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.
Harris Cruiser LX
Costing a little more than the $15,000 margin, you can have fun in the Sun and live your best life on the water with Cruiser LX. Yes it comes at an affordable price and it is compact too, but yet comes loaded with all the features you may need to spend your day on the lake. You can cruise the water, relish nature or fish like a pro. There is a standard Bimini top. You get standard vinyl flooring. The small pontoon boat will let you store all of your gear under the helm or loungers so you have the space to move about the deck. There are the gates at the port, bow, and stern. They offer great handling capability in the small water spaces. There are both the Cruiser LX Cruise and Cruiser LX Fish models available so that you can pick the one that best suits your need. Both models are available in the pontoon lengths: 16, 18 and 20 feet with a beam width of 8 feet. You can carry a maximum of 8 to 11passengers for your pontoon adventures. The maximum engine horsepower that the models can have is 115 HP. The prices start at $15,541. You also get the option to upgrade to the saltwater package.
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!
Manitou Aurora LE
The Manitou Aurora LE comes with a standard floorplan and is available in thelengths: 18′ to 25′ with a beam width of 8 feet. You can add the Bimini top. With the standard floorplan, you get a spacious rear sundeck. There is also plenty of additional bench seating. They have the Fusion RA60 Bluetooth stereo and 4 standard speakers. You get the vinyl flooring. Privacy station is included. Ski Tow Bar can be added. It can have up to a maximum of 13 persons on board. The maximum engine horsepower supported is 200 HP. Prices start at $21,200.With the Aurora LE Rear Facing floor plan, seating is maximized by putting benches both in the front and back of the boat. Prices start at $22,800. You have the option to have the saltwater package. Also with the Limited and Premium upgrade packages, you can have the best of the best pontoon boat experience out there in the waters.
Bennington S Line
With starting price of around $25,596, the Bennington S Line will make your life better on the water.Benningtonpontoon boats is where quality, performance and safety is given due importance. Handcrafted with quality, they are available in 45 different floor plans ranging from 16 to 25 feet lengths with up to a maximum of 15 person capacity with 8 feet narrow beam width. They have the easy trailerable 8 feet narrow beam width. They have a box welded construction with beauty in every detail. The Aluminum side panels are of full height and premium grade. They offer great rigidity and strength. The S Line has the best in house seats made from Simtex soft touch vinyl of yacht grade. You get the Kicker Stereo System with Bennington Deluxe Flush Mount Speakers. There is the bamboo vinyl flooring. You can have three furniture layouts: Quad Bench, L Bench and Fishing. The Quad Bench configuration is the most popular one which maximizes not seating capacity and lounge space but also storage. With many of the available floor plans you can have sleek Fastback stern with speakers so as to extend your entertainment space. The L Bench is the most popular option. It offers flexible seating with wised options of under storage and easy boat access. The fishing layout offers floorplans for both occasional fishing enthusiasts and full time fisherman. You can have ski tow bar, bass seats, livewells and rod holders to options that fit your specific needs. The 25 feet length models can have up to 150HP maximum engine horsepower.
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!
Godfrey Sweetwater Cruise
You can sit back and enjoy with the Cruise models from Godfrey. Offering excellent cruising performance and optimal seating for the whole family, they have the conversation friendly, comfortable and spacious stern seating with bow. This can be the perfect place to hang out with your friends and family. You can connect with water with the sturdy stern mounted ladder, made from stainless steel and rugged in design and beautiful in finish. The Sweetwater Cruise comes with 19 to 24 foot length models with 8′ 6″ beam width. Depending on the lengths, they can have about 10 to 17 people on board. There is room for people as well as immense storage options in the form of helm cubbies, under the seat storage as well as in floor storage options. With the optional rectangular stern mounted table provides more room for drinks, snacks with your friends, ensuring that there is room for everyone. With the performance packages, you can take the experience to the next possible level and even have a tritoon performance. The maximum engine horsepower is 150 to 300 HP and is model specific. Prices start at $29, 805. You can have the saltwater packages. There are a lot in terms of options being offered by Godfrey.
Avalon GS offers pontoon boats with quality and luxury at a competitive price of over $30,000. You can cruise in the lake in style with the impeccable construction and modern design along with the exciting features on your pontoon boat. You can have a floor plan as per your choice. Whether it is cruising or fishing, you need not worry.
The GS Cruise floor plans feature aft corner seating area and in addition they also have a port and starboard bow. The aft portion also features two sundecks having storage compartments. This is used to house the privacy station. The GS Cruise is available in 21, 23 and 25 feet length models with 8.5 feet width. The GS Cruise II features both a port and starboard bow bench in addition to the aft seating area. The port side comes with an extended seating without a port side gate. The aft portion comes with two split sundecks. It is available in 19 and 21 feet length models with 8.5 feet width. The prices for the Cruise models start at $33,540.
For those having fishing as the first choice and cruising as the second preference, the GS Quad Fish is the best choice. These floor plans include four fishing chairs in the bow and aft areas of the boat from where you can cast the reel. The GS Quad Fish is available in 19, 21 and 23 feet length models with 8.5 feet width. Now if cruising is your prime aim but you are into occasional fishing, then GS Rear Fish will provide you with a fishing equipped space. It features two fishing chairs in the aft area of the pontoon boat. Also, there is a rear corner seating area at the mid portion of the boat. The GS Rear Fish is available in 21, 23 and 25 feet length models with 8.5 feet width. Prices for the fishing models start at $31, 400.
With the GS Quad Lounger floor plans you get port and starboard benches in the bow and aft portions. There is also the port side chair in addition to the captain’s chair. They are available in 23 and 25 feet lengths with 8.5 feet width.
The models can have a passenger capacity of 8 to 13. The maximum engine horsepower of 135 HP is possible for the 25 feet length models.
Manitou Oasis comes with signature quality in construction. They offer a good number of standard features. With innovative seating you can be less troubled about the seating options for your co passengers. You can play some good music with Bluetooth stereo and standard speakers and make great memories on the water. Kids can also have fun tubing and wakeboarding. The Manitou Oasis comes with flexible stern seating feature which can easily adapt from a port and starboard side chaise to four high backed loungers. You can install the removable dinette table and get ready for your shore lunch. The integrated cupholders will blend seamlessly with the layout of the Manitou floorplans and hence you can host all your friends who will have a secure place for holding up their drinks. The floor plan also includes dedicated storage compartments for all your utility items. At the front, you can have all our important items. The Ski Tow Mirror can be your best watersports companion. Privacy station is available in most floorplans. With the Limited Packages, you can raise the bar further. You can upgrade your Manitou Oasis with the Limited Package. With this package, you can have additional storage, upgraded steering wheel, two tone wall accents, tempered glass windshield, woven flooring interior and LED Fusion speaker light accents which will leave a lasting impression. Premium Package in addition adds upgraded high back seating for the helm and co-captain chairs, upgraded Garmin display, LED lighting accents throughout the boat and more.
The Oasis Rear Facing Floorplan is available in 21 to 25 feet lengths and prices start at $31,906. The Oasis Stern Lounger will cost around $36,725. It is available in 23 to 25 feet lengths. With Split Rear, you get similar length options at around $36,219. The RF Bar Floor plan will cost around $ 33,388 and comes with 23 to 25 feet length options. The beam width is about 8.5 feet. With a maximum of 14 person capacity, the model specific maximum engine horsepower is 400 HP.
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.
Manitou LX Sports Pontoon
With prices starting at $66,400, the Manitou LX is a good choice for those pontoon boat lovers looking for luxury and sports. With bold colors inside and out, it provide accommodations for a fun filled crew. They offer abundant features like a sport tower, ski tow bar, etc. With the upgraded sound system, you can party harder by hanging with this blinged out wake sports boat. You can leave the no wake zone behind. With the V-Toon technology, the hulls plane quickly and corner with the swiftness of a fiberglass sport boat, offering excellent performance in watersports. The grand news is that Manitou LX is rated for up to 900 HP on the dual engine models! Going hand in hand with the digital revolution, you get digital vessel control with a remote key fob and smartphone. Garmin 7″ GPSMAP digital displays is bright and sunlight readable and offers sonar support. You can upgrade your experience with the power sports tower which includes power controls, tow pylon, Bimini top and optional JL LED speakers. With the Manitou Limited Packages, you can have additional storage options in terms of a large center in tube compartment, LED lighting accents and woven flooring interior. With the Premium package, you also get the bold style and design with color matched fiberglass. They are available in 8 different floorplans with 23, 25 and 27 feet lengths and up to 16 person capacity.
Best Pontoon Boat for the Money – Double Decker
Avalon Double Decker Pontoon Boats
You cannot skip double deckers from the list as they offer double the fun! With good passenger capacities, they can be great if you are willing to spend some extra bucks. Double Decker pontoon boats from Avalon are spacious enough to include all your friends and family. You can cruise and enjoy the shade from the lower deck.
The Catalina Funship from Avalon comes with spacious upper deck and a water slide. They have the standard cruise interior. Prices start at $ 62,310. It comes with a 25 feet floor plan and 8.5 feet width. They can have a maximum of 12 people on board. The maximum engine horsepower is 150 HP.
The Catalina Platinum Cruise Funship comes with a waterslide and queen size upper deck lounge area which includes towel storage and radio control. Available in 25 and 27 feet lengths, rear entry ladder is available. The width is of 8.5 feet and can have 14 and 17 person capacity. The maximum engine horsepower is 250 HP. Catalina Platinum Entertainer Funship also includes a bistro bar table with booth seating, two bow benches and a rear sundeck. It also comes with 25 and 27 feet length models with a width of 8.5 feet and 14 /17 passenger capacities. They also have a maximum engine horsepower of 250 HP. Prices start at $91,120.
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!