The evolution of the pontoon boat continues, with models that push the limits of performance and handling below deck while pushing the limits of comfort and amenities above.
Pontoons are thriving, to the point that these aluminum-based wonders are stealing away customers from the fiberglass market.
Theya€™ve got style, theya€™ve got a coolness factor that grandpaa€™s party barge only dreamed of, and theya€™ve got incredible versatility. The same pontoon boat that can take you on that evening cocktail cruise can also take the crew skiing, boarding or tubing, handle a day of fishing, host a party, and in come cases even a high-speed thrill ride.
The source of that a€?grand viewa€? is an elevated helm platform, raised a full two-and-a-half feet above the forward deck.
It gives the driver unprecedented vision forward, essential on a 29a€™ boat, and a cruiser-like feel at the controls. With twin 300 hp outboards, expect to reach 30 mph in under 6 seconds and to top out around 52 mph. A third, 36a€? center tube gives the 290 the agile feel of a V-hull.Those looking for the amenities will want to check out the Bombay Bar to starboard, touchscreen helm control, cascading stairs to the swim platform, and a€” oh yeah a€”optional joystick docking control. The latter enabled me to crab this behemoth right into a tight slip without fear of dinging a neighbora€™s ride.
My test boat, which added an additional 27a€? center tube, planed instantly, handled aggressively without excessive banking, and topped out at 46 mph with a 250 hp Mercury Verado.It also, however, paid equal attention to the impression above deck. Upscale touches include sweeping fence lines with stainless grab rails above, trendy matte wood-grain at the helm, rich vinyl with contrasting piping, and stainless gates with smoked Lexan inset panels. But Ia€™d argue the best features are the dual recliners, set into molded fiberglass bases aft. Below, it features the branda€™s Elliptical Sport Package (ESP), consisting of 25a€? outer pontoons with inner performance foils sandwiched around a much larger, 32a€? elliptically-shaped center tube with lifting strakes. Instead, the boat features stylish molded fiberglass seating modules both fore and aft, linked by painted aluminum panels that give the boat the solid exterior appearance of a fiberglass deckboat.
Add additional style points if you get the optional Sport Arch, featuring an acrylic sun shade and a retractable Bimini top, or the touch-screen helm display.

Comfortable lounges offer plenty of seating throughout, including a pair of aft-facing recliners at the stern.In terms of performance, the Crowne utilizes HFBa€™s PIII Performance Package. That means triple 25a€? pontoons below, the middle of which is dropped an inch to produce a V-hull effect. That combo was paired with a Mercury Verado 300A on my test boat, producing a 47 mph top speed.
Add power-assist steering and you get a boat that is agile and responsive, with the lean-in handling youa€™d expect from a V-hull. Throw on a 300 hp Evinrude E-Tec and youa€™ll push close to 50 mph.Impressive for sure, but perhaps overshadowed by Manitoua€™s detail above deck. Standouts on my list include the tasteful use of billet aluminum accents throughout, and Manitoua€™s split-rear seating (SRS) treatment aft.
AquaPatioa€™s 240 OB Elitea€™s offering on the rear deck is nearly 5a€™ wide, and complemented with speakers and cupholders to keep the party going while you lounge at the sandbar. Stop the descent in any state of recline, lower it all the way to a sunbed, or pop up the forward cushions to make aft-facing recliners. Forward, more seating awaits, including an L-shaped lounge and parallel lounges at the bow.In standard trim, the 240 features twin 27a€? pontoons. My test boat showed off the optional Performance Package, consisting of an under-deck skin, lifting strakes, and hydraulic steering.
Lowea€™s Platinum 23 RFL features multiple seating areas, each with individual personality. Aft, two oversized, plush chairs (those a€?rear-facing loungesa€? referenced in the name) occupy the boata€™s final third. Each enjoys an armrest cup holder, and faces its own curved table integrated into the curves of the perimeter fence.As the name implies, the Platinum is upscale. See examples in the rich vinyl and carpet, as well as an oval Plexiglas pedestal table, chrome-accented steering wheel, and Fusion marine audio system. Add the optional XL Performance Package for an additional center tube, lifting strakes, spray deflector and 50-gallon fuel tank.

Examples of the former are found in the pillow-top seating, trendy matte finish on the cockpit tables, speaker bezels and dash inlays, a handy five-step ladder that extends deeper into the water for easier boarding, and excellent construction details. Seating literally wraps the entire perimeter, allowing a big crowd to join the fun.While standard as a twin tube, the Cabana can be upgraded to the TIII Performance Package, which adds a third tube dropped an inch below the outer logs. The soft-touch vinyl seat coverings on the multiple lounges are the same basic material found throughout the line. Theya€™re exposed, rather than vinyl-covered, but feature upscale molded contours and precise color-matching. The SLX also features a one-piece fiberglass helm console, stainless-steel hardware and fittings, and a generous aft platform. Options include pillow-top upholstery and woven flooring.Below deck, 23a€? pontoons provide a smooth ride, but can be upgraded all the way to 32a€? ellipticals.
Power choices go to 150 hp, but a 90 should be more than adequate to push the boat to a top speed just shy of 28 mph. If thata€™s your mission ita€™s hard to beat the Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16 DLX, which we liked so mush we named it among the Top 10 two years running. You get a bow casting deck with twin fold-down fishing chairs, an aerated livewell below the forward console seat, and a space for your gear and tackle. Therea€™s seating for seven, and stowage for the stuff they bring aboard.Perhaps the boata€™s most compelling feature, however, is its bargain price tag. The Bass Buggy can be had with 20a€? pontoons and a 20hp four-stroke outboard for only $10,595. Sun Tracker borrows components from other boats in the line to make a boat that will last far longer than your payments.

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