It’s no secret that pontoon boats have evolved from Grandpa’s party barge to arguably the best-selling segment of the boating market. Modern ‘toons are cool. Many boast speedboat-like performance and handling. Others are versatile enough to satisfy the watersports crowd. Of course, all remain the ultimate sunset cruisers, with stability and seating aplenty.
Still, some manufacturers can find a way to take ‘toonage to the next level. Think an angler-worthy center console, an electric cruiser, and even a model that can kick up surfing waves.
Here are 7 terrific pontoons that will chart their own course.
Manitou Explore 26 Max Switchback
At first glance, Manitou’s Explore 26 seems to be missing something—namely, its engine. Fear not, it’s just in stealth mode. Rotax’s new outboard mounts the powerhead horizontally, keeping the profile low enough to completely hide below an oversized swim platform. Benefits? That four extra feet of platform space is obvious. There are also safety benefits to having the engine tucked out of reach, clean sight lines for the captain, and the advantages for watersports when a towline doesn’t have to navigate an outboard positioned in the middle of the action. That stealthy outboard isn’t the only thing that is cutting edge. A new design uses an aluminum transformation process typically seen in luxury automobiles to give the exterior a thoroughly modern aesthetic with exceptional fit and finish. Starting at $72,480.
Angler Qwest 8526 Pro Fish N Cruise
This 26-footer is the classic craft of choice for serious anglers, at least for the pontoon world. The center-console design provides 360-degree access to the perimeter. Overhead, a T-top provides welcome shade. And fishing amenities are everywhere, from the fiberglass leaning post that incorporates a tackle station to livewells/baitwells fore and aft, and there is even a trolling motor plug forward. And of course, plenty of fishing seats and rod holders in all the right places. So, what’s so special? Rather than a fiberglass V-hull, the Pro Fish N Cruise is a pontoon. That means it’s spacious, stable and, with a triple-pontoon hull, capable of venturing into bigger waters and fast speeds. And yet, it still does cocktail hour as only a pontoon can. Starting at $63,955.
Aficionados of this paradigm-shifting pontoon brand will love the new flagship. The composite Reserve is powered by either a 350-hp or 400-hp Mercury outboard (color-matched to the hull), but positioned way back on the rear platform, leaving good room for getting on and off the boat. The Reserve has unusual features like four cameras at each corner for the helmsperson to monitor surrounding space in tight docking situations, or keep tabs on the kids when they’re skiing or tubing. Multiple seating configurations define the boat, but the coolest feature is a a hardtop that lifts and drops, with an opening center hatch. The boat also has a Harman-Kardon sound system, a rare, upscale feature on a pontoon. Starting at $287,595.
Ingenity calls the innovation award-winning 23E a luxurious, electric-powered day boat. We’ll call it a pontoon-style hybrid with a clever, “skateboard”-style construction method. A cathedral-style hull made from lightweight aluminum contains the battery pack, motor, chargers, converters and battery management system to serve as the self-sufficient skateboard. The separate topside component can then be customized for luxury or utility. The first model’s fiberglass hulls are sculpted sleek, with a walk-through windshield between dual consoles and stylish sport-arch overhead. Its quiet electric motor is powered by a 63-kWh battery that can push the boat past 33 mph, cruise for two hours at 20 mph, or go nearly all day long at displacement speed. Starting at $249,000.
Bennington XS 26LXSBA
Bennington’s new LX Sport line upped the builder’s focus on attention to detail, with embroidered seats and winged logos. But beyond the luxury touches, the boat has features like docking lights, stainless-steel popup cleats, and a raised helm seat to provide better sight lines when towing people behind the boat. The floor plans include quad benches in the front and a swingback sunpad at the rear with tilting cushion that allows fore- and aft-facing seating configurations. The boat has multiple options from colors, upholstery and tables to premium sound systems by Rockford-Fosgate. The 26-foot 26LXSBA model has two different styles of arches as well as outboard choices from Yamaha, Mercury and Honda, with horsepower ratings up to 150. Starting at $94,049.
Sea-Doo Switch Compact
Think of Sea-Doo’s Switch Compact as the lovechild of a pontoon and a personal watercraft. The former’s lineage is readily apparent in the rectangular, passenger-friendly top deck and ultra-stable, tri-hull-style hull below. The latter is evident the minute you spot Sea-Doo’s trademark handlebar controls which replace a conventional wheel at the helm. Grab a handful of throttle, crank a turn and this nimble craft responds like a 13-foot personal watercraft. At the dock, Sea-Doo’s Intelligent Brake & Reverse system provides exceptional maneuverability, even allowing the boat to spin in its own length. Cool extras? The floorplan is easily reconfigured. Clear vinyl, rather than traditional aluminum fencing also provides better visibility to give this diminutive craft a surprisingly open feel. Starting at $21,799.
Montara Surf Boss 2.0
Wakesurfing and pontoon boats may not seem like a match made in heaven, but Montara’s Surf Boss 2.0 aims to make you a believer. Topside it’s got all the comfort and amenities of a pontoon, with abundant seating and plush comfort. Below deck, however, pontoons are replaced with an aluminum V-hull, transom-mounted surf tabs are featured on the transom and— surprise—this pontoon features V-drive propulsion. Up to 4,200 gallons of onboard ballast settles the hull deeper in the water to pump up wake size. Dial in speed, ballast and tab position via a touchscreen display. Thanks to a concave pocket in the hull just in front the transom, this ‘Boss can even pull off a trick matched by no existing surf boat—producing surfable waves simultaneously on both sides of the wake. Starting at $239,800.