How Many People Can Fit On A Pontoon Boat?

Pontoon boats are flat-decked crafts that float on two or three “tubes” that resemble a series of barrels linked together. In many ways, they are precisely that. In addition to their practical engineering, pontoon boats are relatively cost-effective affairs that can safely traverse shallow and calm waters. They can easily park right up against most types of shore banks and allow easy access to passengers.

Let us learn more about pontoon boats and determine how many people can safely travel on one.

What’s A Pontoon Boat?

A pontoon boat typically consists of a flat deck attached to two or three pontoons. Pontoons are long, buoyant “tubes” that create “buoyancy,” which is the very means by which boats float. Again, think about our barrel example — take four barrels, place them lengthwise in twos, and lay some planking across them while making sure to tie it all together and plug any holes in the barrels securely, and you have made a crude pontoon boat! An even simpler example is to connect two canoes with several wooden planks. Pontoon boats can even feature inflatable pontoons, making them easier to transport. In fact, a variety of sources power them.

Pros Of Pontoon Boats

  • Flat decks mean they make it incredibly easy for people to hop on and hop off. They can match the approximate height of a jetty.
  • No jetty? No worries! Because they displace a remarkably low amount of water, you can take them right up to the river or lake bank!
  • They are well-equipped for handling vegetation and are not easily obstructed. Note: propellers can still get hampered by underwater roots, as with any propeller boat.
  • They have a very stable platform in calm and mild waters, making pontoons ideal for birdwatching, photography, and fishing.
  • They have an incredibly low tendency to flip upside-down due to the long and low stance of the boat.

Cons Of Pontoon Boats

  • These vessels aren’t speed demons by any stretch of the imagination. Most pontoon boats are not designed to go fast.
  • You can get fast pontoon boats that can push 40 mph and above, but they tend to be smaller and narrower.
  • They cannot adapt easily to quick direction changes, so don’t expect them to turn like a V-hull speed boat.
  • They can be adversely affected if hit by waves, especially from the sides. Rough water can cause them to rock and lurch, making it uncomfortable for your passengers.
  • They can also be negatively impacted by sudden onboard weight distribution changes, like if your passengers suddenly crowd to one side or climb onto the roof or canopy.

How Do I Determine The Capacity Of A Pontoon Boat?

The stability and ease of access may tempt pontoon owners to pack more people on board. However, this is not ideal, as pontoon boats have their limits. 

So, how does one determine the maximum capacity? The easiest way is to look around the boat itself since manufacturers typically place a capacity plate that states the maximum payload and number of passengers. 

The U.S. Coast Guard has a recommended formula for calculating the maximum safe passenger capacity. It is based on the average U.S. person’s weight if the boat does not have a capacity plate or is illegible. 

The formula states:

  • Find out the length and width of the boat.
  • Multiply them together and divide by 15.
  • Round down to the nearest whole number.

For example, let us take a twenty-foot boat that is eight feet wide.

(20 x 8) / 15 = 10.6667 

In this example, we would round it down to ten average-sized people.

The maximum weight capacity of a pontoon boat is typically calculated as the ability of one pontoon to support the boat’s dead weight — the deck, fixtures, and motor equipment — and the dynamic weight of passengers, fuel, and cargo. Only one pontoon is measured because waves and movement aboard the boat can cause it to shift about, thus placing more weight on one pontoon than the other at any given moment. Ensuring that one pontoon can support the maximum potential weight of the boat builds in a substantial safety margin.

The “Twenty Percent” Rule

A simple way to ensure that you build a safety margin is to use the twenty percent rule, and there are two ways you can go about this. The first way is to subtract 20% from the capacity plate’s total listed weight capacity and use that as the maximum permissible weight. The second way is to calculate the total weight of your passengers and cargo and subsequently increase the total by 20%, using this total figure to determine if you exceed the listed capacity. Thus, you give yourself a 20% safety margin.

Summary

  • Pontoons are great slow-speed boats.
  • Like all boats, they have a maximum payload capacity that must be respected and diligently followed.
  • The capacity plate offers a great avenue to start. Otherwise, you can perform a simple calculation.
  • When doing these calculations, always include a safety margin — again, the 20% rule is a great baseline.
  • Keep a watchful eye on your passengers and ensure they do not crowd to one side of the boat or climb on top of the roof.