How to Drive A Pontoon Boat

Given that pontoon boats are readily available, affordable, and versatile, more and more people are investing this summer. When you consider everything the boat has to offer, it really is easy to understand why.

With these boats, you can virtually do anything applicable on the water. Fishing, tanning, skiing, or towing? It doesn’t matter what you are looking to accomplish, you won’t have a problem doing so with the pontoon boat.

Everything from water sports to elegant hosting is applicable with the pontoon. Of course, before you can jump in and start having fun, you’re going to have to learn to drive one.

While owning a pontoon boat can be a great source of joy and reward, it will be quite the task of learning to drive one. Taking any vessel on the open water means you have a responsibility or duty to be safe to those around you. And, the very best way to do this is by understanding the basics. That’s exactly what you are going to learn here.

How to Drive A Pontoon Boat (What To Know Before You Get Started)

How to Drive A Pontoon Boat

If you have chosen to learn how to drive a pontoon, you are in luck. This is not to say that the task will be easy, but this is to say that it will be easier than most tasks. Most experts will tell you that learning to drive a pontoon is much easier than learning to drive other vessels.

This is because of the control. It is much easier to control a pontoon. That being said, to learn to officially call yourself a driver, you’ll have to learn several different techniques. These skills are docking, steering, accelerating, and reversing.

Plus, don’t forget about your basic safety. That will perhaps be the most important takeaway. This guide will walk you through the simple steps and tips for driving a pontoon boat, so you can get out there fish, tan, relax, or cruise with friends.

Read Also: What are the pros and cons of pontoon boats?

Leaving The Dock

Before you get out there on the open water, you’re going to have to get out of your slip or dock. As simple as this might sound or seem, there can be several outside factors that play a major role. First will be the wind.

You’ll want to watch out for any wind gusts. Why? This is because these gusts can push your boat in unwanted directions.

You are barely going to be motoring along and just the slightest movement could push your boat where you don’t want it. You’ll always want to make sure you are timing your thrusts with the wind gusts.

When pulling out of the dock, apply short and sharp bursts of power while adjusting the drive as needed. You’ll keep repeating this unit you are out. If the wind is too strong, you might end up having to reverse to minimize the effects of the wind.

As you learned above, several factors affect how and when you pull out of the dock. You just learned about the wind. The next thing that you need to keep in mind is your passengers. In fact, this will be the first thing you want to monitor.

You want to make sure that all your passengers have their safety gear on. Life jackets specifically. It is possible that this might be required by law. If you let passengers on your boat without life jackets, you could be breaking the law.

Any individual 6 years or under will need to be fitted in a PFD (personal flotation device). It is your job as the captain to make sure your passengers are equipped with safety devices. Depending on your activity list, you might want to make sure helmets are included as well.

Learning To Properly Accelerate

You might think that things only get easier from pulling out of the dock. Sure, pulling out of the dock will likely be the hardest task, but that doesn’t mean that accelerating on the open water is all that much easier. When you are on the open water, you’ll have to learn how you can safely pick up speed.

The best way to do this is to approach the situation smoothly and slowly. Start steadily applying power while keeping an eye on the bow levels. You don’t want the bow to shoot way up in the air or dive down in the water.

When driving on the open water this isn’t something you’ll have to monitor all that closely. However, when navigating through rough and choppy terrain, you’ll have to monitor the bow with a vigilant eye.

In addition to all this, you’ll want to follow the guidelines with your engine regarding the RPMs. You’ll want to apply these with the local laws and regulations because the police monitor and enforce the boating laws just like they do on the road.

Handling And Control

The great thing about investing in a pontoon is, they handle much better. Especially with slow controlled movements.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you’ll be hanging tight in curves while cruising 30 or 40 miles an hour, but you have a problem making slow, calculated turns. They’ll be wider, but you’ll make them. Pontoon boats are designed not to flip thanks to the two-hull design, but this by no means that they aren’t capable of flipping.

It’s happened before and it’ll likely happen again. Always let your passenger know before taking big turns. This will prevent them from siding over the deck.

Docking And Relaxing

Perhaps, one of the most difficult tasks will be docking the boat. Unfortunately, this is not something you’ll learn or master right away. This is similar to that of parallel parking. It’ll take time, practice, and patience. The good thing about a pontoon boat is, you can do a little bumping without causing too much damage.

If you bump the hulls into the dock or other boats, it won’t be the same as bumping into a vehicle. That being said, this is a task you’ll want to approach slowly. Pontoon boats are excellent for shallow water, but you’ll still have to be careful when traveling in these conditions.

Start slow and make your way to shore. Trim the engine while approaching your destination, as this will help reduce the draft. While doing so, you’ll notice the motor starts gasping for air. When this takes place, you’ll want to back the trim down just a couple of inches.

When you are ready to dock, you’ll have to be cautious about the wind just as you were when pulling out. And this is for the same reasons.

You don’t want to end up in a position that you didn’t intend to be in. Leave the engine idling until you are fully docked. This will allow you to easily make any of the adjustments you need.

Tips For Motor Trim

Through this article, you’ve heard a lot of talk about motor trim, trimming the motor, or something similar. You read boat forums or talk to boating experts and you’ll hear even more about trim. What this means is adjusting the height of the motor and propeller.

When people refer to trim, they are referring to the angle at which the boat is making its way in the water. This can sometimes be used to compensate for heavy load on one side or it can be used while driving in choppy and rough waters. Trimming adjusts the nose of the boat.

Trim can also affect the type of fuel efficiency you achieve. The thing to keep in mind is that negative trim is used to help get the boat on the plane. The further you take the trim down, the higher the stern on the boat will rise.

The more you pull the propeller out of the water, the more the nose and stern will sink into the water. These are things you’ll want to keep in mind when learning to drive and trim your pontoon.

Despite all of this and what you’ve likely heard from other boaters, pontoon boats do not get on the plane. This means they do not skim over water surfaces like other boats. This simply means that pontoons don’t respond to trim as you would think.

The best way to approach this is by leaving the motor trimmed level so that the prop shaft is horizontal. This is best, as it will offer the most efficient power transfer.

In this position, the motor is not pushing down the bow, which increases drag. Along with this, it’s not wasting power by trying to list the nose of the boat out of the water. Keeping the motor in a level position is the way to go, as it’ll keep the prop in clean water.

Read Also: Which is better pontoon or deck boat?


As with anything learning to drive a pontoon successfully will take time and patience. Just because you get it the first time, it doesn’t mean you’ll get it the second time. Beginner’s luck can be real. Remember to be careful, be safe, make sure your passengers know everything going on, and use proper communication.

How to Drive a Pontoon Boat video.

Read Also: Why Do Pontoon Boats Sink?

Leave a Comment