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Can You Safely Take A Pontoon Boat On The Great Lakes?

Pontoon boats are amazing because of how relaxing and comfortable they are. I mean, they’re literally a floating deck with super comfortable couches on it. This is why so many people on small relaxing lakes have them, but is it the same on The Great Lakes?

So, the main question is can you safely take a pontoon boat on the Great Lakes? Yes, you can safely take a pontoon boat on the Great Lakes, but make sure you check wave, wind, and weather forecasts to make sure it’s safe for pontoon boats to go out. Also, you should always stay close to shore.

Trust me, pontoon boats do awful in bad weather situations. I’ve had what seemed to be pretty average looking waves go over the bow and completely soak all of my passengers.

How to know when it’s safe to take a pontoon boat out on the Great Lakes?

You shouldn’t take your pontoon boat out if the waves are any higher than 2 feet high. They are very prone to their bows stuffing in waves, which can cause water to go over the top of the deck. Sometimes that only means you and your passengers get a little wet, or it could severely damage or even submarine your whole boat.

Trust me, it is not pleasant being on a pontoon boat in waves greater than 2 feet, I have before. The bow would constantly smack the waves, and it would cause the water to go shooting up over the bow. By the time we got to shore, everyone was soaking wet.

Even though there are many perks to having a pontoon boat, it’s safe to say that their biggest weakness is defiantly the fact that they don’t handle well in rough water. You need to always check the wind and wave forecasts before going out to make sure the waves won’t rise to an unsafe point during your time on the water.

What is a safe size pontoon boat for the Great Lakes?

When it comes to the Great Lakes, the bigger the toons are, or the more toons your boat has, the safer it is. The toons should be at least 25 inches in diameter. When it comes to deck size, Pennington Marine suggests 23 to 28 footers will be the safest for the Great Lakes. If you have something smaller, I would recommend staying close to shore and only going out if you know the conditions will be right.

2 vs 3 toons

If you are planning on getting a pontoon boat exclusively for the Great Lakes, I would recommend you look into getting a 3 toon boat. These have a higher horsepower rating, are much more stable, and much safer. 2 toons can do the job, so you don’t need to fork over the extra cash, but 3 toons will do the job right.

Recommended motor horsepower

Just like toon size, the higher the horsepower, the better. I would recommend having around 150 horsepower, but you could definitely get by with less. 90 horsepower would be the minimum I would have.

Make sure you have the correct safety equipment

Life jackets, GPS, VHF radio, and a flare gun are all extremely important in case something goes wrong on the water. Boating in general on the Great Lakes need’s to be taken more seriously because of how big and dangerous the lakes are.

Videos of pontoon boats in rough seas.

Please don’t be like these people in the video below. It really shows how important it is to be safe on the water and to not do stupid stuff.

How to drive a pontoon boat in rough conditions

If perhaps you do find yourself in rough conditions out on the Great Lakes and you need to navigate your pontoon boat safely, there a couple of techniques you could use.

Surf the wake

If the waves are coming from behind, try to match the speed of the waves and ride in between them. Try not to go any faster than the waves because you don’t want your bow submarining. It’s completely ok if you go slow and let a wave pass and just catch the next wave behind as there is no danger by doing that.

Keep the bow up

This is pretty difficult to do with pontoon boats, but try to find the right speed that keeps the bow as high as possible. This way it makes it much harder for the bow to stuff in the waves. A good speed would be around 5 to 15 mph.

Be prepared

Maybe having some emergency cover or rain jackets might be helpful just in case you run into some big waves that crash over the bow. Unfortunately, when it happened to me there wasn’t really any cover, so my passengers were sitting behind chairs and anything else they could find. (meanwhile, I was getting drenched by waves crashing over).

Do you need to be an experienced boater in order to control a pontoon boat on the Great Lakes?

Having experience in boating always helps, especially when things start to get dicey, but it isn’t needed. If you are a new boater, just go slow, and you will slowly start to learn more about how to navigate your boat safely by just observing. There’s nothing wrong with taking it slow.

The most important thing you need to know if things start to get dicey is to stay calm. When water is flying over the bow and everyone is soaking wet, I know it may be hard but as long as you take it slow and be calm, you will be ok.

What are some activities to do with a pontoon boat on the Great Lakes?

I wouldn’t recommend going very far out with a pontoon boat, but there are still plenty of activities you could do. Here are a few:

  • Go to shoreline beaches
  • Shoreline cruises
  • Shoreline fishing
  • Beaching your pontoon boat
  • Build a slide or diving board on your pontoon boat
  • Watersports (when the water is calm)

What activities not to do with a pontoon boat on the Great Lakes?

Because of the size and high wave potential, there a couple boating activities you should avoid if you have a pontoon boat on the Great lakes.

  • Visit offshore islands
  • Trolling
  • Overnight traveling (weather could change)
  • Drive super fast
Sam