When I decided that I wanted to buy my first pontoon boat, I was stunned by the lack of information and advice online for first-time buyers. It took me a good 6 months to do my own research online, as well as at boat shows, and also down by the water before I finally took the plunge.
It was the best decision I have made, but I do wish that there had been a comprehensive online guide that told me everything I needed to know in just one place. It would have saved me a lot of time and research (plus confusion!).
That’s the motivation behind the guide to buying that you are seeing here today, as I wanted to put something together that was simple and easy to understand for first-time buyers of a pontoon boat.
I hope you find it useful, and it’s the first step for you in helping to decide whether or not this is a good choice for you, and what you need to know before you open your wallet regardless of the multitude reasons you could be deciding to buy.
Buying Tips & Advice for Pontoon Boats
+ What to Avoid When Buying a Pontoon Boat
Buying your first pontoon boat is one of the most exciting things you can do. But it’s a process fraught with indecision and massive choices to make, as in most cases, you are going to spending a lot of money so you need to get it right. First time.
I’ve seen plenty of first time pontooners taking home far more boat than they actually needed to buy, purely because they didn’t have the knowledge and experience needed in order to make the best decision to suit them.
I can’t imagine there being anything more soul-destroying than getting your boat onto the water for the first time, and then not having the necessary seamanship skills in order to handle it, or simply having something not fit for the purpose you actually bought it for.
That’s where this pontoon boat buyer’s guide is going to help you, so please do feel free to print it out and study it in detail in your own time. Let’s get straight into it.
Size and Capacity Considerations
Just because you have a large budget, it doesn’t mean you should get the biggest pontoon that you can afford whether that’s in length or width.
Some considerations to take into account with the size when buying, is that yes, a 36 foot boat will be twice as long as an 18 footer, but with that can also come additional expenses you might not have thought about.
The types of aspects you will also need to budget for when opting to buy a bigger pontoon are:
- How much you will be spending on fuel
- How much you will be spending on pontoon boat insurance (see how much)
- How much you will be spending on docking and storage
- How much you will be spending on repairs and maintenance
- How much you will be spending on accessories
- How large your trailer will need to be and the towing capacity of your vehicle
All of the items above will increase substantially, the larger your boat is. Stands to reason, and it’s true.
My advice is to start off with something more modest that will let you and your family learn how to handle and drive a pontoon boat without spending out on what could be a very expensive mistake.
It’s key to remember, that almost everybody who buys their first boat will naturally upgrade and go larger the more experienced that they get. A first-timer should opt for something smaller and manageable that will let them learn about boating and the unique behavior of a pontoon, before progressing onto something bigger in the future.
No matter what size you eventually opt for, one of the most important things to pre-plan will be how you transport it if it’s not going to be left permanently on the water.
You are going to be trailering your pontoon and will need to know how much the boat will be at dry weight, so you know whether or not your trailer can handle it. It’s not just the trailer you will need to consider, as you will also need to check that your vehicle can safely tow the boat from point A to point B.
If you’re not sure how much the pontoon boat that you are going to be buying is going to weigh, then feel free to use this calculator I have developed.
Should You Buy New or Used?
As a first-time pontooner, it might make sense to limit how much money you will have to spend, which naturally will make you explore the used market.
Buying used and second-hand will cut down your costs significantly, but it’s not without it risks. For example, please don’t ever buy a pontoon without knowing how many hours are on the motor. You also should think about the maintenance costs you might experience if buying something that’s older and pre-owned.
But let’s take a quick look at the options you have as a buyer, comparing the pros and cons to either buying a new pontoon, or buying a used pontoon.
Buying a New Pontoon Boat
When you buy from new, it will be from an authorized dealer. They all have direct relationships with the manufacturers, giving you the peace of mind in knowing you have a long-term warranty on your purchase. It will also give you a point of trusted contact to go to for any annual maintenance and repair jobs.
But, did you know, the price you pay the dealer will include a top-up for the actual warranty? It’s not something that you will be getting for free, but it will be worth every penny extra.
It’s a massive advantage, as should anything go wrong and need repairing, you’re going to be covered for the time period expressed in the warranty document. You won’t get that type of cover with a used boat purchase, as in most cases they will be sold to you in an “as seen” condition.
For this reason alone, I always recommend that a first-timer should buy a brand-new boat direct from an authorized dealer as their first ever purchase.
Pros to Buying New
- You will get a manufacturer warranty
- You should be able to apply for boat finance
- You will get support from the dealer in how to operate your pontoon
- You get to choose what options, accessories, trims, and color you want
- You might also get a trailer included in the purchase
- You should also be given all the safety equipment you need
Handy Hint: If you want to know what safety equipment I advise pontoon boat owners buy, then please click here for a checklist of safety gear.
Cons to Buying New
- You will have to pay a LOT MORE for your boat
- Your new pontoon will depreciate over the first 12 months of ownership
- You might have to wait a long time to receive you boat if it’s not on the lot
- You will be encouraged to pay for additional options by the dealer
Handy Hint: I have written a guide on how much new pontoon boats will depreciate by. To find out what you could expect, read my depreciation notes.
In the pros and cons above I mentioned trailers.
When you buy from new, most dealers will throw a trailer in as part of the deal that is the perfect size and spec for your new pontoon. This is going to save you a lot of hassle compared to having to track down the ideal sized trailer if you were buying a used boat.
In the majority of cases, when buying a used pontoon, the existing owner might want to keep their trailer, and will probably be transferring all of their safety gear over to their new boat if they are doing an upgrade.
But what if you aren’t a first-time buyer?
This is where my advice in the pontoon boat buying guide does differ somewhat, as experienced pontooners will have the relevant know-how in the used mark