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Rough Waters [ Issues with Pontoons in Choppy Water ]

Pontoon boats are a great choice for recreational boating such as cruising, fishing, and enjoying group trips. However, these boats are meant to be used in in-land calm waters.

But what happens if the weather turns bad and you end up in rough or choppy water? In that case, you might ask yourself, can a pontoon boat handle rough water?

Yes, pontoon boats can handle rough or choppy waters since these boots are wide and have two hulls (sometimes three) that provide extra stability.

But just knowing this might not be enough for everyone. That’s why in this article, I will answer some questions regarding pontoon boats such as: are they safe on rough waters, and will these boats flip over in such conditions?

I will also explain the challenges this type of boat faces in such situations and share some tips that will help you to stay safe while pontooning in rough waters. 

Are Pontoon Boats Safe In Rough Water?

Usually, pontoon boats are considered safe in rough or choppy water in general. However, they are not typically recommended for use in the high seas.

Calm in-shore waterways are where pontoon boats perform the best. They can also handle slightly rough water better than other V-hulled recreational boats.

Pontoon boats are wide. And since they have two hulls (sometimes three), this type of boat is much more stable as opposed to a vessel with only one hull.

However, one downside of pontoon boats is that they can’t cut through the water as well as a V-hull boat. Pontoons are also shallow-draft vessels.

Due to this fact, these boats just “sit” on the water surface. As a result, they are not suitable to face larger waves.

To summarize, a pontoon boat can handle mild waves better than any regular boat. But it will struggle and take on water if it meets rougher water with larger waves. That’s why pontooning in rough seas is not typically recommended.

However, you can pontoon safely in intercoastal or protected off-shore areas like coves or bays where the sheltered surrounding keeps the water relatively calm.

The Challenges Of Running Pontoon Boats On Rough Waters

Choppy water can present significant challenges to a pontoon boat. And this is mainly because of how this type of boat is designed. Rough or choppy water is never the ideal operating condition for these boats.

When you go out pontooning in such conditions, you will only put your vessel and the onboard passengers at risk of an accident. 

The challenges of rough or choppy water for a pontoon boat include:

Unstable Movements

Most people think that pontoon boats are “unsinkable”. But given the right circumstances, everything can go underwater. These boats have shallow drafts because it’s bottom surface is flat. As a result, it can’t cut through waves like a V-hull boat.

So, if it is too windy out there and the waves are too large, it will be very difficult for you to keep the boat stable.

This significantly increases the chances of having people tossed overboard, which can cause life-threatening injury in the worst-case scenario.

Engine Overwork

Navigating in rough or choppy water is quite difficult for any regular boat. And this difficulty level increases exponentially if it happens to be a pontoon boat.

Your engine will have to work harder than usual to move around rough waters. That also means it will consume more fuel than usual.

In case you have only enough fuel on board for a round trip under normal conditions, moving through rough waters may cause your engine to burn up the entire fuel supply faster than you can return to dry land.

If that happens, you will be in a heap of trouble.

Boat Damage

As you already know, pontoon boats can’t cut through water that easily. And if you’re pontooning in rough waters, steering such a boat can be quite difficult.

As a result, you might not be able to avoid rocks or other obstacles in the way even if you’ve spotted them earlier.

In the worst-case scenario, you may smash the boat straight into a rock formation and cause serious damage not only to the boat but also to yourself and the passengers onboard.

Will A Pontoon Boat Be Capsized In Rough Water?

Yes, a pontoon boat will capsize in choppy water if the wind and waves are too strong for it to handle. But it would take some serious wind and waves to get this done, which is only possible on high seas.

Pontoon boats are believed to be almost unsinkable. However, given the right circumstances, even this type of boat will capsize. But that doesn’t mean doing that is pretty easy.

It will take some insanely strong waves and wind to get it done because pontoon boats have flat and wide floor areas. 

And because of such design, this type of boat appears to be just sitting on the water’s surface. And this gives pontoon boats extra stability.

Nonetheless, strong wind and waves can flip over this type of boat if they crash at a bad angle. Too strong waves can bury the nosecones under the water’s surface. As a result, the boat will take on water.

Another way a pontoon boat may flip over is due to poor weight distribution. Whenever you are pontooning, make sure the load on your boat is distributed evenly so that it can sit parallel to the water’s surface. 

Uneven weight distribution may cause a certain part of the boat to dip slightly deeper under the water. This will compromise the stability of the boat and may cause it to capsize when it is moving through rough waters.

Pontoon boats are known for their buoyancy and they are designed in such a way that they remain upright on the water even in harsh weather conditions.

It would take some seriously strong waves and wind it flip it over, which can only occur on the high seas. Not even a stormy lake might not have enough power to capsize your pontoon boat.

Tips For Pontooning Safely on Rough Water

By now, you might’ve already understood why it is best to avoid boating on a pontoon in rough or choppy waters. But the weather is something you can’t predict accurately.

Sometimes a situation can arise where you can’t avoid bad weather, even if you wanted to.

However, if you find yourself pontooning in such a situation, there are some ways you need to follow to stay safe in rough waters. These are –

Stay Connected

Before you go boating, always inform appropriate authorities such as your local coast guard that you are going out on the water.

You never know what will happen to you in the future, so it is better to inform them so that they can help you out in the event of an emergency.

If you encounter difficulties, don’t be afraid to use the radio to call for help. Even when you don’t need their assistance, at least make sure they know where you are and keep them updated in frequent intervals.

Consider Your Trim

Before hitting the waves, it is always a good idea to trim up your pontoon. This will lift the bow a little.

By elevating the bow slightly upwards, you can prevent your pontoon boat from taking on water from incoming waves.

Watch Your Load

Even weight distribution is crucial for a pontoon boat to remain stable even in bad weather.

When you are pontooning on rough waters, instruct the onboard passengers to position themselves evenly and distribute the heavy items across the deck so that the boat doesn’t tilt on one side.

Place heavier items on the back of your boat. This will elevate the nose cone and the bow of the boat a little, which will make it easy for the boat to ride the waves.

While you are cutting through rough water, don’t slow down the vessel. This will only increase the possibility of the nose cone going underwater.

Closely Monitor Your Fuel Level

Always check your fuel level before you head out onto the water. If you suspect bad weather ahead, make sure you have more than enough fuel for a round trip.

Because pontooning in rough water can cause your engine to burn up fuel at a higher rate.

If you sense that the weather condition is turning bad, head for dry land. Always prioritize safety above a few minutes of extra fun time. 

Keep An Eye Out For The Weather

Make sure to check the weather forecast each time before heading out for boating. If you see a storm is coming, immediately return to the shore for safety.

If you think that returning to dry land is impossible, consider anchoring where you are. And let your local coast guard or the marina authority know about your situation.

Even though you will be sitting in the storm, you will be relatively safe as you won’t drive your pontoon straight into waves.

Make Modifications For Rough Water Pontooning

If you go out pontooning on rough or choppy waters regularly, consider making a few modifications to your boat for improving its rough water performance. These modifications include:

  • Install power-assisted steering device
  • Add an engine with more horsepower
  • Consider attaching positive angle lifting strikes
  • Install barracuda nose cones
  • Consider under-skinning your pontoon


Pontoon boats are not meant to be used in rough waters. But some heavier and larger pontoons can handle the challenges of such conditions.

If you ask me, I will always advise avoiding rough or choppy waters for pontooning. However, if you find yourself in such a situation, make sure to follow the tips I’ve mentioned in this article to keep yourself and your boat safe.

Hopefully, through this article, you’ve found your answer to the question: can a pontoon boat handle rough water? Thanks for reading till the end. Stay safe. And have a nice day!