You and your spouse are avid water lovers, fishing fans, or just love getting away for the weekend. You’ll be always thinking about the next getaway, and reasons for you to get out on to the water.
But now you have expanded your family and have children in tow, I am pretty certain you are hoping that they are going to love the water and boating as much as you do!
If you already own a pontoon boat, you might need to make some modifications to accommodate for having kids on board, or if this is your first purchase of a pontoon, you will need to be sure it’s kid-friendly with enough room to take them.
Just like buying a new car or truck, a pontoon boat is an investment. You want to be 100% certain that what you are buying is going to be a boat that can be enjoyed and used for many years to come – from your kids’ life, through to them being teenagers… or even having kids of their own!
As you look to make this really important decision, read these 11 tips which will help you in making sure that your chosen pontoon boat is family and kid-friendly.
1. You Need Plenty of Deck Space & Seating
The floor and deck plan of a pontoon boat has sometimes been compared to that of a patio. But don’t let that fool you, some of the smaller pontoons have hardly any room in them other than the captain’s seat and a little seating at the rear.
If you have kids, you want something family-friendly with enough seating and deck room to let them sit down, as well as floor space for all of their water sports accessories and toys.
With a family of four, I personally wouldn’t go any lower than a 22-foot pontoon. That will give you plenty of deck space and seating to make sure that the entire family and comfortable.
2. Pop-Up Changing Rooms are a Must
As a parent, no doubt you know that younger kids don’t quite have the bladder control of us grown-ups. In fact, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have had to pull off the highway to find a McDonalds for them to relieve themselves in!
Life at sea has similar challenges, which is where a pop-up or collapsible changing room is an absolute must, with a small portable toilet also installed. Here are my recommended pop-up changing rooms, including the cheap one that we use.
They take seconds to set-up and take down again and give your kids the much needed privacy they need. Not just for toilet breaks, but also when getting changed. Having a changing room is particularly important if you take your pontoon boat onto heavily trafficked waterways where there are other boats and water-users around.
3. Install a Bimini to Protect from the Sun
Back in the day when I was growing up, we didn’t really know much about how much damage the sun can do. But with growing concerns over cancer statistics, it’s absolutely essential that you give your kids an area on the boat where they aren’t in direct sunlight all day.
So, as well as a changing room, I also recommend a Bimini. This will offer a shady area on your boat’s deck where you can let your kids stay out of the sun’s harmful UV rays on those really hot days on the water.
4. Food Accessories are Very Important
My kids are always hungry, and I am sure yours are too. Whist we always try to have some snacks on hand (click here for food ideas), nothing beats giving them a good square meal whilst out for the day.
There are plenty of ways in which you can keep food safe on board, as well as how you can prepare and cook.
If you don’t buy any other accessory for your pontoon boat this year, I would certainly make at least one being a cooler. You can see the coolers than I recommend in the pontoon accessories page.
But did you know you can also grill on board?
There’s a company called Cuisinart who make special pontoon boat grills that can be mounted to your boat’s rails, letting you cook up all sorts of amazing food straight from the deck. To see which grills I recommend, take a look at my recommended pontoon gear page. It’s stacked full of great ideas.
5. Storage Space is a Necessity
Why is it that whenever you go away with your kids, you end up taking bags and bags of stuff, most of which you never end up using, but still believe are going to be absolutely necessary at some point. Weird isn’t it?
Regardless, you’re still going to be taking all that stuff on your pontoon boat with you and are going to need somewhere safe and away from the wet to keep it all in.
Look for a pontoon boat that comes with plenty of storage options, most of which will come under the seats either as a slide under space, or seats that lift up to reveal handy places to throw things into.
Having little cubbyholes and other sizable spaces on your boat are a great way to clean up your kid’s stuff off the deck. Think of all those small plastic toys, wet clothes, and possibly even handheld electronics that they might have.
And if you are lucky, you still might have some space left to put your own gear in! Chance would be a fine thing though!
Handy Hint: If you are a fisherman, then keep your rods stored away and out of sight of the kids when they are on-board. It will help to protect your rods from little grabbing hands. Here are some rod storage ideas to consider.
6. Skip the Carpeting if You Can
There are two schools of thought when it comes to what gets laid down on your pontoon deck. Those that swear by carpet, and those that swear by vinyl (click here to see what’s best).
The carpet lovers definitely don’t have kids! If they did, they would be swapping it out for vinyl flooring right now! But why?
Crumbs and food debris left by your kids can get crunched into the carpet, create nasty stains and marks that you can’t get out – plus could even present health risks.
Get a pontoon boat with a vinyl flooring. It’s easy to clean, maintain, and also won’t become damp and moldy after a day’s fun in the water where your kids invariably bring most of the lake back on board with them.
7. Consider a Wakeboard Tower or Ski Tow Bar
Half the fun of having kids is being able to act like a big kid yourself, and none more so with a pontoon where you can pull them behind on an inflatable tube. You can see which inflatable tubes are safest elsewhere on Pontoonopedia.
You should be able to attach a tow rope relatively easily to your boat, but for maximum fun and leverage on the water when pulling, invest in a wakeboard tower. Having one of these bad boys will make the experience insanely better and will also let you pull the towable tubes with a bit more power and tug too.
8. Don’t Forget the Inflatables for Fun
Which brings me nicely onto inflatable fun. Don’t just think of tubes, and here are some recommendations, as there are also inflatable water slides that you can get. They provide for hours of fun, and will mean your kids will never again turn down the opportunity for day’s pontooning. Most 22 foot pontoon boats will have enough power to pull children, and also adults.
Handy Hint: If pulling someone behind a boat, you are required by law to have a look-out person at the rear.
Yes, these slide kits are expensive, but it’s the most fun you and your family will ever have. I promise you. And not to mention you being the envy of everyone else on the water that day, needless to say you will suddenly be the most popular person on the lake or river.
9. Choose a Deal That Comes with Safety Equipment
Whether you are buying new or used, and here’s a buyer’s guide that will help you get the best price, it pays to get all the safety gear you need thrown into the deal.
When you buy second-hand, the seller will most likely already be fully kitted out with the safety essentials, so part of the bartering could be to get it all included. Similarly, a dealer might be able to add some essentials in as part of your purchase.
No matter what though, check through this list of essential pontoon safety gear that you simply must have if you want to keep your boat family-friendly and kid-safe. It includes all the obvious stuff like life vests, but also some items that you might not have actually thought of.
10. Choose a Boat with High Rails & Secure Gates
And more on safety now, and that’s the railings on the side of the pontoon boat. If you have kids, and there’s every chance you might be distracted for a moment, then it pays to have a boat with high side fences and rails.
And I mean high enough so that when your kids stand on a seat, you limit how far they stand over the railing. You want to make it as hard as possible for them to fall in or be in any form of danger whilst the boat is moving.
The same goes for the gates in the rails. Choose a boat which offers very secure locking and shutting mechanisms, preferably with doors that open inwards and not outwards if possible.
11. Don’t Forget a Suitable Boarding Ladder
Your kids hopefully are going to be in and out of that water, having fun, and improving their swimming. But do you know how hard it is for a kid to pull themselves back onto a boat deck?
It’s virtually impossible, not to mention being dangerous.
Buy a pontoon boat with a long boarding ladder that goes quite a few feet under the water line, and one with wide and deep steps and gripped handles. It will make entering and exiting so much easier for them, and in turn will keep them safer.
If you already own a boat, or are buying one without a ladder, then you can buy one that you can fit and install yourself. You simply must have this accessory on your pontoon if you have children on board.
In fact, the after-market ladders are in many cases a lot better than the ones which the manufacturer will have fitted. You can read some ladder recommendations and get a feel for what might be the best choice for kid-friendly boarding.
Whether you have younger kids or teenagers, pontooning is great fun and will create memories that live on for years to come. But being on the water does come with challenges, and safety is an absolute must. You can never be safe enough, or take too many precautions.
Teach them responsible behavior, and perhaps even give them some level of responsibility whilst on the boat.
I’ve put together a list of fun ideas that you can have with your children when on your pontoon boat. Take a read of that, and you should never be stuck for something to do whilst out on the water.
Putting that aside, just have fun. That’s what pontoon boats are all about!