Our Pontoon Houseboat Odyssey
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Buying a Pontoon Boat

Shopping for or buying new or used boat can and often is an exercise in frustration. It's actually critical that you become informed and knowledgeable in the qualities of the object of your desire. If you haven't seen or reviewed it yet take a look at our page here Pontoon Boat 101 which goes into pretty extensive detail about the qualities of what to look for in a new or used pontoon boat purchase. Unfortunately especially for the first time boat purchaser the experience is so bewildering we see and read comments like the one posted below.

I've been watching boat trader, and honestly not coming across the amount of used boats I thought I would, and the new ones mostly say "call for price" which is an instant turn off for shopping for or buying anything. They could at least give you an idea of price before you call, so that you know whether you are really interested or not. Anyway people are often very overwhelmed with all the available choices in boats and the new vs. used boat etc. Some people's budgets just aren't going to allow them to spend an extravagant amount on a new boat. I'm just looking to put myself into a quality new or used pontoon boat and trying to keep my payments where I need them to be. And still be able to afford to travel, use and enjoy it after I purchase one.

Yes purchasing a boat is indeed frustrating and we do indeed share in your pain as evident in some of our other posts here. But owning a boat also opens up a glorious amount of wonderful summertime outdoor activities to experience. But considering that boats especially new ones can be rather expensive people often do tend to shy away from them. But with so many used boats and boat dealers online and in most market areas you may actually find the boat of your desires relatively close to home.

If you happen to already be a boat owner, you already realize that owning a boat can be a costly affair. Making the right decisions that may not only keep the cost of the initial purchase price down, sometimes it can also reflect in keeping the actual cost of long term ownership within your financial budget. If you're buying your first boat, or stepping up to a bigger or maybe newer model there are several important points that should be considered in order to enjoy the maximum potential from your boat purchase.

We're living in a time and era where price and quantity reign of higher importance to consumers than real quality. First time buyers seem to be especially enamored with all the surface extravagance and eye candy fluff thereby failing to see or observe any of the lacking structural elements that may have been quality compromised by the "bean counters" in the corporate office. Boats by every definition are at times forced to operate and function in what can be an extremely hostile environment, necessitating you should be focusing on getting the very best "structural engineering quality" for your money your primary consideration.

Manufacturers are increasingly following marketing fads, sacrificing quality for appearance, style, and function. Builders are now relying more on fashion designer fads to sell their boats than structural engineering in building them. Succumbing to style over substance can become ultimately costly when in a few years later the trendy design has not only went out of style, but also withered under the sun and the harsh marine environment.

There isn't a better learning exercise than taking a tour through a few marinas and boat yards carefully observing how many boats appear after just a few years. Observe how the once glittering showroom finishes are now appearing in the real world usage and conditions. What about all the fancy graphics and paint? Have the graphics and striping started showing some peeling and paint starting to show any fading. How about all the prettily molded plastic parts, observe how many are now chipped, cracked, or otherwise broken. Look at the cheaply chrome plated docking lights and note how they're now rusting and how the rust stains are also bleeding onto the boats other surface finishes. Look at the all the hardware, is it quality stainless steel or cheaper cast aluminum or worse yet cheap "pot metal" with the finish popping everywhere as it is corroding away. Lastly observe what the plush extravagant overstuffed vinyl interiors and carpeting look like after total neglect from negligent owners who believe it's just too much effort to protect and cover their investment (boat).

You will need to educate yourself as what to look for in a quality built boat regardless to the fact you're shopping for a new or used boat. And I encourage utilizing any available online resources that you can find to assimilate needed information about your perspective purchase. I'd also recommend only considering the boats for sale or listed accompanied with photos. In this day and age any Neanderthal actually capable of taking proper care of a boat should be capable of posting a photograph of one he's attempting to sell to someone. The ability to view online photographs can in itself can actually save you in both wasted time and resources (gas after all is expensive) in weeding out obvious perspective boats that wouldn't fit your needs.

Most of the boats sold each year are actually used or pre-owned boats. It's actually estimated that used boat sales in dollars are actually more than four times higher than new boat sales. On average the boat owner that purchases a new boat will only keep it for a period or three to four years before selling it. So in any event there are always quite a few good used boats available to you on the market, you just need to seek them out and evaluate them.

In selecting a boat it's always helpful to be familiar with the various brands or makes available in the market and their reputation for quality, time in the business, and market share. If you're aware that a boat was manufactured by a tried and proven builder who has a respected reputation for quality that it may be built to higher standards than a builder that has only been in existence a few years. Naturally a quality made boat constructed of quality materials and components is going to be priced somewhat higher than those of lesser quality. Like anything else it just simply costs the quality manufactures more to utilize top quality components, materials, and craftsman to build their products. The lower price point boats have achieved their respective prices by cost cutting or compromising their overall quality somewhere to minimize their overall production costs. Again it's up to you to be able to spot and recognize the quality differences.

There are of course advantages in buying a new boat over a used one. New boats and engines always come with a warranty that in a since can minimize the maintenance and repair costs for a period of time. It's usually easier to get favorable financing over a longer period of time. The down payments are also generally smaller or maybe non-existent on new boat purchases. There is also the brand new smell and feel and the knowing that you are the only family who have used or maybe abused it also carries a special appeal. But this appeal can be extremely expensive, and can carry considerable costs. Boats often depreciate as much as 20% or more their first year of ownership. Often you may be able to locate or find a nearly new boat in like new condition at a considerable savings. There are also often leftover prior year models available on dealer inventories that can be purchased at a substantial discount retaining the new boat and motor warranties. It really does pay to keep your options open and shop around.

Your search for a used boat also should probably start at a dealership of the brand(s) of boat(s) in which you are interested in. Check out their available inventory of new and used boats. From there it may also pay to look over what is in the newspaper ads (Sunday editions seem to be more complete), and check the local edition of "Boat Trader" magazine as well as their online version called www.boattrader.com One nice feature of the online search tool is the ability to specify a brand, year, and/or price category and then narrow the search to boats in you part of the country. Another search engine I also like is http://claz.org/all.

You'll also need to observe the upholstery and canvas for rips, tears, and any worn areas. If the boat is more than a few years old and has a wooden floor be sure to check for soft spots that may indicate rotting anywhere. They should resist the probe of an ice pick if they don't, there likely is or will soon be a problem. Be sure to inspect the boat thoroughly.

With doing some homework, the decision about whether to buy a new or a used boat should be easier and, in any event, you will be more confident in choosing and making your boat purchase. There are also a lot of other considerations in shopping for a used boat. Mechanically, you need to ensure that the boat has been maintained and well taken care of. You can evaluate the number of hours on the engine if it was equipped with an hour meter. The average boat actually only sees about 60 hours actual running per year of service. An engine with more than 350-400 hours can usually be expected to see some repair expenses. It actually would pay to have the engine looked at by a qualified technician to get a professional opinion on the engine. You should also consider it a worthwhile investment to pay for a compression check and hookup to the diagnostic computer. Most of today's engines employ an Electronic Control Module (ECM) computer which keeps track of almost all the operational functions on the engine. For example, by hooking up a diagnostic tool to the ECM, a technician can learn the actual engine hours, RPM's that it has been run at, any electrical, fuel, or mechanical problems that the engine is having. And All of this information is good to know and can usually be had for a reasonable price. This may be money well spent.

It is always best to test drive any boat you are considering before you actually purchase it, whether it is new or used. All boats tend to look seaworthy when sitting on a trailer or boat rack, and you can only really tell about the real adequacy of the engine's power and output by driving under a load.

Southbay pontoon boat cruising along on the Muskingum River in Ohio.

A couple out making some time river on their pontoon boat, and it does appear they are also enjoying themselves don't it.

Your Motor Selections, Considerations, and Choices

Power Requirements

Overpowering is a dangerous condition and under powering often results in a boat that is incapable of performing in the role for which it was acquired. Boats built in the U.S. have a Coast Guard Rating Plate which specifies the maximum recommended horsepower for the hull. In general it is recognized that a motor with less than 75% of the maximum will most likely result in unsatisfactory performance. With displacement hull boats like pontoon boats however many owners may be completely satisfied will far less horsepower than the stated maximum hull design. It really up to you to make a decision on what level of power you need to supply yourself with for your boating satisfaction and your needs.

Understanding Outboard Engines History and Developments

An outboard motor is a propulsion system for boats, consisting of a self contained unit that includes engine, gearbox and propeller or jet drive, designed to be affixed to the outside of the transom. They are the most common method of propelling small watercraft. As well as providing propulsion, outboards provide steering control, as they are designed to pivot over their mountings and thus control the direction of thrust.

The first outboard motor as we know it was made possible by the advent of the two cycle motorbike gasoline engine. The Waterford outboard engine appears to be the first real gasoline powered outboard offered up for sale. Starting with two dozen built in 1907, the company went on to make thousands of the units in the next five years. The creation of the first practical and marketable outboard motor is often credited to Norwegian-American inventor Ole Evinrude in 1909. Between 1909 and 1912 Evinrude made thousands of his outboards and the three horsepower units were sold throughout the world. His Evinrude Outboard Co. was spun off to other owners, and he went onto success with ELTO. The 1920s were the first high water mark for the outboard with Evinrude, Johnson, ELTO, Atwater Lockwood and dozens of other makers in the field.

Historically the majority of outboards have been two-stroke power heads fitted with a carburetor due to the design's inherent simplicity, reliability, low cost and light weight. Their drawbacks were increased pollution, due to a high volume of raw unburned gasoline in their exhaust, and excessive noise.

In the 1990's U.S. and European expansion on exhaust emissions regulations led to the proliferation of four stroke outboards. Although fewer in numbers four stroke outboards have always been available. For example Honda Marine has been marketing small four stroke outboards since the early 1970s. Other brands have been produced for over 100 years, but again in smaller numbers.

Mercury, Mercury Racing, Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha, have all had a hand in development of new four stroke engines. Some were or had carburetors, but usually on the smaller engine applications. Most are now electronically fuel injected. And some models also benefit from variable camshaft timing, and multiple valves per cylinder. The Mercury Verado four strokes are unique in the fact that they are supercharged.

Mercury, Mercury Racing, Tohatsu, Yamaha, Nissan and Evinrude Marine have also developed computer controlled Direct Injected two-stroke engines. Each manufacture boasts a different method of DFI. The fuel economy improvement on both direct injected and four stroke outboards measures from a low of 10% to an outstanding 80% improvement compared to older conventional two strokes. Depending on rpm and load at cruising speeds you can count on about a 30% overall improvement.

The Two-Stroke / Four Stroke Principal Differences

The controversy of four stroke vs. two stroke outboard motors is a topic that has been basically beaten to death virtually anywhere boaters may gather. There never is going to be a clear winner to this debate. But truthfully all modern engines despite their stroke will last and perform for a long time if they are cared for, used, and maintained properly. There are still a lot of older pontoon boats out on the water with what is now considered obsolete smaller diameter pontoons that the slightly heavier four stroke motors could prove to be detrimental. But in actually the real difference in weight is only 10-20% more for the four stroke compared to a similar two stroke DFI counterpart outboard motor. So pick the technology you think you may feel most comfortable with, though if purchasing a used boat someone has already made the decision for you but it still important for you to understand the technology and the differences in design.

The weak point in any two stroke design is actually what also makes it able to accomplish a power stroke with only two strokes, the ports in the cylinder walls. First off you also need to understand what an engine cylinder really is. Try imaging a piece of pipe inside of which a part which is referred to as a piston slides up and down inside of it. The cylinder is capped off with what is commonly called a head in which the spark plug, and injector is mounted It is really as simple as a few components, but it still needs to be able to readily breathe air in and out to function.

In a two stroke design the air ports are either drilled or cut into the wall of the cylinder. The necessary air ports for breathing also removes some support area for the piston and its rings which must slide over the ports in order for the engine to function as intended and designed. As the motor accumulates hours (use) the area around the ports tend to wear, providing less support or allowing slop in piston function. A cylinder should always be perfectly symmetrical top to bottom throughout its stroke and the piston and rings should ride over the necessary ports smoothly with little or no distortion. As the hours of operation accumulate however the area around the ports starts showing increasing ware in relation to the rest of the cylinder surfaces. This allows the piston rings to increasingly flex more and more passing over the area. Rings will flex so much before they ultimately will break. Broken rings are the commonly found failure found in actual two stroke design. Though broken rings do occur and are not unheard of on four strokes engines, it only found in rare occurrences. As a side note here, if you are a recreational boater please consider yourself extremely lucky and fortunate if you have both the time and opportunity to actually run and enjoy your boat enough to actually wear it out in the manner that is described above.

Now on to some about four stroke outboard technology. The basic cylinder, piston, and rings in effect stay the same. What actually changes is the additional needed parts that are necessary to make it work. Instead of the simple basic head like the two stroke described above. The head in a four cycle engine is machined to accept and hold the spark plug, valves, and injectors if applicable. The addition of moving valve(s) into the mixture needed for the engine to breathe requires a lot of other necessary hardware such as gears, idler pulley, cam shaft(s), and timing belt to support their functioning properly. All of this adds up to a considerable amount of hardware and some necessary needed periodic maintenance. A valve clearance check and the timing belt will require replacement on intervals recommended by the engine manufacture. And failure to do so can result in belt failure and cracked or busted pistons. Some engine designs have zero valve clearances, meaning if the belt breaks the valve can be left extended to where the piston can hit or smack it and do a lot of damage to the motor in the process of its self destruction.

The other clear real difference is the requirement of changing four cycle engines motor oil which is recommended every six months or 100 hours of service. I have to question the audacity of folks who make such an issue of having to change the oil on a four stroke outboard motor, or take their boat to the dealership to have it changed. If they do they're seriously close to someone needing to do an actual "man card" check on them. I've changed the oil on ours more than a few times at the Marina boat ramp in the water without spilling a drop, in what seemed like just minutes, and it is actually far easier than any car or pickup I've ever done, it's really just that easy and simple.

Now to sum it up some, four stroke or two stroke technologies will probably forever be a controversial subject matter with no clear winning hand. With both technologies offering outstanding dependable motors capable of running and performing thousands of hours with proper care and maintenance. So if performing an occasional oil change is too much of an effort for you, select yourself a two stroke engine. If you don't mind utilizing up your "man card" on infrequent oil changes, by all means select yourself a nice quiet and dependable four stroke motor. They both are effectively winning technologies so choose the one you feel you would be most comfortable with and run with it.

Some people simply floating along on their pontoon boat on glass smooth reflective water.

Pontoon boating emphasis is not all about the "Speed" though sometimes it is appreciated. Mostly though it is about quality time spent with friends and family maybe just drifting along like in the photo above.

Outboard Motors Operational Issues:

Shaft Length: Outboard motor shaft lengths are standardized to fit 15-inch, 20-inch and 25-inch transoms. If the motors shaft is too long it will extend deeper into the water than necessary thereby creating drag, which will impair both performance and fuel economy. If the shaft is too short, the motor will be prone to surface ventilation. Even worse, if the water intake ports on the lower unit are not sufficiently submerged, engine overheating is then likely, which can result in engine damage beyond economic repair.

Motor Mounting Height: Motor height on the transom is an important factor in achieving optimal performance. The motor should be as high as possible without ventilating or loss of water pressure. This minimizes the effect of hydrodynamic drag while underway, allowing for greater speed. Generally, the anti-ventilation plate should be about the same height as, or up to two inches higher than, the keel, with the motor in neutral trim.

Trim: Trim is the angle of the motor in relation to the hull. The ideal trim angle is the one in which the boat rides level, with most of the hull on the surface instead of plowing through the water.

If the motor is trimmed out too far, the bow will ride too high in the water. With too little trim, the bow rides too low. The optimal trim setting will vary depending on many factors including speed, hull design, weight and balance, and conditions on the water (wind and waves). Most large outboards are equipped with power trim, an electric motor/hydraulic pump found on the engines mounting bracket, with a switch installed at the helm that enables the operator to adjust the trim angle on the fly. In this case, the motor should be trimmed fully in to start, and trimmed out (with an eye on the tachometer) as the boat gains momentum, until it reaches the point where further trim adjustment results in an RPM reduction. Motors not equipped with power trim are manually adjustable.

When boats are out of service or being ran through shallow water the trim is often utilized to tilt the outboard motor up (tilt forward over the transom mounts) to elevate the propeller and lower unit to avoid underwater hazards such as rocks, and other debris. It is also almost unilaterally used to provide additional clearance from road hazards while transporting.

Ventilation: Ventilation is a phenomenon that occurs when surface air or exhaust gas (in the case of motors equipped with through-hub exhaust) is drawn into the spinning propeller blades. With the propeller pushing mostly air instead of water, the load on the engine is greatly reduced, causing the engine to race and the prop to spin fast enough to result in cavitation, at which point no thrust is generated at all. The condition continues until the prop slows enough for the air bubbles to rise to the surface. The primary causes of ventilation are: motor mounted too high, motor trimmed out excessively, damage to the ant ventilation plate, damage to propeller, foreign object lodged in the diffuser ring.

Cavitation: Cavitation as it relates to outboard motors is often the result of a foreign object such as marine vegetation caught on the lower unit interrupting the flow of water into the propeller blades.

Required Outboard Motor Preventive Maintenance, Care, and Costs:

As already stated above in four cycles only, changing the oil every 100 hours of service or six months (recommended) whichever comes first. But honestly most will change oil only yearly as part of their winterzation still short of 100 hours of service mark.

Lower unit gear lubricant, will need changed on an annual basis usually done in conjunction with the winterzation of the motor in the fall season. Check the old oil for any evidence of water intrusion into the unit, if evident replace seals as necessary to prevent contamination in the fresh new oil.

Also Inspect the old used oil looking for any sign of metal fragments and if seen, consider disassembling the lower unit for inspection and potential repairs.

The Water pump impeller will require replacement every few years.

When replacing the impeller inspect old one for missing pieces and if there are, remove thermostat housing and water jacket cover if necessary, to recover and remove the liberated pieces. Then thoroughly inspect the water pump housing for wear, scoring, or damage and defiantly replace it if any is found or evident. Many though, myself included go ahead and replace both the housing and water pump impeller as perishable wear items, and some suppliers will discount the parts if purchased as a replacement unit.

Power head, annual inspection

Look at all the engines wiring and connections for tightness, corrosion, burned, chafed, or missing insulation.

Thoroughly inspect all fuel lines for any signs of aging, replace as necessary.

Pull and inspect all the spark plugs for wear and function, replace them when necessary.

Check all fasteners for tightness, and torque to manufacturer specifications if necessary.

Clean and inspect the throttle, shift, and spark advance linkages, then lubricating them according to manufacturer recommendations.

Starter motor, apply a few drops of light oil to the Bendix gear threads.

Test the over-temperature warning horn or light (if equipped) for proper function.

The I/O Power Option for Pontoon Boats

Now for a bit about inboard/outboard equipped pontoon boats. The I/O used on most pontoons is the 3.0 liter Merc which has been around forever and is considered almost bullet proof. It is also the entry level engine used by many runabout boat manufacturers. As of this year, Volvo-Penta is not making the 3.0, but you may encounter some left over engines used in some new pontoon boats.

So, pluses for the I/O's are:

A Generally great and dependable engine, but many will say an outboard is just as dependable.

The costs for parts (when needed) are usually reasonable.

The engine is less costly, so the boat should reflect some savings.

Minus:

It is a lot more difficult to access engine, especially with pontoons, whereas outboards are very easy to access.

The I/O engine weighs several hundred pounds more than a conventional outboard of same HP

The Biggest disadvantage is that an I/O must be winterized if you live in a climate that regularly freezes, you will have to keep it winterized until temps will stay above freezing. Whereas with an outboard engine all you would have to do is spray some fogging oil for short term winterizing and you can take the boat out and use it if there's a warming trend.

My take on limited experience with I/O equipped pontoon boats is somewhat overall owner dissatisfaction with their level of speed and performance. Some of the lacking may be from the additional weight of the I/O engine itself. Or maybe from physical boat or hull design necessary for installation of I/O's into a pontoon boat. If I ever determine a definitive answer or finding I'll update this with my findings.

A couple out for a relaxing cruise on their pontoon boat.

This couple are out enjoying a slow relaxing ride on their Pontoon Boat

I have been putting together a list of all current pontoon builders. It could be useful to you if you are shopping around. Some of the manufactures seem to be regional and seem to only market parts of the country, most though are available nationwide. Please also note that some of these models are actually owned by parent companies like Godfrey and Forest River for example.

So here's where our actively updated set of links to pontoon boat manufacturers will be. If you are a builder or manufacture of pontoon boats we would also be happy to add your website link to this master list free of charge. In fact any user or reader of this site can also suggest getting builder links added just utilize and post the link on the contact us page and we'll take care of it. Its sometimes fun to surf through these links if you like pontoon boats (and we all do!). Please Note all links are set to open into a new window.

Aloha Pontoon Boats

Apex Pontoon Boats

Avalon Pontoon Boats

Bennington Pontoon Boats

Bentley Pontoon Boats

Chinook Pontoon Boats

Crest Pontoon Boats

Cypress Cay Pontoon Boats

Ercoa Pontoon Boats

Fisher Pontoon Boats

G3 Sun Catcher

Hampton Pontoon Boats by PlayCraft

Harris FloteBote Pontoon Boats

JC Pontoon Boats

Landau Pontoon Boats

Legend Pontoon Boats

Manitou Pontoon Boats

Misty Harbor Pontoon Boats

PlayCraft Pontoon Boats

Premier Pontoon Boats

Princecraft Pontoon Boats

Sanpan by Godfrey

South Bay by Forest River Marine

Starcraft Marine

Suncruiser Pontoon Boats

Sundancer / Purchased by Encore Boat Builders

Sunset Bay Pontoons

Sun Tracker Pontoon Boats

Sweetwater by Godfrey Marine

Sylvan Marine

Tahoe Pontoon Boats

Weeres Pontoon Boats
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