping your boat upright during a storm.
The tritoon’s third hull helps maintain a low center of gravity in the vessel, so it can be helpful as you’re trying to keep control of your boat in rough seas.
What About The Bays and Intracoastal Waterways
If you’re looking to take your pontoon out on the open ocean for the first time, it’s actually a great idea to do a test run or two in various bays and intracoastal waterways.
These waters are generally sheltered, so they tend to be much calmer than the ocean, so they’re a great first step for anyone looking to get a good idea of how their pontoon will handle in rougher seas.
Sheltered bays, the Great Lakes, and even the famed Intracoastal Waterway are great places to take your pontoon out for a spin. That being said, the water can get rough in these places in particularly bad weather, so it’s not always smooth sailing.
Our advice? Take your pontoon out for a spin in nice, calm water in a bay or intracoastal waters to get a feel for how it handles in something a bit less sheltered than a lake or inland river. Then, gradually build up toward cruising around the bay when it’s a bit windier (think 10-15 knots).
Even though it’s not a great idea to go out in foul weather, you need to be confident that your pontoon can handle bigger conditions than you’d normally find on a small lake before you ever get out on the ocean.
This is because the weather and sea conditions can change rapidly in the open ocean, and you don’t want to get stuck out in water you’re not prepared to handle.
Even with all this experience–many pontoon owners never go too far from shore where they cannot see the coastline. That should be the maximum distance you should ever consider–even that can be very risky.
Best Pontoon Boat for Going in The Ocean
Since pontoons aren’t made to have great secondary stability and they aren’t specifically made for the ocean, there really aren’t any pontoons that are great for open ocean cruising in foul weather. That being said, you can find pontoons that are suitable for cruising in sheltered bays and intracoastal waterways, where your risk of hitting big water is pretty low.
The main thing to look for in a pontoon boat for use in a sheltered ocean water environment is that it is adequately protected from the destructive properties of saltwater. Unlike in freshwater, where corrosion happens at a fairly slow rate, the salt in saltwater acts as the perfect conductor for the process of galvanic corrosion to occur.
This can quickly destroy your boat and cause your maintenance bills to pile up, so using a pontoon that’s painted with special anti-fouling and anti-corrosion paint is critical in saltwater. Luckily, this is a modification you can do to your boat after you buy it, so you don’t need to go out and buy a brand new pontoon just for some corrosion-resistant paint.
Other than making sure your boat won’t fall apart after long-term exposure to salt water, you’ll also want to make sure that your pontoon boat is a model that’s ready to take on the ocean. Generally speaking, pontoons boats that are really long, really wide, have a lot of modifications, or have two decks aren’t great at sea.
This is because all of these features alter the weight distribution and center of gravity of a boat in a way that makes it more difficult to handle in rough seas. Medium width, medium length single-deck pontoons with only the manufacturer’s recommended modifications are likely to be your best bet at sea.
At the end of the day, the seaworthiness of pontoon boats really depends on the boat in question. Although some pontoon boats can handle slightly rougher seas than others, there aren’t really any pontoon boats that are specifically made for the open ocean. Rather, pontoon boats are designed to cruise on calm lakes and inland rivers but can be taken out into sheltered bays or intracoastal waterways in mild to moderate conditions.
Thus, the question, “Can a pontoon boat go in the open ocean?” is best phrased as: “Can my pontoon boat go in the open ocean?” and “Am I prepared to take on the conditions that come with the terrain?”