Questions to Ask Yourself Before Searching for a Pontoon Boat
If you are looking for a new pontoon boat (like I am) right now, then unless you have a bunch of money to waste you are looking for the best pontoon for the money. In my mind finding the best pontoon boat that your money can buy comes down to a few questions.
1. What am I going to do with the pontoon?
2. How much money do I have to spend on it?
Let’s start with question #1 – What am I going to do with a pontoon? This doesn’t always help solve question #2 but at least it’s a start. Are you buying the pontoon to troll around a small pond and fish? Are you trying to take 12 of your best buddies on a wakeboard tour in the middle of the Lake of the Ozarks main channel every weekend? Figure out what is most important to you first before you go shopping around. A few others question to ponder would be:
1. Are you pulling the pontoon boat on a trailer or docking it?
2. Are you using it in freshwater or saltwater?
5. How many people do you need to hold?
6. How fast do you need to go or how far do you need to drive on a given day?
7. How big is the lake that your boat will be on?
After you have asked yourself the questions above, chances are you have said “I want my pontoon boat to be as big/powerful/fast/cool as possible!” That’s when the second question comes into play – how much money can you spend? We all want a plush 25′ double deck tritoon with 4 engines on the back and a stereo that you can hear across the lake, but at some point reality sets in and you have to strike that balance between what you “want” to have and what you “need” to have in a pontoon boat.
Pontoon boats have been one of the strongest segments in the boat market in the recent years. They are comfortable, versatile, and easy to operate; plus you can have so many add-ons to furnish your pontoon boat. They make you feel home whether you are treading in ponds, lakes, or coastal bays with small waves (preferably). Their boxy shape makes space for a huge deck in comparison to its contemporaries. Thus, it becomes difficult to buy a pontoon boat, when you have a limited budget and when you still want the best option.
After you have asked yourself “How much money can I spend” then we can start breaking down the best pontoon boat for the money into a few different price brackets and then decide accordingly.
Best Pontoon Boat for the Money – $15,000 or Less
If you are looking to buy a new pontoon then I kind of feel like $15,000 is the MINIMUM that you need to start at. Sure, there is an assortment of mini pontoon boats available (we feature one of the best ones in this category below) but if you want a legitimate full-sized pontoon boat then you should look at a couple of manufacturers who specialize in value priced pontoons: Sun Tracker and Lowe. Both companies sell a high volume of boats and create high quality boats.
Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16
In this category, Sun TRACKER Bass Buggy stands ahead of all its competitors in terms of “best pontoon boat for the money”. It is built specifically for fishing but you can still cruise around in it and do whatever you want in in. It has fishing rod holders and also a nine gallon live well which works just fine as a stowage compartment. This model also comes with a bimini top, two folding chairs, a forward console seat, interior courtesy lighting, an aft L-lounger, a single-axe trailer and a 20 or 50 horsepower Mercury outboard. The 16 DLX comes with a ten year warranty, which is way better than the boats which are twice as costly as the Sun Tracker Bass Buggy. If you are not into fishing Sun Tracker makes a very similar boat called the Party Barge that is made more for cruising – it is basically the same boat but with wrap around cushion seating at the front instead of captain’s chairs. This boat will run up a little more than $15,000 but it definitely adds value as it increases seating capacity if you need it. Sun Tracker is owned by White River Marine Group (Bass Pro Shops). They sell the largest volume of boats in the country so they use that volume to their advantage when setting a price on their pontoon boats and you can use it to your advantage when selecting the best pontoon boat for the money.
Lowe Ultra 162 Fish N Cruise
The Lowe Ultra 162 Fish N Cruise also makes the mark in this category and is equally good. Lowe Boats has a similar story to Sun Tracker – they have been around for 50 years now and they sell a lot of boats. One of their niches is providing a value package pontoon boat called the “Ultra” Series geared toward people just starting boating who is looking for a high quality pontoon boat at a great value. The Ultra is advertised as a value boat but looking at how many features they include and how comfortable the seating and layout looks it really feels like one of the best boats you can buy for the money in the $15,000 and under group.
Honorable Mention – Pond King Lil’ Cruiser
Pond King is the “king” (yeah I went there) of mini pontoon boats. They make a number of models of pontoon boats that are made to fish on small ponds. Their boats are American made and of high quality, so I would be doing my readers a disservice if I didn’t mention them. Their Pond King Lil Cruise is setup just like a full pontoon boat and the $15,000 and under category doesn’t offer a lot of choices from the “big” manufacturers so I wanted you to know that Pond King has some excellent boats for the money in this category including the Pond King Lil’ Cruiser. It’s got comfortable seats and a great layout and you are sure to enjoy yourself on the water with this boat.
Best Pontoon Boat for the Money – $25,000 or Less
If your budget is $25,000 then it really opens up the possibilities of pontoon boats. As you can see from our list below you can start stretching out the size of your boat to over 20′, and you can start hitting that 90 hp mark on the motor. There are not a large number of manufacturers out there who can get you in a nice decent sized pontoon boat at under $25,000 but that’s why you have me to point you in the right direction of the best pontoon boat for the money!
It is difficult to find an over 20 footer boat for under $25,000. But the Lowe SS210 RFL is just what you want to buy in this category. This boat has everything for a waterborne party destination: 15 person capacity, an L-shaped couch, Bluetooth stereo with speakers, bimini top, pedestal table and drink holders. You can still get a least a 60 hp engine with this model to keep a decent speed. I know I already featured a Lowe Boat above but I really feel like they are a great brand for the value. I don’t think that they have a ton of unnecessary features but I think that’s why they are a great value.
Princecraft Jazz 190
The Princecraft Jazz 190 is a great value for the money. We found this one for under $25,000 including a 60 hp motor. I am proud of being from Colorado but in this case it’s a bit of a bummer because I can’t find a dealer within 500 miles of me so maybe it will be beneficial if you live in the midwest, the south, or the east coast. Regardless, this is a great value for the money, and it seems like they are offering abundant seating on this boat and it looks pretty cool too! They offer a few standard options including a bimini and a built in table and from my perspective that’s really all you need for a sweet ride on the lake!
Lexington appears to me like they are a pretty new manufacturer in the, or if that is not correct then they must have had some sort of rebranding that took place around about 2015. Regardless it seems like they made a pretty solid boat. As you can see by their Lexington 320C model they offer some great furniture, abundant storage, a good Bluetooth connected stereo system, and you have the ability to upgrade accessories as you see fit. We are most excited about Lexington because you can afford this 19′ pontoon with a 90 hp motor for under $20,000. If that is not a great boat for the money then I don’t know what is!
Best Pontoon Boat for the Money – $35,000 or Less
If you have the ability to stretch your budget to $35,000 then you are NEARLY able to get a boat from every major manufacturer who makes a pontoon boat. Now there are some luxury lines out there that you will have to keep dreaming about but this article is really meant to focus on the best boats for the money, so even if you could afford some of those brands I still don’t think they are going to make this list! Here are some great models that give you a heck of a boat for your money at $35,000 and we were pleasantly surprised at what we could find.
Sylvan 820 Mirage Cruise
If you are an avid reader of this website (I know there are avid readers out there, right?) you will know that I have an affinity towards Sylvan pontoon boats ever since I saw them at the Denver Boat Show a couple of years ago. I am still a huge fan of the boats. One of the main reasons why I like them so much is because they look and feel like a higher end boat, such as a Bennington, but their price point is a little easier on the pocket books! The Sylvan 820 Cruise is a great example of this. The “Cruise” Series from Sylvan I believe is their “value” series but when you look at all of the standard features that come with them such as plush furniture, bimini top, stereo, rear ladder, and cool color scheme, then it starts to feel like their “value” series is on part with other manufacturers’ high end series.
Landau 212 Island Breeze
Landau’s pontoon boats are another manufacturer that I got to check out in person at the Denver Boat Show a couple of years ago and I was super impressed with how comfortable their boats felt. It seems like the Landau 212 Island Breeze is a floating patio party on the lake, especially if you choose their sport rear lounge (pictured) option. It is a pretty standard 20′ x 8.5′ boat but look at all of the seating that is offered! The Landau Island Breeze is a great option if you like to have your friends out on the water for a nice sunset cruise or similar because it is the perfect cruising boat. There is a “rear fish” option as well with a built in cleaning table (I would probably use as a nice bar) and the Island Breeze comes with great standard features such as a bimini top, ladder, rear storage compartment, speaker system that are bluetooth ready, and heavy duty pontoons.
Starcraft LX 18
The Starcraft LX 18 R (or F) is yet another boat that I would like parked on our dock right now. You can’t quite get the size of boat for the money as you can with the Sylvan or Landau but I wanted to introduce you to the Starcraft pontoon boats at this price point becuase $35,000 is right about when you can start to afford a Starcraft with a decent motor on it. What I like about Starcraft is they are one of the longest running family owned manufacturers of boats. They started in steel rowboats in 1903 and kept going in the 60’s by pioneering the fiberglass boats, but have been making pontoon boats for decades and you don’t last this long unless you are doing something right!
Best Pontoon Boat for the Money – $50,000 or Less
Bennington 22GL is one of the best options in this category. It has a 140 horse power Suzuki four-stroke, and a strong sport performance system which also includes an under deck wave shield, lifting strakes, full length keels and a third centre tube. It offers several options in luxury, like pillow top upholstery, a privacy enclosure, for use with a portable MSD, four step ladder and a bimini top.
Honorable Mentions in this Category:
Harris Solstice 230
In my mind Harris Soltstice pontoon boats are considered to be a “luxury” series so when you are able to find yourself being able to afford a Harris Solstice 230 it’s worth going to take a look for sure! Their standard finishes are all incredible from their luxury seating down to their teak “styled” flooring and you start to see the nice tower in lieu of the bimini top. These bad boys are built for speed as they can get up to 300 hp with a tritoon or 200 hp with a standard pontoon. You will definitely be noticed on the lake driving one of these around!
Manitou 23 SES
The Manitou 23 SES is one of the most popular boats at a boat show when a dealer brings one of these in. What other boat looks like a Miami night club on the water? Seriously between the built in high bar and the rear lounger this is one awesome boat to take to party cove or to bring the party with you wherever you go. If I am seeing one of these floating in a cove I am tying up! The Manitou 23 SES is built so it handles like anything other than a pontoon boat with huge center pontoon. When they don’t let you start with any engines under 115 HP you know that this is a boat built for speed and great handling. The bar top is not mandatory you can get a more tradional layout to cruise with your friends in comfort but I highly recommend the convertible bench because when you are coving you can’t beat being able to switch the bench around to be able to hang with your friends in the water.
Best Pontoon Boat for the Money – $100,000 or Less
Marker One M25
The boat that sets itself apart from the crowd is Marker One M25. The decks are entirely fiberglass. It is the only builder to combine a moulded fiberglass topsides with pontoon hulls. It does not have any creaks, groans, or rattles.
Harris Crown DL 250
When you are looking at boats in this price range the pontoon boats just start to look really awesome. The Pontoon Arches are just awesome and the styling that you start to see on the rails instead of the standard 1 1/4″ tube steel is just super cool. The Harris Crown DL 250 is the epitome of this type of boat and is like the equivalent of having a classic Cadillac on the water for all to appreciate. The interior and the performance of the boat match the cool exterior styling and Harris is certainly a boat manufacturer to check out if you want to be able to cruise in style.
Aqua Patio 250 XP
When you start approaching $100,000 budget then you begin to approach the “big boy” pontoons. The Aqua Patio 250 (by Godfrey) is an absolute beast – it comes in at 25′ long but it doesn’t feel like a big boat when you are on the water because you can get anywhere from 100 hp to 400 hp on it and it steers like a champ. The difference between the Aqua Patio 250 and other standard sized boat is when you have a bunch of people on this one they can actually pick their own lounger to lay down on because it is so roomy. This model comes with a white tower standard now and plush finishes throughout so you know that you are in a great boat the minute you sit down.
What is Your Best Pontoon Boat for the Money?
This comes to the end of the Best Pontoon Boats for the Money article. I am exhausted, but I hope that my efforts can help you to get started in the right direction. If I have learned anything while doing my research it is that it’s very hard to pick a “winner” in each category, but it is even harder to have to leave some manufacturers out. There are SO MANY potential pontoon boats to choose from. We love our pontoon boats and it seems like every major and mid-sized boat manufacturer has decided to throw their hat in the ring.
If I have any advice for you if you are just getting started it would be to try and get to a local boat show when they come around. Nationally, there are so many choices so one great way to narrow it down is to see what dealers are in your part of the country and what are they offering? There is no good reason to pick a pontoon boat that doesn’t have a local dealer because, similar to cars, at some point you are going to need something for your pontoon boat whether it needs serviced or you really want a nice OEM quality diving board, and getting a “brand” that you like is no substitute for finding a marine dealer in your area who can help meet your needs as they change and grow. Getting to a boat show will allow you to compare different manufacturers and models without driving all over your state (or tri-state if you live in the “country”) to visit each dealer individually. In addition, it is such a pain to try and get transparent pricing unless you go in person so the best way to get it up front is to get to a boat show!
I have no doubt that I completely left a manufacturer off this list that should have made it on the list. By all means please Contact Us or write a comment below with a suggested pontoon boat and I will check it out! Better yet invite me on a ride so I can experience it first hand!