Do you love the sight of the sky at night, the stars twinkling in the blackness? Do you find it easiest to fall asleep to the outdoor sounds of crickets and critters and maybe even to the movement of a body of water?
If you answered yes to both those questions, then you might be interested in pontoon boat camping (either on it, or next to it). My family and I will often head off with our pontoon boat camping enclosure (I recommend which one further down) or will often just pitch a tent on a quiet beach.
In this guide I am going to explain what pontoon boat camping package we use, including the enclosure and cover, accessories, tents, and then a guide on how to do it and what to expect. I want you to enjoy your camping experience as much as possible, learning from the mistakes we’ve made!
First of all, let me show you what enclosure and cover we use, as this will be the most important aspect for the whole trip.
Our pontoon boat camper enclosure
We didn’t spend huge amounts on our pontoon boat camping enclosure, and in truth, you don’t really need to if you’re like us. We tend to camp perhaps 2 or 3 times a year from our pontoon boat, and often like to pitch up a beach instead – but you can do the two things in tandem.
I will often set it up by using a pontoon boat camping enclosure I bought on Amazon. It’s a Taylor Made product as it pretty universal for most boats. Search on Amazon though, as there are different styles available.
Our enclosure is about the right size for just me and my wife to sleep under with sleeping bags. If we take the kids with us, we let them sleep under the camping enclosure, with my wife and I sleeping in a tent on the beach.
Are pontoon boat camping enclosures worth it?
With the wide-open design, high railings and no roof, enclosures can be a great choice for privacy and limited protection from the elements. For that reason, some pontoon enthusiasts opt for an enclosure, or a fabric cover that’s custom fit to your boat. This puts a roof over your head and provides walls as well.
You could shell out hundreds and hundreds of dollars depending on the size of your pontoon camping enclosure and the retailer you choose – some will be custom made. While custom fitted ones aren’t a cheap addition, I’d still say an enclosure is worth considering. For me though, buying a cheap enclosure on Amazon was all we need.
Compare this to camping on the beach, and yes, you’re sacrificing the beauty of sleeping in nature, but you will feel safer with an enclosure attached to your pontoon boat. Plus, any heater you use will work more efficiently since the enclosure will trap in more heat.
However, most pontoon boat camping enclosures offer little to no protection from inclement weather. They’re only made of fabric, not anything sturdy or hard.
Heavy winds can blow your enclosure away and rains will soak it.
Based on that, planning is key, so make sure you check the forecasts before you go!
Will a Bimini work just as well for camping?
I’ve seen other pontooners simply camping out using their Bimini for protection. That’s fine, but you need guaranteed good weather due to the lack of walls, plus need to appreciate you won’t get the same level of privacy that an enclosure offers.
Handy Hint: For advice on what Biminis I recommend for pontoon boat camping, check out my Bimini price guide.
Pontoon boat camping package and accessories
If you do decide to buy a camping enclosure, you don’t just stop there. Below is everything that I have bought and used for the ideal pontoon boat camping package, with reasons why they are all so important.
Here’s a quick list first, as you might already have a lot of these accessories. If you don’t, I go into more detail further down.
Pontoon boat camping accessories
- Porta-potty (see my recommended toilet set-up)
- Bug repellant
- Beach anchor
- VHF radio
- First aid kit
- Life vests
- Space heater
- French water supply
- Sleeping bags
- Inflatable dinghy boat
- Grill for cooking
If you’re thinking of going pontoon boat camping for the first time, this is the guide you want to read. Not only will I provide Amazon links to the above recommended items, but will also share tips, guidance, and advice for your first overnight trip on the water.
The essentials I recommend
As I said, you probably already have a lot of these camping accessories, so I am only recommended the ones I think are completely essential – all of which we use on our own camping trips.
1. Porta-Potty and toilet enclosure
When nature calls and you on your pontoon, you might not have the opportunity to go in complete privacy. The one we use measures 15 inches deep, 13.4 inches wide, and 12.2 inches tall.
Available in a bright white plastic, our marine toilet has a wastewater tank capacity of 2.6 gallons and a freshwater tank capacity that’s also 2.6 gallons. That’s more than generous for an overnight trip.
You might also want to consider a zip up tent to give you complete privacy.
I’ve detailed all the gear you need in this guide to setting up a pontoon toilet.
Should you need to use the bathroom or check your pontoon boat in the middle of the night, you’ll be glad you have these LED camping lanterns from Vont (see Amazon prices).
The lanterns are made of materials that are not only marine-grade, but aircraft-grade as well. Should you plunk the lantern in water, it will survive. The same is true if you were to drop it from 10 feet up onto dry land.
Vont made their LED lanterns to be lightweight and portable. They also collapse so they don’t take up valuable room in your bag. Each lantern boasts 30 LED lights and is powered by a battery with an average life of 30 hours.
3. Bug Repellant
No one wants to waste a relaxing night camping on a pontoon boat swatting at flies, gnats, and other insects.
We use both a repellant in lotion form plus as a spray. It will give you the protection you need from sand flies, chiggers, gnats, and biting flies.
You might also be interested in my guide to keeping flies off your boat. It’s an essential read for any boater planning a camping trip.
4. VHF Radio
Don’t ever lose contact with the outside world when you have a VHF radio. If you’re out of cell phone coverage it could be a life saver. I use this two-way radio on Amazon. It’s handheld and lets you access channels from Canada, international waters, and the United States.
You can adjust the wattage between one watt, 2.5 watts, and five watts as needed. By increasing wattage, you’ll get more transmission power. When you lower the wattage, you save battery life, which is also handy.
The JIS8 waterproof rating means you can even submerge this VHF radio without it failing on you.
5. Flares / strong light
Should your pontoon boat crash, run out of gas, or otherwise stop working, you need to let someone know. At night time especially, something like this strong LED light on Amazon is your new best friend. This flare is an Amazon’s Choice product as well.