Last Updated on April 26, 2021 by Bill Lewandowski
“Hi Bill, can you take a pontoon boat in saltwater? If so, is it safe, and what measures should I take to protect the boat?”
The question above was asked recently of me at a boat show I was attending by a guy who was considering buying a pontoon boat, but lived in a saltwater area.
The quick and simple answer to the question, is yes, you can use a pontoon boat in saltwater, but there are some important considerations you need to take in terms of how you use the boat, and how you treat it, and your own safe operation of the vessel.
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- Where Can You Use a Saltwater Pontoon Boat?
- What is the Best Saltwater Pontoon Boat Manufacturer?
- 1. Check Over Construction Quality & Boat Length
- 2. Check the Manufacturer’s Warranty Includes Saltwater Usage
- 3. Choose Vinyl Over Carpet Flooring
- 4. Don’t Take the Boat into Unsuitable Saltwater Environments
- 5. Learn How to Handle Your Boat in Saltwater
- 6. Use Anti-Fouling Aluminum Paint on the Tubes
- 7. Install Zinc Anodes to Protect Against Electrolysis & Corrosion
- 8. Protect Yourself and Passengers Against the Sun
- 9. Fit a Saltwater Trolling Motor and Mount
- What Should You Do After a Saltwater Trip?
- The Best Saltwater Pontoon Boat Manufacturers
- Conclusion on Saltwater Pontoon Boating
Where Can You Use a Saltwater Pontoon Boat?
Firstly, pontoon boats are not designed to be used in open and rough ocean waters. It can be very dangerous, and I’ve highlighted the potential issues elsewhere on Pontoonopedia.
But you can still use them in the ocean and saltwater but need to handle the boat a lot differently. If you do decide to use a pontoon boat in saltwater, then keep it confined to inlets and bays, or very close to the shore if on the ocean or gulf.
What is the Best Saltwater Pontoon Boat Manufacturer?
Salt deposits can damage any type of boat, but the aluminum tubes on a pontoon boat are even more susceptible to corrosion, which is why there are certain maintenance tasks you will need to follow as well as little design tweaks that I will come on to later in this guide.
But you can buy saltwater pontoon boats that have design features making them perform better in a saltwater environment.
Saltwater pontoon boats are designed to be more saltwater friendly than your average pontoon and include features such as:
- Aluminum / zinc and fiberglass base that won’t react to saltwater
- Zinc anodes to prevent electrolysis
- Anti-fouling paint on the bottom of the pontoons
- Bolted down decks (not screwed)
- More powerful engines
- Larger boat lengths of at least 25 feet
- Tubes are fully welded to the deck rather than every 12 inches
- Vinyl flooring instead of carpeting
In terms of the manufacturers that actually sell saltwater pontoon boats, then for me, the Bennington brand probably lead the rest. Other brands to consider would be A&M, Cypress Cay, Berkshire, Fiesta Marine, and Beach Cat. I would definitely go take a look at Fiesta Boats and BeachCat. They are a very small pontoon boat manufacturer, but 100% specialize in saltwater-friendly models. You can see video of their boats in action below.
Are There Any Maintenance Tips for Using Pontoon Boats in Saltwater?
No matter what boat you take into a saltwater environment, the salinity is going to have an effect on it. The salt can be very corrosive, especially if you leave your boat un-checked after taking it onto the water.
If you are considering using a pontoon boat on saltwater, which is absolutely fine to do so, here are my maintenance, preparation, and usage tips that you should always adopt.
1. Check Over Construction Quality & Boat Length
Before you buy a pontoon boat to use on saltwater, do your own due diligence to check that it is built for purpose (and you can see some recommended manufacturers mentioned in the last section).
As I have already referenced, the boat deck should be bolted on, not screwed. Screws can corrode, and the screw points are particularly susceptible to damage.
Plus, it’s important that the tubes are welded along the entire length to the frame, rather than having weld points every foot or so. The reason being, you can experience swells and stronger waves on open water, so you are going to need this level of strength.
And finally, I don’t recommend you use any pontoon boat shorter than 25 feet in length. If on the ocean you are going to experience choppy waters so it’s imperative that you have a boat that can handle rough water.
2. Check the Manufacturer’s Warranty Includes Saltwater Usage
Fiesta Boats who I referenced earlier come with 10-year warranties, and explicitly state that their boats are designed to be used in saltwater.
However, other pontoon boat manufacturers can have clauses in their warranties that include terms that can invalidate your guarantee if the boat has been used in this type of saline environment.
A typical term of reference you might find in a guarantee might include the line saying that your warranty is invalid if the boat suffers “damage caused by or related to environmental conditions” – and yes, that’s probably referring to saltwater.
Other things to look for are any references that talk about using paint on the tubes or logs. I will come onto anti-fouling paint shortly.
3. Choose Vinyl Over Carpet Flooring
I have spoken at length about the vinyl versus carpet debate, and it’s even more important for saltwater usage.
We asked 33 pontoon boat owners what’s best in February of 2018.
Saltwater will kill fabric over time and will stay saturated into the carpet, so using vinyl flooring is a much better approach. It also makes the whole cleaning and maintenance process a lot easier, where you’re boating in freshwater or a saltwater area.
Another less commonly known factor to look out for is when you have carpet laid over PT (pressure-treated) wood. There are chemical in PT wood that over time will start to come up into the carpet and corrode your aluminum. Instead, stick with glyde sticks on plain lumber wood for your bunks.
4. Don’t Take the Boat into Unsuitable Saltwater Environments
Whilst pontoon boats can be used in the ocean, I don’t recommend you taking them too far from shore and stay close to the water’s edge.
Rough and choppy water is definitely a no-no.
Before you set off, check the marine weather forecasts for any signs of strong winds, rain, storms, and dangerous conditions that could put you and your passengers at risk.
5. Learn How to Handle Your Boat in Saltwater
By nature, saltwater is going to have larger waves than a freshwater lake or river. When you have higher waves to contend with, your boat’s tubes can bury themselves nose-first into the water.
This can lead to waves crashing onto the deck, creating dangerous conditions for you and your passengers. Panels can be damaged, people can get knocked off their feet, and in more extreme circumstances, a capsize is even possible.
If you aren’t experienced enough to handle these conditions, don’t even consider taking your pontoon boat out into choppy water.
It’s far better to use the boat in a protected saltwater area such as a bay, inlet, or mangrove swamp where waves won’t be such an issue.
6. Use Anti-Fouling Aluminum Paint on the Tubes
Many dealers will charge you extra for them to apply anti-fouling paint to your submerged pontoon bottoms. This will help to protect and against salt and saline corrosion, but it will cost extra.
This will create a much-needed barrier between your tubes and bunks, helping to protect the boat and keep it maintained for longer.
If do you want to do this yourself, firstly check that you aren’t going to be invalidating your boat’s warranty.
A great anti-fouling paint that I recommend for using on pontoon tubes is the Krypton Bottom Paint on Amazon. You brush it on yourself, and will need to apply a couple of coats, and periodically repeat the process every 12 months.
7. Install Zinc Anodes to Protect Against Electrolysis & Corrosion
Electrolysis is the process that occurs every time an electric current passes through water as well as when two dissimilar metals are exposed to the wet. Electric currents are always found on pontoon boats, and electrolysis will lead to ugly coloration and pocks of corrosion chewing away at the metals.
Aluminum itself isn’t massively reactive to saltwater and will corrode very slowly but it’s the stainless steel and copper electrical wiring where you will experience the worst damage. Saltwater is a great conductor for galvanic corrosion but it can be minimized by isolating connections between as many metals as possible.
The manufacturers of pontoons do this very well, but to help prevent and slow the resulting corrosion you can install zinc anodes on your pontoon.
Again, this is something that your dealer can do, or if you do feel it’s a job you are up to yourself, then there’s no reason why you can’t do it as it’s relatively simple.
The Martyr Zinc Alloy Anodes on Amazon work very well. They provide a cost-effective way of protecting your boat against saltwater corrosion and come with full installation instructions.
8. Protect Yourself and Passengers Against the Sun
Most saltwater environments also tend to be extremely sunny and hot, and whilst not a maintenance tip for your boat, I would recommend that you invest in a canvas Bimini to offer your passengers protection.
Unlike river or lake outings, you aren’t going to be able to anchor up into a shady spot, so make sure you have a Bimini and keep plenty of drinking water on board. Don’t forget the sunblock, sun glasses, and hats either!
Handy Hint: I have put together a list of essential safety equipment for a pontoon boat.
9. Fit a Saltwater Trolling Motor and Mount
If you love fishing on your pontoon, then it’s essential that you use a specialist saltwater trolling motor. They are manufactured from stronger metals that will stand up to corrosion and saline damage a lot better than their freshwater cousins.
Something like the Newport Vessels 8 Speed on Amazon is an excellent choice. It’s uses stronger metals and far tighter seals to protect the electrics far better than a standard trolling motor would do.
In terms of a mount, look for something that comes with stainless steel brackets, zinc anodes, sealed electrical components, and treated with powder coat paint.
After use, rinse and clean it thoroughly with freshwater, just like I recommend you do with the rest of your boat.
What Should You Do After a Saltwater Trip?
After a day out on the water, you should completely wash and rinse down your boat to get rid of any saline and salt deposits. Here are some very short tips on how to clean up your pontoon after a saltwater journey:
- Wash down with freshwater then rinse with a high-powered hose
- Flush any saltwater out from between the bunks
- Let your boat dry out completely
- Once dry, cover it to keep saltwater off the boat
- Flush the motor on a regular basis
If you do cover the boat when it’s still wet, you might experience mildew developing. Many saltwater areas also tend to be hot, and if the sun beats down on that cover whilst there is still damp underneath you are going to get a nasty surprise when you next take it out.
If you can see any dents, scrapes, chips, or scratches on your boat then repair them immediately. If metal starts to show, that’s where the corrosion will start to appear.
I also recommend that you have annual electrical inspections, as this will also help to protect your boat, as well as the warranty that it came with.
The Best Saltwater Pontoon Boat Manufacturers
Earlier I mentioned the best manufacturers of saltwater pontoon boats. Here’s that list in full, with links to their websites so you can go check them all out for yourself:
- A&M Manufacturing
- Beachcat Saltwater Pontoon Boats
- Bennington Marine
- Berkshire Pontoons
- Cypress Cay Pontoons
- Fiesta Saltwater Boats
Conclusion on Saltwater Pontoon Boating
It does take a little bit more effort, but if you can ensure that you are prepared, you have maintained your boat properly, and are confident in saltwater, then there is no reason why you can’t use your pontoon in this type of environment.
Using your pontoon boat in saltwater will give you a completely different perspective; the scenery is massively different, the way the boat behaves is different, and you will also have new challenges and rewards to take advantage of.
If you are currently in the decision-making process of figuring out which boat is best for you, then I advise that you attend a few boat shows, talk to manufacturers, and also have a read through my buyer’s guide to you know what type of questions you should be asking before you open your wallet.