Pontificating On PontoonsBy Michael Vatalaro
Published: August/September 2013
Whether pontoon or deck, powered by engines big or small, lake boats excel at entertaining your guests, and lots of them at that. Maybe it's time you toon'd in?
Back in 2009, when the boating industry sank into recession, there was one bright spot on the horizon — pontoon boat sales. While they had dropped off steeply with the rest of the industry, pontoon boat sales rapidly mounted a comeback, posting four straight years of gains while the rest of the industry remained basically flat. Up 20 percent last year alone, pontoon-boat sales have rebounded to 2008 levels and could soon reach peaks not seen since 2005.
Several driving factors are at work here. First, pontoon boats' inherent accessibility — both physically and price-wise — appeals to an aging boating population as well as value-conscious consumers. Their versatility — you can fish, ski, or entertain on one — make them easier to justify than a single- or dual-purpose boat. And then there's the cool factor. That's right, I said cool. While fiberglass boatbuilders face significant upfront costs when designing a new model in the forms of hull molds, deck molds, and tooling, the hull and deck of a pontoon boat doesn't change much. That leaves pontoon boat builders free to experiment on the topsides. And they've gone wild. The new Crowne model from Harris Flotebote won a 2013 Innovation Award from the National Marine Manufacturers Association for its striking appearance and high-end appointments. Features usually thought of as being found on larger yachts, such as wet bars, radar arches, and aft facing lounges, are now common on high-end pontoon and deck boats.
Modern pontoons have also leaped forward in the performance department. With the addition of a third "toon," between, and lower in the water than the outer pontoons, builders are making sport versions, running outboards up to 300-hp on the stern. Now, it's not only easy to ski or wakeboard behind a pontoon, you can look good doing it.
Harris FloteBote Crowne 250
The flagship of the Flotebote line, the new Crowne 250 simply doesn't look like any other pontoon boat you've seen before. A forward raked radar arch echoes the scimitar-curve of the side panels. Inside, soft lighting peaks out from under the raised counter of the wet bar, and surrounds speakers and cupholders, spilling onto faux-teak decking, or woven seagrass floor coverings. Aft-facing lounges overlook the swim platform just past a stainless-steel gate and rail. The sophistication of the Crowne 250 belies the pontoon boat's humble origins.
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