Our Pontoon Houseboat Odyssey
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Our Pontoon Boat Odyssey

Insurance Companies and organizations have researched insurance claims related to pontoon boats, which are a unique breed apart from other boats. Since many Pontoons typically are left in the water all the time exposed to the elements. Their metal construction can lend to various possibilities for potential problems. But all boats including pontoon boats are going to have their own unique issues, just because they are boats.

Here is a list of the top problems turned in for insurance claims in no particular order:

When the water gets rough, and the wakes get large do not just plow ahead. Pontoons can and do have a tendency to plow into the wakes, and a significant amount of water can swamp over the deck. Pontoon boats can be challenging to handle in rough water, and if possible you should avoid it. But should you be suddenly caught in rough water due to sudden changes in weather conditions, it is almost always best to slow way down and shift as much weight as possible to the back of the boat.

Along with the rough water, high wind conditions also often accompany it. The boxy structure of the typical pontoon boat and its high fencing, along with the typically large bimini top can make navigation in high winds difficult at best. Also when trailering your pontoon boat never leave the marina, without taking the time to properly stow the bemini top into its protective boot.

Never under size your rigging. The normal calm breezes and wind conditions encountered on many of the smaller lakes and rivers, sometimes lull pontoon boat owners into using undersized dock lines and not enough and large enough fenders. This can leave the boats vulnerable to a lot of damage should a sudden nasty summer thunderstorm pass through.

Stay alert for signs of galvanic corrosion, which occurs when dissimilar metals come in contact with each other especially in salt water. An electrolysis condition can take place which can quickly destroy aluminum, and most insurance companies will not cover this condition and damage caused from it. In blackish, salty or even freshwater sacrificial anodes may be the best solution to ward off this potential problem.

Outboard engine zincs (anodes) need to be checked for deterioration and should be replaced if they have deteriorated to half their original size. Also in order to protect the boat and the engine, the pontoons needs to be electrically connected to the engine via a ground wire. Failing that, galvanic corrosion can set in.

Pontoon boat logs that sit on muddy lake bottoms during low water periods can become pitted with corrosion. This occurs because the mud prevents dissolved oxygen in the water from making contact with the aluminum, which also relies on an oxidized layer or "skin" for corrosion protection. Consider either moving boat to deeper water or pulling it should water levels drop.

One of the big handling differences with pontoon boats is that they do not bank into turns, which can cause injuries to passengers should they be thrown to the deck or even overboard when making a hard turn. Large wakes from other passing boats also can sometimes nearly stop a pontoon if taken improperly. Passengers should always remain seated while underway.

Pontoon boats make wonderful swim platforms; because of this they are involved in a number of swimming accidents / injuries. Which are often diving related in nature, if you are going swimming it is safer to enter the water via a ladder, not headfirst.

Pontoon Boat grand theft. We are not discussing a new video game here. Because it is almost impossible to hide and secure expensive gear on a pontoon boat, everything you value and has any value should be removed from the boat at the end of the day.

Another big vandal of pontoon boats, are often four-legged and furry. Muskrats, raccoons, and a few of their furry friends can take to your wiring and upholstery like a vegetarian at a salad bar. There is no known simple solution to keeping these critters off a boat, but reducing fish and food odors by washing it down, has been known to help. Some people also claim using commercially available scents / repellents such as fox urine will deter them to some extent.

Some Shared Boating Wisdom That Seemed Appropriate For Here

♠ When I first got my pontoon boat a few years ago I seldom gave much thought to the strategies I might need in the event of less than perfect conditions. Since that first time of putting the boat on the water I have learned much and spent a few dollars on repairs for the things I had to learn the hard way. I thought, since many of us will be floating the boats in the next few weeks, we might share our combined years of wisdom with those newbie's among us. Some of the things I learned, I learned from the folks right here on the forum who never laughed (out loud at least) at the dumb mistakes I made. The harshest criticism I had was from a long time member of the forum and his comment was short and to the point, "Never go out on the boat without an extra prop, dumb ass." I took this as a compliment as he called all his friends a dumb ass. Anyway, back to the purpose of this post to share our combined knowledge with each other and with the rookies who may be lurking in the background.

The first couple of things I learned might seem obvious to most. I never gave much thought to having a push pole on-board - that was until I tried to dock in windy weather and slammed into the side of the dock a few times. Or, pushing off from that very same dock in a wind that is determined to keep you firmly pushed against the dock. $20.00 is a small price to pay to keep from denting your new pontoons. I have also found many of other uses for this simple tool such as fishing my hat out of the lake on more than one occasion, and retrieving a lost 6-pax of hops nectar. It can be very dangerous getting yourself between a dock and a drifting boat and I have seen many people who crushed a hand or arm when a push pole would have done the trick.

Maneuvering in the wind is an art, and one that you should practice. Learning how to use the wind and the power of your engine in concert is an art that must be practiced and perfected. Don't wait for the worst windstorm in history to find this out. Use any opportunity to hone this skill and learn how your rig operates in less than perfect conditions.

My last bit of learning almost came at a very expensive price. In very choppy water I tried to turn around to head back toward the dock. My mistake was not paying attention to the waves that had been created by the wind. As I turned, I managed to catch a rather large wave sideways. It put the boat up on one pontoon and threw my grandson into the rail. He was wearing a life vest and if worse came to worse I think he would have been O.K. but one moment of not paying attention in rough weather can cost an awful lot. The weather was not bad when we set off and it wasn't that bad at the time of the incident. I just made a foolish mistake and learned much from the experience.

I am sure there many other folks out there with more good advice and suggestions this would be the time to chime in and share - If you are a newbie and want to ask a question - just remember there is no dumb questions just ask. Oh, one more thing, always have an extra prop on board.

 A cabin cruiser up on plane and making wakes on the Muskingum River.

Cabin Cruiser on the Muskingum River, Always watch for them though they love glass smooth waters for themselves they have no issues whatsoever about rocking your day.

♠ I've only been pontoon boating for about a year - love every moment. Been a lifelong boater though I can think of a few dozen things to share but one comes to mind that scared me crapless last labor day. And I can sum it up in just these few words.....


Some of those guys don't give a damn what their boats do to the lakes or smaller boats when they go 40mph down a channel or cove well less than a mile wide in a 38'+ yacht meant for a great lake or the ocean I've seen a 70' Sea Ray matching a ' Baja.

♠ Ok, here is a lesson learned the hard way. My first year of owning a pontoon boat taught me many things. Probably the most embarrassing will also be the one that I will always remember. I was taking my kids tubing along with one of their friends. I am always cautious (ok, borderline paranoid) about the prop with the kids back there. As soon as we stop, I shut off the boat. I am not satisfied with just putting the boat in neutral. Well, we had our boat for maybe a month at the time. The kids had been tubing, and it started getting a little busy, so I wanted to bring the kids in. I promptly shut off the engine, and pulled all of the kids in. They got on the boat and dried off. I then turned the key...nothing. Ok, I turned it again...nothing. I know many/all of you have figured this out by now, but I hadn't. I had my wife go back by the motor and listen for even a slight clicking sound, but she heard nothing but pure silence. All of the electronics were working on the boat, so I was surprised that I wasn't getting any sign of the motor trying to turn over, but still nothing. Up until this point, I neglected to say that I stopped the boat somewhat close to a rock cliff. Did I mention that I hadn't bought an anchor yet? Did I mention that all of the kids were girls? How about the fact that they can all scream "We're going to die!" in unison as the waves from all of the other boats push us closer and closer to the rock cliff.

There is another detail that I should probably mention at this point. The lake that I boat on is Lake of the Ozarks, and is typically fairly busy. When I thought about buying a VHF radio, several friends of ours laughed at me, and said "This is Lake of the Ozarks, and there is always someone around who will help you!" This made sense, so I didn't buy a radio.

Well, at this point, I have no radio, no anchor, and a boat that won't turn over. Ok, the good news. I am on Lake of the Ozarks, and I remembered what our friends said about always having someone around to help!. Great news! The better news is that the reason that we stopped tubing was due to too many boats being on the lake at the time. As a matter of a fact, Water Patrol drove by me just 5 minutes before and waved to me. I instantly knew that I could wave someone down. An interesting thing happened at this point...all the boats were gone. I mean not one in sight anywhere. At least I still had the kids screaming "We're going to die!!!" to help out.

I guess it is time for some better news. We are all still alive. It suddenly occurred to me that I turned off the boat so quickly that I forgot to take it out of gear first. As everyone probably already knows, boats, cars and most other motorized vehicles will not start while in gear. Guess what lesson I will always remember.

Well I got back to the dock, and told a couple of my neighbors. Before I could make it to about the second sentence in my death defying story, they said "You forgot to put it in Neutral...didn't you?" Well, "yes" I said sheepishly. "Where were you when I was out there?!", I asked.

Yes, I don't think I will ever forget that Neutral is your friend if you want to start a boat. I also thought...you know, I might want to even buy an anchor!
On the good side, my daughters and their friend all have a great story about how I almost killed them. It was great to go back to the dock and have my daughter's friend run up to her mom, and let her know that she almost died.

In short, I will remember this, and if my story helps even one other person from making this (dumb) mistake that is great! Luckily, I have learned just a few more things since then.

 A sharp looking Sylvan pontoon boat cruising the Muskingum River, in Ohio.

A Pontoon Boat out for an afternoon cruise on the Muskingum River.

♠ Couple things:

1. Fire extinguisher(s) (have one or two on board and don't them expire). Actually had to toss two to a fellow boater last year as his craft was going down in flames.

2. Keep some pontoon cleaners on board for your friends to use while bobbing in the lake.

3. Extra prop and anchor should not be thought of as optional.

4. Plenty of 12oz weights - along with someone who won't be working those particular muscles.

5. Sweaters or large towels to keep passengers warm once the sun goes down.

6. Bumpers- if you keep your boat in the water we have found these bumpers to be exceptional at keeping the pontoons off the dock. Not recommending particular brand but style we got 4 of the 15" ones.

♠ Well, it appears some relief is on the way for you young guns out there. At least you can learn and remember those lessons learned, conversely us much older folks have learned from our boo boos and have our computer brains overloaded to the gills. So many dumb things that an OF has known for 76 yrs will creep up and bite your buns when least expected. Examples: hooking up for trailer ear muff run up and not turning on water? Changing oil and forgetting to replace oil cap? Attempting to replace the engine cover on a Yamaha F150 4stroke backwards for only 30 minutes before it dawned on me that solving the cover problem was simply front to front rear to rear. I was so proud to have figured this out all by myself!

This last one you may think old age has rattled my noggin (but I think it was helicopter rocking and rolling for 30 years). When I bought my 1976 Sea Ray I/O runabout the marine battery lasted almost one season just as advertised. Well being a cheapskate in those days (due 6 kiddos) I decided to try out a good ole auto battery and it lasted 4 years! Even though not the heavy plates, etc. they are history with my boat. When the new Bennington arrived it had a marine battery so I thought maybe they are better now, wrong! Had to buy 2 batteries in 2 years just out of warranties. When they say 1 year believe them.

So what do you suppose I did? Bought a new auto battery and to me marine ones are losers now just as in 1976. Now don't get mad at me for letting ya'll know what I experienced. If marine batteries make you happy stay with them. By the way, getting ready to replace my 5 yr Champion auto type which has never failed me. Good luck out there and put safety first-your family will love you for it even though they bitch like conservative and liberals.

♠ Well you guys just about covered it all, I boat on the Rock River in Wis. so we are always fighting current, I have been boating my whole life but when I went from lake boating to river boating it was like starting over and the one thing I learned is to use the current as much as you can when docking you can come in nice and slow and let the current bring you to the dock when possible, There was a few times I thought I was going to run out of gas before I got the dammed thing docked. I also keep fenders on both sides of my pontoon all the time and I keep docking ropes on all four corners, I can't count the times I have seen boats coming in to dock and you have 2 or 3 people trying to untie knots to move there fenders or ropes to the other side.

♠ Let's see, where should I start?

How about checking twice that someone is holding onto the boat when launching at a ramp? Nothing like watching two kids argue about who was supposed to be holding the bow line as the boat drifts away in the current...

Or how engines that run perfectly will always stall approaching a pier right when you shift into reverse?

Or how about the time when I left the chart at home, made a wrong turn and sailed through a river channel at 50 mph where the water was a little less than 2 feet deep? I was SURE I knew where I was going, and I just figured the depth sounder was off because of the speed!! When running that fast, the boat rode so high out of the water it cleared with no trouble. Returning at a lower speed was a whole other story...had to get out and push, but barely got my knees wet!

And how did I learn to always make sure the engine starts and runs BEFORE I head to the ramp? Take a guess!

Then there was the time I offered to help my dad haul his boat out for the season using a trailer he borrowed from a friend without checking it out first. I can't seem to find the pictures of the boat sitting on the ground after the trailer frame, rotted from the inside out, collapsed as we pulled up the ramp!

Then there was the time we stopped at traffic light only to watch one of the trailer wheels continue down the street after the rest of the rig stopped...hubs? what hubs??? so that was what those darned cotter pins were for!!!

All kidding aside, plan for the worst. Consider what could possibly go wrong right now, and think how you would respond. Do that before something happens, and you won't freeze up or hesitate when action is required. Don't anguish or worry over it, just have a plan!

♠ I have lost count on the number of boaters that we have helped and hauled in. Everything from Japanese tourists to some real scary types. (We swore we heard banjos playing and squealing pigs in the back ground).

Our most embarrassing moment was when the son and I took out my mother's new pontoon boat. We stopped to fill up the tank and couldn't get it to start. It would turn over, but wouldn't start. I tried and tried, but no joy. I have very limited (some say none at all) mechanical skills. So as the "man" I took a look at the engine. Yep, everything looked that it should be there, no dangling wires or other bits. Hmmm, there is a sheen on the water though. Didn't smell flooded. So tried starting it up again. No go. Okay now I a bit mad. So the boy asked if perhaps we should give it some choke? Choke? Where the $&@# is the choke? Sooo, after a half hour or so, the gas guy comes over to see why were weren't leaving. We go through the litany of getting it started and he says, just turn the key, don't push it in. Huh? Yep, you push the key in only for a cold start!!! Sure enough, it started right up. What an idiot!

 A nice looking pontoon boat making it's way up the Muskingum River in central Ohio.

A South Bay Pontoon Boat on the Muskingum River, Oh.

♠ Well, my story is not a "pontoon" story, but still a boating and safety story. The date was July 1st, 2000 on Lake Tacoma. My father and I went in as partners on a used boat just a few weeks before and I had it out that day. It was a 27' Sea Ray Pechanga with twin 350's. I had boated all my life, but this boat was quite a bit bigger with more muscle that I was use to. It was a very busy 4th of July weekend and I was anchored out at the #1 hot spot and had about 7 or 8 friends with me. When it was time to head in, I was trying to do everything myself. My friends weren't boaters and I attempted to get everything ready to go on my own. I pulled the front anchor and tossed it in the boat. I then pulled the rear anchor and quickly laid it on the back on the swim platform while I jumped on. I was in a quick hurry to get the boat started so I could idle out of heavy traffic therefore I jumped right up to the driver seat and did just that. Well, I left that anchor laying on the back swim platform by mistake. It was still tied to the rear cleat and just had the rope coiled around it. I motored out of the heavy traffic and then opened up the motors to get on plane. When I did that, the anchor slid off of the swim platform and was dragging behind the boat. The anchor was tied on with a nylon rope and the anchor started to dive. When the rope stretched enough with the tension, it came out of the water and slingshot back at the boat and it hit me in the head immediately knocking me unconscious. I dropped like a fly and my arm went through the steering wheel which I was hanging by. Mind you - the boat was close to wide open, I'm knocked out and have a boat full of people who know nothing about boating. Luckily, one of my friends was smart enough to turn the keys off. I had another group of friends behind me that could see something was wrong and came to help. They were able to get me back to shore and had an ambulance waiting for me. The anchor knocked a hole in my skull about the size of a tennis ball. Three surgeries later and 9 years later, I have a metal plate in my head, I have lost feeling in my right hand (caused from brain trauma) and I am alive to tell the story!

The moral to this story is to never get in a rush when out on the water. I became complacent and made a forgetful mistake that almost cost me my life. Also, try and have somebody on the boat with you that can also drive if an emergency occurs. This was a freak accident and I could probably never re-create it in a million years, but all I was doing was having fun at the lake one minute, and the next minute I am in the hospital trying to stay alive. I am definitely more aware of my surroundings on the water than I ever was before. Funny thing is, I thought I was always more careful on the water...

♠ We bought our first pontoon boat last Aug. A couple days after buying it, the kids and I decided to take it for a spin. I had removed the gas tank to prevent theft. I hooked the tank up, and started her up. I let it idle for a couple minutes and we pulled out of the dock. As we were headed down the channel the motor died. I tried to restart it, but it just would not start.

Having just bought the boat, I did not have all the safety equipment, including a paddle. Luckily for us, another boat was coming in to dock and offered to tow us in. After we got in he offered to take a look. He asked what I had done and I told him. He then asked me if I had pumped the primer bulb. What? The previous owner never told me about that! He pumped up the bulb and sure enough it started right up! I felt really stupid!

♠ The best thing we did was rent from our marina for two seasons. They are a JC dealer, so while I was renting, I always had a very nice boat. Of course, the marina didn't let me forget that either and if you damaged the boat, you paid dearly. They inspected the prop and skeg closely before and after rental. Needless to say, I paid very close attention when they broke out the map of the lake and showed me the danger areas.

When we bought our boat, I bought a copy of the lake map and keep it on board and I know from my rental days where the danger areas are. I also have all the required safety equipment (duh) as well as a GPS and cell phone and an extra anchor on board. I also have a battery jump starter. I haven't used it for our boat, but I did use it to rescue some old ladies who got stuck with a dead battery near a rocky shore on a windy day with some rough water.

I do know that the life jacket laws for children MUST be obeyed. I learned that the $150 hard way our first season of ownership. I don't even leave the slip if the 13-yr old doesn't have her life jacket on. Our lake spans two states: GA and NC. I've learned that the GA DNR Police are cooler than the ones on the NC side. The GA DNR guys even have cooler boats than the Ranger brand that the NC guys have. When you see a GA patrol boat approaching you, they are most likely going to wave at you and continue. If you see the NC boat approaching...you should make sure you've got everything in place. Oh, BTW, guess which side of the state line I was on when I got the ticket?

♠ Be safe. Tempered fun is longer fun. I got caught in 60mph winds because I was stupid. I just wanted to boat soooo bad I ignored all the signs. I ended up standing my 22' pontoon straight up. I almost flipped stern over bow. Never again. Now when the winds kick up, I hug the shore. If there's over a 2' chop, I get off the lake. Better to live and boat another day. Take command, delegate tasks, stay within your limits, have fun.

 An old pontoon boat floating in the Muskingum River with its five occupants engaged in conversation.

This goes to show that you do not necessarily have to have a nice new pontoon boat to enjoy quality time with your friends or family out on the water

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