Pontoon boats have been one of the great success stories of the boating world during the past decade, as their popularity exploded in the midwestern U.S. and then expanded to reach from coast to coast. As a result, in recent years we’ve seen a huge number of new models hit the market—including some pontoon boats designed to be serious fishing boats, others that are designed purely as luxury pontoon boats, and yet others that are high-performance pontoons. So, what are the latest and greatest to hit the water in the past 12 months? Here are our top picks, for the best pontoon boats of 2018.
The Harris V270 headlines our round-up because this model incorporates a fully integrated head compartment into the center tube, with a pump-out head, sink, and shower. That’s a huge leap forward from the pop-up “changing stations” we usually see on pontoons, which provide minimal privacy. We also love the unique retractable ladders built into the deck, the rear swim seat, and the built-in galley. And from a construction standpoint this boat comes with a lot of high-end touches, like an aluminum under-skin, full length keel, and upholstered interior fence panels.
See Harris boats for sale.
Crestliner 240 Rally DX
We tested this boat in 2017, but it was built for the 2018 model year and it deserves to be included here because while spending a day aboard this model filming a video boat review, several stand-out features quickly made themselves apparent. First off, consider price – with a base MSRP in the neighborhood of $30,000, the 240 Rally DX is eminently affordable. But we didn’t spot indications of cost-cutting anywhere. Quite to the contrary, we kicked back in rather luxurious pillow-top loungers, enjoyed the shade of a large standard Bimini top, and zipped around the lake at speeds in excess of 40 MPH.
See Crestliner 240 Rally boats.
Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16 DLX
The Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16 DLX has been around for years and we’ve been crowing about it since 2012 when it was one of the few pontoon boats available for under $10,000. Although that price has crept up a bit (MSRP for 2018 was $13,295 and for 2019 is $13,695) the boat’s now been given a major improvement: furniture bases are rotomolded. That will greatly increase the boat’s longevity – and it still has the features we’ve loved from the start, like a bow fishing deck with two chairs, a nine-gallon livewell, a big L-lounger, and a rather shocking 10-year bow-to-stern warranty.
See Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16 DLX boats.
Lowe SF 212 WT
Lowe garnered some serious bonus points last year by introducing their walk-through lounger layout. You can step on the aft swim platform, walk right through a gate in the middle of the back, through the flanking loungers, and on up to the gate in the center of the bow. This kind of access is great for angling, when you may want to move around the boat quickly, and the “SF” in the model name denotes that this is in fact a fishing edition. The boat has pedestal fishing seats, a livewell, and options for trolling motors and fishfinders.
See Lowe SF 212 boats.
Regency 250 LE3
The Regency 250 LE3 makes our list because it has a number of new features that raise the bar for quality and comfort. First off, note that the minimum powerplant for this pontoon is a 250 HP Mercury V-8 FourStroke. Second, it comes with so many standard features that we can’t dream of listing them all here. We can, however, call out some big-ticket items like triple powder-coated multi-chambered logs with lifting strakes and internal bracing; pillow-back upholstery and oversized reclining chairs; and a rear-facing video camera that pipes in its views to the helm station. Wow. Just, wow.
See Regency 250 LE3 boats.
Larson Escape Cruz
Do you want a pontoon boat that stands out from the pack? With the Larson Escape Cruz, you’ve got it. Larson adds fiberglass corners to the aluminum construction to include some awe-inspiring and rather radical styling. Then they add in a fiberglass helm station, vinyl flooring, and a Boss stereo with two speakers (two more are optional) and an MP3/iPod port. The boat just screams of youth and vitality, and one of the best things about it is that younger generations can actually afford the Escape Cruz. Coming in with a MSRP of $26,471, this pontoon costs less than many new cars.
See Larson Escape boats.
Princecraft Brio E 17
If you live on a lake that allows electric motors only, or you just want to reduce your carbon footprint as you go boating, Princecraft has the best pontoon for you with the Brio E 17. This boat is designed to run with a Torqeedo 2.0R or 4.0R electric outboard. The 2.0R version produces around five HP, and the 4.0R makes around eight HP. No, you can’t expect neck-snapping speeds with this rig, but you can expect pontoons with extruded keels, a swim platform and boarding ladder, cushy loungers, and a rotomolded console with an acrylic top. Option up to get the 48-volt solar panels, and you can refill your “fuel tank” as you cruise.
See Princecraft boats.
Manitou X-Plode 27
If you saw our 2017 Best Pontoon Boats, you may have notice the Manitou 25 X-Plode XT, a power-hungry beast of a pontoon boat with twin 300 HP Evinrude E-TEC G2 outboards and a top-end well over 60 MPH. There’s a 27-foot version, too, and new this year is a X-Plode27 RFX. This model has a pair of J-shaped loungers fore and aft, with pedestal-mount helm and passenger’s chairs. It also comes with standard goodies like a ski tow bar, interior blue LED lighting, and a six-speaker Kicker KMC10 Bluetooth stereo system.
See Manitou boats for sale.
Sylvan’s top-of-the-line M3 series deserves a place in this list because these pontoons mix solid-performance with uber-luxurious surroundings. With a Yamaha F250 (one of the engines we fingered in our Best Outboard Engines round-up) speeds in excess of 40 MPH are no problem – and the boat can take up to 300 horses on the motor pod. Kick back and enjoy zipping around the lake in any of the three loungers inside the fence or go back to the aft-facing lounger while at rest, with your choice of carpet, vinyl, synthetic teak, or snap-in Marine Mat underfoot. And we also like that saltwater versions are available, with 0.100” tubes and nose cones, solid keels, splash fins, and sacrificial anodes.
See Sylvan boats.
If size matters, there’s a good chance you’ll find the 33’5” long, 10’2” wide, triple-engine Premier Encounter (the follow-up model to Premier’s headline-grabbing Dodici 310) of interest. This monster pontoon has an enlarged center console with a cabin –including a berth, head, and dinette – inside. With all that room the boat can carry over a dozen passengers and they’ll all be able to find comfortable seating. And with the triple outboards cranked up, top-end gets into an eye-watering mid to upper 50s. Bonus feature: Get a Premier and you can have their exclusive Ricochet Ladder, which automatically returns to a stowed position when the boat starts moving through the water.
See Premier pontoon boats.
Want more pontoons? Be sure to check out pontoon boats and pontoon boats for sale.
Editor's Note: This article was updated in December 2018, then July 2020. Prices are updated as last date of publish.