If you’ve not owned a boat before, then it’s really easy to make mistakes. Even seasoned pontooners can take their eye off the ball just for one critical moment. Some mistakes or blunders can be easily rectified and won’t matter too much, some can just be embarrassing… but others can be very expensive to repair!
During my own first 12 months of ownership I made plenty mistakes with my pontoon boat. Some ended up costing me quite a bit of money. Thankfully none were serious enough to endanger anybody’s life, but accidents like that can often happen.
In this list of pontoon boat mistakes, errors, and mishaps I’m featuring some that I personally have made, and others that I’ve heard about online or been tolda about in person.
Please take the time to soak them all in and commit them to memory, as even the simplest of errors can lead to serious consequences on the water or travelling to and from the dock.
1. Having Unsecured Items in the Boat When Trailering
If you tow your pontoon and don’t use a cover when driving, then make sure that everything in the boat has been taken out or is at the very least secured down. Otherwise as soon as you hit the freeway, there’s potential trouble ahead, not to mention a whole load of danger.
The person in this photo dropped their pontoon off to get serviced, and the company who did they work for them didn’t latch the sun deck back afterwards. Needless to say, it flew off on the highway! Thankfully nobody was hurt when it flew off.
2. Failing to Make Trailer Checks Before Towing
There are loads of checks that I advise you make before you tow your trailer. These include tire pressure checks, connections, and securing everything down.
If tow your trailer and boat without making some essential checks, you’re putting your boat at risk, and more importantly lives at risk on the road, so check everything thoroughly before you take off.
Handy Hint: Read my tips for towing a pontoon boat which include all the safety checks you should make as standard, plus some other things I have learned along the way.
3. Pulling Away from a Dock with the Dock Lines Still Attached
Do you dock your pontoon at a marina full-time? If you do, you know how important it is to have her secured up properly using the dock lines.
If boating is new to you, then can be very easy to forget that you’re tied up and I can completely understand how this could happen. It’s especially true if you are distracted by your kids or something else happening on your pontoon.
It’s makes a bit of noise too, so is bound to attract some by standers. That’s pretty embarrassing and you probably won’t do it again! Once is enough.
4. Not Practising the Launch Procedure from the Trailer
After a few attempts at launching your pontoon from a ramp, you’re going to be an expert, and you might even be able to do it all by yourself. But those first few launches never go smoothly, and so it pays to have practised the back-ups, release, and boat push off.
Other boat users can get very impatient if there’s a queue for the ramp, and having those eyeballs on you can make you panic and make even more mistakes.
It’s pay to practise, perhaps in a parking lot. Then when you get to the ramp for the first few times, you’re going to be confident that you can launch with no major issues.
Handy Hint: Here’s my guide to launching a pontoon boat from a ramp in just a few simple steps.
5. Launching from the Trailer with Transom Straps Still on
This pontoon boating mistake needs its own section, as I have seen it so many times, and not just with new pontooners, experienced guys and gals too.
You always know when it’s happened as you see that 3 seconds of initial confusion on their face, following by the Homer Simpson “doh” moment. It’s funny more than anything else and almost a rite of passage for most pontoon owners!
6. Not Installing the Boat Drain Plug Before Launching
Many older pontoon tubes and logs will have drain plugs. If you keep your plug in then you won’t have this issue, but if yours is out then putting it back in should be one of the most basic procedures for a pontooner. But every weekend there’s probably some boat owner who has forgotten to do so during a launch.
Having a pontoon boat full of water is very embarrassing but happens even to the professionals at times. In 2014 I saw an emergency crew launch their boat and set off without installing their plugs.
All was fine and dandy, they were getting some speed, but then it came to slowing down near the guy they were rescuing and the rescue boat started to fill up.
Never assume that your pontoon’s drain plug is attached. It’s something you should always double-check every single time you put your boat in the water.
7. Exceeding the Pontoon’s Weight Capacity
One of the most common causes of dangerous boating is overloading. All pontoon boat manufacturers have tested their boats to give you the maximum load capacity then you should never, ever, exceed.
Taking your pontoon boat out on the water will typically mean loading up with passengers, fishing gear, coolers, food and drinks – but don’t let the excitement mean you go too heavy.
On your boat you should have a capacity plate in clear view of the helm. This will tell you how much weight your pontoon is allowed to carry.
When you load up your pontoon, put all the heaviest items low down in the boat on the deck floor, and have your passengers spaced out to spread the weight.
Handy Hint: If you have lost your capacity plate sticker and need a replacement version then you can find out where to buy a new one in this guide.
8. Not Having a Lookout When Towing Tubes
Did you know that it’s a legal requirement that you have a look-out person at the rear of the deck when towing on a tube or skis behind a boat?
As well as being the law, it’s also essential to ensure that the person pulled is safe so if anything should happen, the look-out can notify the boat’s captain immediately.
Don’t put your family or friends at risk by making this mistake.
9. Not Carrying the Right Safety Equipment
In the unlikely scenario that a mistake does lead to an accident whilst on the water, then having the right safety equipment on board is absolutely essential.
Items you should never do without include life safety vests of PFDs (personal flotation devices) for every passenger, whistles, and flags.
Handy Hint: For a list of all you need to be safe on your pontoon, have a look at this safety equipment checklist which contains all the items you should carry on board.
10. Entering Water That is Too Shallow
There is debris in the water, there are rocks, and other invisible hazards. All of these can cause massive damage to your pontoons.
Even if you know the waters you boat on like the back of your hand, I would still advise that you invest in a fish or depth finder. If you do buy one, here are some tips on how to install it.
11. Forget to Hang Fenders When Docking
You’ve taken the right steps in making sure your boat is protected from bangs, dings, and scrapes that can happen when docking by buying some well padded (and expensive) boat bumpers and fenders.
You then decide that when you’re on the water you want to pull your fenders on board and store them neatly until you go back to dock.
That’s all well and good, until the time that one time you forgot to take them out and hang them over the rails as you came into dock.
And you won’t realize until you hear that horrible scraping sound as you mash your side railings and pontoons up on the dock side. It’s a mistake that’s easily done, but expensive to repair.
12. Jumping from the Boat to the Dock… But Missing!
There’s nothing more embarrassing than having a great day out on the water, coming back to dock in high spirits, pulling up against the dockside, and then jumping from your boat… but missing.
The noise of you hitting the water, and the commotion, not to mention laughter from your passengers is going to attract the type of attention that you will never be able to live down.
13. Leave the Motor Idling When Out of the Water
A friend of mine left their motor idling for a minute after their pontoon boat was out of the water. They had forgotten to turn the motor off and didn’t realize until the boat was trailered up and back in the parking lot.
He ended up damaging his motor – it only takes a little scoring from friction to make them fail.
So how long can a pontoon motor idle without causing any damage? Just a few minutes in truth.
If you make this mistake, best to put yours in a tub full of water and then using a hose, push water through the motor. You will probably have to pay to change the impeller. This is inexpensive, and won’t take long.
14. Paying too Much for Gas
Those gas stations at the larger docks and marinas are really handy right? Well yes, if you need fuel, but many of them will over-charge you for the privilege.
I always buy my gas on the road and fill up some gas caddies, so I don’t have to pay premium prices.
Don’t be a rookie and pay too much for fuel, you really don’t have to! I have some recommendations for gas caddies that are great for pontoon boat owners.
15. Putting the Wrong Gas Through Your Motor
Another rookie mistake that I have seen concerning fuel, is using the wrong type of gas. I know a pontooner who ran ethanol gas through their 84 Mercury 60 hp. You can see the result in the photo below.
He had to change all the gas lines as the ethanol had destroyed the rubber parts. He had to take an expensive trip to a boat mechanic to clean the carbs up as his fuel lines were not designed to run ethanol-based fuel.
16. Running Out of Fuel
As already discussed, it can cost a lot of money to put gas in your pontoon, and many of them will eat fuel like there’s no tomorrow, especially at high speeds or when towing tubes.
By just increasing your speed to 30 miles per hour, you could be burning through gas at 15 gallons per hour. In fact, just an extra 10 miles per hour of speed can lead to a 50% increase in fuel consumption when on the water.
Having to call for help and asking to be towed back to shore is one mistake that if it happens the once, you will never want it to happen again due the embarrassment.
Handy Hint: Here are some essential tips to help you conserve your fuel when using your pontoon boat, so you can save money.
17. Failing to Tie Up Your Anchor Before Tossing It Over Board
You’ve spent all that money on an awesome anchor, you’ve found a great spot in the middle of the lake to stop for a while and throw it over.
Ah. You didn’t tie it up.
That’s one less anchor, and potentially another $50 to $100 you are going to have to spend on a replacement.
18. Taking the Anchor Water Skiing!
You’ve stopped in the middle of the lake, thrown down anchor, and spent a couple of hours grilling up a BBQ and having some fun in the water. Now it’s time to head on back, and with all the fun you have had, there’s one thing that slipped your mind.
You push off and before you know it you’re suddenly taking your anchor for its very own water skiing trip!
You could end up looking a bit silly, having to replace your anchor, or in worst cases you might even injure another water user.
Don’t forget to pull your anchor in and get it secured before you head on back to the dock.
Handy Hint: Here are some great pontoon boat anchors to suit all occasions no matter where you are anchoring up.
19. Forgetting to Check Bridge Clearances
On large rivers, and even some lakes around the United States you will encounter bridges. Just don’t be that guy who gets a bit too close for comfort.
Check the bridge clearance height, which on most bridges should be clearly labelled. Of course, that also depends on you knowing how high your boat is.
And depending on what modifications you’ve made recently, your boat height could be very different from the last time you were out. This is particularly true with a fitted wakeboarding tower, Bimini, or even fishing rods that you have stored in an upright position.
Handy Hint: Click here to see some great storage ideas for your fishing rods so you can keep them safely out of the way when not being used.
20. Securing Rod Mounts and Grills Poorly
If you fish, then you will have rod mounts. You might have even have made your own. Whether you have the factory-installed manufacturer rod mounts, or homemade ones, nothing is more heart-breaking then getting a bite and seeing your much-loved poles being pulled off the rails into the water.
Make sure that your rod mounts are secured properly to the pontoon railings if you don’t want to lose your expensive fishing rods. And then same goes for your grill or BBQ.
21. Having a Boat Name That Attracts the Wrong Attention
When you first get your boat, part of the fun is giving it a great name. I have compiled 101 pontoon boat names you can take some inspiration from if you are stuck for an idea.
But, there are good names to choose, and bad ones.
Choosing the wrong name can be something that you end up regretting. An embarrassing boat name will be something you don’t want to get stuck with, or even a name that attracts the wrong kind of attention.
I know a boat owner who called his boat The Salty Smuggler. He’s been approached by the US Coast Guard on three occasions over the last four years. He wishes he’d chosen something different now!
22. Failing to Winterize Properly
If you want your boat and engine to keep its value, not depreciate, and to be ready to go once the new season starts, then it’s essential that you winterize it properly before you place it in storage.
You will need to clean your boat thoroughly, lower and fog the engine, add fuel stabilizer, drain oil from the lower unit, remove the battery, and cover the boat.
23. Not Making it Pest Proof When in Storage
And a key part of the winterization process that you don’t want to miss out, is making your boat pest-proof. But it’s often not even considered during this process by so many boat owners.
Rats, mice, and other nasty critters love the warm and dark spaces that a covered pontoon boat can offer. And once they get inside, they will chew, nest, and foul the boat until it’s almost unrecognizable.
It’s not something you want to see when you pull your cover off when you next come to using your boat.
Handy Hint: I have put together a list of tasks and hacks you can complete to prevent mice, rats, and other critters getting into your pontoon when it’s in storage.
24. Trying to Charge a Dead Boat Battery
This is a mistake I have made in the past, and it happened after I had not used my boat for a couple of months. I took my boat to the lake, got to the ramp, and everything was completely dead.
Disappointed, I left for home, went to the local gas station and bought a battery charger. I left the battery to charge overnight, and in the morning, I still had no power. What was the problem?
Most chargers won’t charge a battery from dead. It has to sense current to start charging. To solve the problem, I connected a jumper pack as most already have a little current in them, then connected up the charger. It then tricks it into starting a charge.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a dead battery means you need to buy a new battery. It might just need a little bit of charge to get going again.
Handy Hint: If you do need a new battery for your pontoon boat, then read this guide to what the best ones are. There are three different types you can find on a pontoon, and that guide explains each one.
25. Not Securing the Boat & Trailer from Theft
Boat trailers are a huge draw for opportunistic thieves, with some even being stolen to order. Having your prized possession secured properly is essential in order to keep it from being taken, possibly never to be seen again.
If a criminal is really that determined, then no matter how well you secure it, they will find a way. But you can make their job as difficult as possible and put them off trying to take yours.
I have put together some security measures you can put in place to help prevent your boat and trailer from being stolen. Read those and complete every single task on that list and you will dramatically reduce the chances of yours being taken.
26. Forgetting to Renew the Insurance Policy
And finally, if you have made some really bad pontoon boat mistakes, then thankfully you should have insurance to cover all eventualities.
But don’t be that guy who forgets to renew your policy. Or even worse, an irresponsible boat owner who doesn’t even bother getting insurance in the first place.
If you are currently uninsured, then I don’t have much sympathy for you, and you shouldn’t even be pontooning. Here are some guides on how much you will have to pay for pontoon boat insurance.
Even the most responsible and experienced pontoon owner makes mistakes. I am still making them to this day! One thing I still struggle with is trailering, and you can read some advice here on getting your pontoon out of the water.
Some will be more expensive than others, and some might just be a little embarrassing.
By keeping focused, staying off the alcohol, and always having your eye on the ball, you should reduce the chances of making a mistake, and I hope these examples have given you some insight into what to look out for.
For more ideas on how to keep safe and free from errors on the water, go take a look at the Boat Responsibly guide that the US Coast Guard have published on their website.