How To Drive a Pontoon Boat: A Beginner’s Guide

How To Drive A Pontoon Boat: A Beginner's Guide

Having your very own pontoon boat is a great source of joy, but before you can take it out onto the water you need to learn the basics for how to drive a pontoon boat.

Taking a vessel of any kind on the water means you have a duty of responsibility to know how to drive it and should understand the basic details of operation and safety, which is exactly what this guide is designed to do.

So, what are the fundamentals of pontoon boats and how do you drive them?

Learning how to drive a pontoon boat is considered easy compared to other types of boats and it’s known as one of the simpler types of vessels to control on the water. There are a few key skills you’ll need to learn like docking, steering, accelerating, and reversing, as well as basic safety measures, but many people find them pretty simple to master.

This guide can walk you through the basic steps required to learn how to drive a pontoon boat as well as the gear you’ll need to get out on the water.

With your own pontoon boat and the skills needed to drive it, you can fish, relax, and even enjoy watersports once you have it at your disposal, so it’s worth taking the time to learn.

How to Drive a Pontoon Boat

Man Driving A Pontoon Boat

Learning how to drive a pontoon boat is a matter of understanding the basic steps required to get the vessel started, accelerate, steer, and bring it safely back to the dock.

Pontoon boats are designed differently to traditional V-hull boats, so even if you’ve driven one of them before, you’ll still need to master the basics of the pontoon.

Leaving the dock

The wind plays a major role in how successfully you’ll leave the dock due to the unique design of these boats.

You need to be aware of any potential wind gusts and time your thrusts of the engine with any large ones. When you’re all clear, point the drive and then shift.

Apply short and sharp bursts of power, adjust the drive as needed, and then repeat. If the wind is too strong, you can attempt to reverse out to minimize its effects.


Once you’re safely on the open water, you can pick up speeds a bit with acceleration.

Start smoothly and slowly applying power and when the bow levels out you can pick up the speed a bit.

Follow the guidelines of your engine for how many RPMs you should be traveling and keep in mind local laws and regulations.

Handling and Control

Pontoons handle better with slow and controlled movements, so avoid any sharp turns.

Although they’re designed not to flip, it is possible with wayward steering.

Let your passengers know before you take a big turn to avoid them sliding all over the deck.

Docking, Beaching, and Swimming

Pontoon boats are great for taking into the shallows but you need to careful of other people and travel slowly as you make your way up to the shore.

Trim the engine as you approach so it reduces draft and just starts gasping for air, then drop it back down a couple of inches.

When you’re ready to dock, be cautious about the wind and slowly enter the marina. Leave the engine idling until you’re fully docked so you can make any adjustments needed.

Are Pontoon Boats Easy to Drive?

Pontoon Boat Driving

Pontoons are considered as one of the easiest vessels to maneuver and learn, according to those in the boating world.

They’re a great choice for someone who’s never learned to drive a boat before and you already know how to drive a car, you’ll be covered with some of the basics.

Although learning how to drive a pontoon boat is considered easy in comparison to other types of boats, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously.

You’ll need to be aware of all the safety guidelines, know how to work the specific boat you’re driving as well as local laws and legislation, and not take on anything more than you feel you can handle.

People learning to drive a pontoon boat on vacation or after hiring one generally find they can pick up the basics in under an hour.

These boats are lightweight and easy to control, and depending on the specifics of the one you choose, they won’t go too fast to handle.

A pontoon boat is generally used for cruising, fishing, and relaxing, so as long as you’re driving it for these applications, you should find the learning period relatively easy.

How to Drive a Pontoon Boat in Rough Water

Driving a pontoon boat when you’re in rough waters requires a little more skill than usual.

Part of being a responsible boat owner or operator means you’re prepared for all conditions though, so you need to know how to handle it should the water or conditions suddenly change.

A pontoon boat is usually very stable and secure to drive, but when the sea gets choppy or turbulent, it can be harder to manage.

The main cause of concern is the wind, and due to the vertical fences of the pontoon boat, they can easily be whisked away with strong gusts and will be harder to regain control of.

However, because these boats feature two hulls instead of one, you can use this stability to your advantage.

If you do find yourself in rough water, there are some tips you can follow that will reduce the impact.

In addition to being fully prepared and aware of the day’s weather conditions, here’s what you can do if you end up in a pontoon boat in rough water.

  • Avoid forcing a turn in the wind if it doesn’t feel right. This can lead to the boat flipping over in extreme conditions.
  • If you know that a storm is coming or wild weather is approaching, head back to the dock immediately.
  • Always keep the pontoons and nosecones above water and try not to let them get buried underneath any waves.
  • Check that everyone is wearing their safety gear and is aware that conditions have changed and may be dangerous.
  • Trim up the engine just before you hit a large wave to avoid going under it.
  • Understand the basics of weight load distribution and inform your passengers about maintaining this balance for you. Ensure that all gear and passengers are evenly loaded on the vessel.

When the conditions suddenly change or you feel it’s getting too rough for you to handle, the best approach is to head back to the shore or dock.

If this just isn’t possible, you might consider dropping the anchor to remain stable until the seas die down a little and it’s safe to move again.

How to Stay Safe While Driving a Pontoon Boat

Family In Safety Vests On Boat

Safety is of the utmost importance when you’re driving any kind of boat and there are considerations that need to be made to keep you and passengers safe.

When driving a pontoon boat specifically, you’ll need to have an extra level of caution to account for the unique design of the vessel, as well as understanding the basics of boat safety in general.

Before any passengers embark on your pontoon, inform them of the rules so that everyone is aware of their responsibilities.

All passengers, and you as the driver, should be wearing safety gear which includes life jackets that are age and weight appropriate for the user.

Have all passengers before you leave the dock and ask them to remain seated whenever the boat is in motion.

Preparation and planning play a huge role in safety, and it’s up to you as the boat driver to know about the day’s weather conditions and the capacity of the boat you’re driving.

Only take the vessel out if you’re confident in your driving skills and that you know what to do in the event of an emergency.

Have a float plan in place that lets someone else know your plans and intended route, so if you don’t return home they will be aware to notify the authorities.

Finally, take just as much care driving a boat as you would a car.

Don’t use any drugs or alcohol as the driver, avoid sharp turns and excessive speeds, and always follow the local legislation and rules about boat operation.

According to the American Boating Association, there were over 4,400 recreational boating accidents in 2016 alone, so you don’t want to become a statistic.

Tips For Your First Time Driving a Pontoon Boat

Small Boy Driving A Boat

A lot of boating comes down to common sense, and the same goes for anyone driving a pontoon boat.

If it’s your first time driving a pontoon boat, you can make matters easier by learning some tips that have been passed on by the experts.

Take it Slow

Always go as slow as possible when you’re docking the boat. This will not only ensure you get it right but will also make you look like a professional to bystanders.

Steering a pontoon boat is different from a V-hull and requires a much slower approach when making turns.

Plan the packing

Don’t overpack when you’re taking a pontoon boat out and make sure all passengers are aware of weight balancing and distribution. Only take the basics with you and know your boat’s limits.

Know the law

Learn the laws and regulations for your state before you attempt to drive or hire a boat. Some states may have educational requirements as well as licensing in order to legally drive a pontoon boat.

Watch the wind

The unique design of a pontoon boat means it’s more susceptible to wind. As these boats sit high off the water they can be easily pushed by a strong gust.

Take the wind factor into consideration before departing the dock and whenever you’re about to make a turn.

Keep the propeller in the water

Learning how to keep the propeller submerged is an important part of pontoon boating because it must remain the water when turning.

The best way to avoid it from sucking air is to check the boat and angle before you start to steer and take every turn slowly.

Get docking help

One easy way to dock correctly is to have someone else stand on the dock while you’re moving into the parking space so they can help.

This person can guide you in and also tie it to the dock so it doesn’t slip back out again.

Listen to your gut

Boating is all about common sense and it’s important to listen to your instincts when you’re on the water and stay aware.

Look out for other vessels and buoys, read up on the weather conditions, and choose your destination before you go to make sure you know how to get there and back again.

Required Gear for Driving a Pontoon Boat

Illustration Of Boating Licence

Whether you’ve just purchased your own pontoon boat or are hiring one for the day, there’s some required gear you’ll need to take it onto the water.

Some of these items are legally mandated and required for boat safety, and others are optional but add a lot of enjoyment to the experience.

Consider these pieces of gear when you’re learning how to drive a pontoon boat and want to have the basics.


  • Registration number and license: Required for authorities to keep track of your boat when you’re out on the water and any documentation needed for licensing.
  • Safety gear: Basics include a life vest for each passenger, first aid kit, life ring, flare gun/air horn, fire extinguisher, and personal locator.


  • Trolling motor or alternative motor: Used by anglers to move slowly and smoothly through the water for fishing. An alternative power source can be helpful if your primary engine fails.
  • Fish finder: These act as a way to locate fish but also work as a GPS.
  • Knife or multitool: For any emergencies where one might be required.
  • Food and water: Enough supplies for the passengers on your boat to last the day.
  • Docking lights: Makes it easier to dock the pontoon boat when you’re coming in at night.

Optional Extras

  • Sound system: Play music on the water with a speaker or sound system attached to the pontoon.
  • Captain’s chairs: Comfortable captain’s chairs can increase the value of your boat and give you a luxury seat.
  • Shade: An inbuilt shade cloth or Bimini top can provide sun protection if your boat doesn’t already have one in place.
  • Toys and accessories: Toys like floating docks, drink coolers, and pontoon tubes can add some fun to the boating experience.

Related Questions

Three Girld On Pontoon Boat

Although learning to drive a pontoon boat is considered relatively easy, there’s still a lot to learn.

In order to be a responsible and safe captain, you might want to know the answers to these commonly asked questions in regards to pontoon boats and boating in general.

What Type of Pontoon Boat is Good for a Beginner?

Pontoon boats come in many varieties, including ones made just for relaxing, fishing, and even high powered vessels for water sports.

As a beginner, there’s no need to choose a high-performance vehicle until you’ve mastered its operation, so look at one with adequate horsepower and amenities to suit your needs.

Do You Need a License to Drive a Pontoon Boat?

Boating comes with its own rules and regulations depending on the state you’re in.

A boating license is generally not required, but many states insist that boat drivers have passed a state-approved boating safety course first.

For pontoon boats, other laws and regulations you’ll need to consider include license and insurance, educational requirements, minimum operator age, towing restrictions, and general legislation about operating a vehicle in the water.

The American Boating Association has a detailed list of each state’s requirements that you can refer to.

How Many People Can Fit on a Pontoon Boat?

Pontoon boats come in many shapes and sizes, and each of them with their own weight restrictions.

Before embarking on the water, make sure you understand the specific weight capacity limits of your pontoon boat and never attempt to go over that amount.

Pontoon boats require a lot of attention to weight distribution and balance, which also includes the gear you pack.

Is a Three Tube Pontoon Boat Faster Than a Two Tube One?

A common misconception about three tubed pontoon boats is that they were built this way for speed.

Having the third tube or tri-pontoon design will ensure more buoyancy and stability, but doesn’t always impact speed.

The motor will determine how fast the boat is able to go, but having a third tube may increase the ability to speed up even if you have a heavier load.

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