When it comes to pontoon boats, many people still think of a stodgy, slow-putt-around-the-lake. Made for entertaining, yes, but more like cocktail hour than rockin’ house party.
This reputation is changing—and fast. Many of the latest and greatest pontoons offer speed, handling, seaworthiness, and even the ability to be used as legit tow boats for skiing and wakeboarding. Yet they haven’t abandoned their strengths: passenger comfort and amenities have never been more cushy or diverse. And if you're watching your pennies there’s good news for you, too. Leave off some of those plush amenities and speed, and basic models can be had for as little as $10,000. And yes, that’s with a motor, wise guy.
Thinking of tuning into the ‘toon? Here are 10 of our current favorites (in no particular order), guaranteed to please any passion—and any depth of pocketbook.
Aqua Patio 250 Express
Here's a pontoon that is clearly targeted to appeal to the younger consumer. Just look at the edgy styling. Rather than classic perimeter fencing, the 250 sports molded fiberglass seating modules fore and aft. Forward, they give this party barge the sleek and sexy lines of a runabout. Aft those seating modules do likewise, and they also hide rear-facing rumble seats designed to take in a watersports show—which is enhanced by a sleek tow tower. The latter’s supports are even boldly integrated into the craft’s edgy exterior lines.
Watch Aqua Patio 250 XP: Video Boat Review
With up to 300 available horsepower, the Express has the power to deliver on its promise. Triple pontoons are oversized to 27” diameter and sport lifting strakes on the center tube, as well as the inside of the outer tubes. The combination delivers aggressive handling, but avoids excessive lean. Big tubes also prove a good match for big crowds, as well as bigger waters.
Premier 220 Cast-a-Way
Plenty of entertaining gets done aboard a pontoon, but these versatile platforms also see a lot of one other favorite pastime—fishing. Premier’s Cast-a-Way caters to the latter crowd with a composite fish station aft with an integrated livewell, and two flanking fishing chairs. The well lid serves as a bait-prep station, with nooks molded into the cover to hold lures, hooks, and tools. Built-in lockable rod lockers and tackle trays are within reach, and entire aft area is covered in vinyl for easy clean-up. The helm features another livewell, a sink, and a Lowrance fishfinder.
In standard trim with two 25” pontoons and a 115 horsepower outboard, the Cast-a-Way is an affordable model that gets the job done nicely. Those wishing for more power and more aggressive handling can option up to Premier’s PTX package, which adds a third 36” tube to the mix, with a flat planing surface to provide lift.
Cypress Cay Seabreeze SL 230
A price-point model is attractive when you’re signing the paperwork, but no one likes a stripped-down look at the dock. Cypress Cay strikes a nice balance with the Seabreeze SL 230. Within, upholstery sports the same suede-like finish found in the brand’s higher-end models. Opt for the optional vinyl flooring and you can complement it with the look of teak, without the upkeep. Exposed rotomolded seatbases may be a giveaway to price concessions, but they’re nicely color-matched to the upholstery. In fact, I missed them at first glance.
The layout is similarly upscale. Amidships, Cypress Cay mixes things up with a forward-facing loveseat across from the helm. Aft, a spacious sunpad invites all-out lounging, but also accommodates those who prefer more supportive accommodations. Headrests are integrated into the rear cushion for facing forward; a reclining seat back forward offers support when facing aft. Raise the bed and you’ll find stowage, plus a biggie-sized curtained changing room. Twin 25” pontoons are standard issue. Upgrade to triples, with performance-oriented strakes, for greater capacity and improved handling.
For more info, watch our video boat review of the Cypress Cay Seabreeze SL 230.
Manitou 23 Legacy SHP
A recent trend has been to configure triple pontoons so that they mimic the handling of a V-hull. Manitou’s patented V-Toon technology pairs 23” diameter outer pontoons with a 27” center tube, dropped a full 5” lower, to allow the Legacy to bank and carve into a corner like its fiberglass counterparts. Add in the Sport Handling Package, including positive-angle lifting strakes, beefed-up nosecones, and SeaStar power-assist hydraulic steering, and you’ve also got a boat that planes lightning fast, handles aggressively, and with as much as 250 hp on the transom, tops out at over 50 mph.
Above deck, a traditional layout is highlighted by a 3” raised helm, designed to give the driver a more unobstructed, commanding view forward. Billet accents are in abundance, including a pedestal-mount rearview mirror, switch panels, and custom steering wheel. Another cool feature is the “toy box.” Hidden below the aft sunpad, it’s an extra-spacious compartment designed to hold plenty of skis and boards.
Harris Grand Mariner SL 250
Bulky engine enclosures were once standard issue, partly to drown out a noisy two-stroke engine. Today’s four-strokes are clean and quiet, so Harris completely opened up the stern of the Grand Mariner SL 250. A large, low-profile sunpad is positioned aft. A pivoting backrest moves to the rear to bring the focus into the main cockpit, or forward to turn that attention to the swim platform and water when lounging on the hook. The quality of the upholstery, teak-look padding on the swim platform, multiple cupholders, and handy stereo remote will tempt you to float the day away.
But trust us, get underway. The optional XTR performance package adds a third pontoon, drops it 2” lower than the outer tubes, and fashions that tube into an angular motor pod aft. Lifting strakes enhance the outer tubes. The result is an aggressive lean-in ride reminiscent of a fiberglass V-hull. An array of Mercury outboard power is available, up to a 300hp Verado. Watch our video boat review of the Harris Grand Mariner SL 250 for more detail.
Sylvan 8525 Mandalay Bar
Sylvan avoids the traditional round pontoon; instead, the manufacturer’s 27” tubes are constructed to feature an actual V-shaped bottom, featuring a keel and chines. They dub the design “Revolutionary Planing Technology,” and it helps both performance and handling. With a 225hp Yamaha V Max outboard and optional center tube, the 8525 will plane almost instantaneously and top out at over 35 mph. Carving is aggressive, yet keeps the flatter feel inherent to pontoons.
The obvious standout feature of this particular model, however, is the actual bar at the craft’s stern. Pontoons have always been made for the cocktail cruise. This model takes that mission literally, offering up a faux-granite countertop and a trio of stools beckoning passengers to belly up. Flip a switch and a motorized bracket raises from a hidden nook below. Use it for a wineglass and plate holder, or mount up your own flatscreen TV.
Sweetwater SW 1880
With so much horsepower and so many amenities available, it’s easy to forget that pontoons don’t have to be big, nor do they have to be fast… or expensive. Sweetwater’s SW 1880 is a relatively small, simple pontoon that comes with a standard 50 HP outboard for just over $22,000. Obviously amenities are few, but you still get a Bimini top with boot, vinyl decking, a Sony stereo with MP3 input, a 25-quart carry-on cooler, courtesy lighting, and a table with built-in cupholders. Up the ante a bit and you can add features like a fishfinder and livewell, a ski tow bar, and a pop-up changing room.
There’s plenty of seating with two lounges forward and one aft plus a helm chair, and the hinged seats swing open to unveil plenty of stowage room for all the stuff your guests bring aboard.
Bennington Q25 I/O
You won’t find the typical outboard anchored to the stern of this Bennington Q25 I/O. Instead, housed below the motor hatch is a Mercruiser or Volvo-Penta stern drive, ranging from 300 HP (the stock powerplant) to 430 HP. The stern drive choice provides an unobstructed swim platform and a clear view aft. Bennington responds with a separate seating area behind the helm, filled with lounges and backrests that invite passengers to stretch out, relax, or take in the skiing, tubing, or boarding action happening in the boat’s wake.
The Q25 is yet another ‘toon that will handle more like one of its V-hull counterparts. The ESP Performance Package, with two 25” outer pontoons and a 32” center elliptical tube, enhances handling. That center tube also provides the real estate for an enormous ski locker. For more information visit Bennington, or to see some video of a similar model watch our 2014 Bennington 2575 Tri-Toon Pontoon Boat: First Look Video.
Avalon WindJammer Quad Lounger
As the name suggests, Avalon’s WindJammer Quad Lounger places a premium on kicking back, with plush, wraparound seating lining the perimeter. Forward, twin lounges stretch out invitingly with forward-facing backrests. Beside the helm, a love seat keeps a passenger or two close to the captain. Aft, corner lounges straddle the center boarding gate. Ample stowage is available below all, but don’t expect the roto-molded bins common in the industry. Instead, the manufacturer welds their own aluminum seat frames, which they promise provide better flow-through ventilation. Even the embossed exterior fencing avoids a common style. It’s fastened completely outside the perimeter rails to lend a sleek look to the exterior, while covering up areas that can accumulate dirt and debris.
An appealing option on the WindJammer is Avalon’s WaveGlider performance system. It features a trio of 25” pontoons with extruded lifting strakes, as well as Sea Star hydraulic steering and a 42-gallon fuel tank built into the real estate provided by the center tube.
Sun Tracker Bass Buggy
If your name is Bass Buggy, you’re sold at Bass Pro Shops, and you count brands like Tracker, Nitro, and Mako among your family members, it’s obvious you'd better be good. This longtime favorite received a makeover in 2012, resulting in fishing chairs with screw-in pedestals at the bow, an aerated livewell, vinyl flooring or 22-oz. marine carpet, rod holders, and a molded livewell unit with rod and drink holders. There’s even a lid ruler to measure your catch. And that’s before you even add the optional fish package, which throws a Lowrance fishfinder and MotorGuide trolling motor into the mix.
But perhaps most appealing about the Bass Buggy isn’t its fishing credentials, but its price. With a pair of 24” diameter pontoons, the 20-footer lists for a mere $11,595, including a 20hp Mercury FourStroke—and the 16-foot version can be had for under $10,000. Read more: Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16: A Pontoon Boat for Under $10,000? Yes!
Entertaining? Rockin’ house party? All-day fishing? Lounge lizard lifestyle? Whatever your desire, there’s a good chance one of these top 10 pontoon boats is going to be perfect for your needs. So ditch that old mentality, and get ready to experience the pleasure of pontoon boating.
Think there's a pontoon boat we missed that deserves to make this Top 10 list? Add it in the comments section below, or share it on our Facebook page.
See more in-depth pontoon boat reviews and videos on boats.com, or see our other top picks at:
- 10 Bass Boats That Will Blow You Away: Cast Action Heroes
- Top 10 Fishing Boats of 2012
- High Performance Marine Engines: The Fab Five
- 10 Best Tow Boats for Water Skiing and Wakeboarding
- Classic Plastic: 10 Affordable Used Sailboats for Cruising
Editor's Note: This article was updated by the boats.com editorial staff in July 2016.