2019 Pontoon Boat Comparison

During the first 2 weeks of December 2018, Boater’s Chat proceeded to take a detailed examination of the construction characteristics of most major recognized pontoon brands available in Ontario.  These pontoon brands will be displayed at the 2019 Toronto International Boat Show. For the purposes of the comparison to be fair to all parties we selected a 23’ mid-level 3 tube pontoon model as designated by the builder.  The largest selling model at this time in the Ontario marketplace is the 23’ 3 tube model which provides an excellent family boating platform for many recreational activities at the cottage.

For comparison Boater’s Chat choose the following brands: Manitou Pontoons, Bennington Pontoons, Starcraft Pontoons, G3 Pontoons, Legend Pontoons, Princecraft Pontoons and Cypress Cay/Harris Pontoon boats.

Notes: All information taken from available on line websites during the period of December 5th to December 19th 2018.  Pontoon builders Starcraft, Legend and South Bay are limited in provided construction details and materials utilized plus tend to use generic terms in many cases.  For disclosure purposes Huntsville Marine is a retailer of Manitou, G3 and Cypress Cay Pontoons.  

Specific in house information for these 3 brands ( Manitou, G3 and Cypress Cay) has not been utilized in the comparison table to be fair to all parties.  Of note was the general lack of construction detail and the majority of provided information centers around life style advertising. 

Presented information is for reference only and all purchasers should satisfy themselves of the accuracy of the information provided.  Manufacturer’s reserve the right to change specifications at any time.

Construction Information: Manitou Pontoons provides the highest amount of detail on construction and performance followed by Bennington and G3 Pontoons.  

Patented Hull Designs:  Manitou is the only pontoon with a fully patented hull design.  Bennington does have a patent on the Elliptical center pontoon.

Hull Configurations: Manitou Pontoons and Cypress Cay/Harris are the only pontoon builders utilizing a center pontoon drop with the center pontoon being lower into the water than the port and starboard pontoons.  Manitou is significantly different than all other brands as the center drop is 5.25 “versus 2.0” for Cypress Cay/Harris. Manitou Pontoons is the only pontoon brand utilizing different round cylinder pontoon diameters on a single boat.  Manitou is unique with a 27” center tube and 23” outer port and starboard pontoons or 27″ center pontoon with 25″ diameter outer pontoons on the 575 model to provide additional buoyance for large 4 stroke outboards. The drop on the center pontoon does not change from the 5.25″ patented “V” configuration.  All other pontoon brands are utilizing pontoons of equal distance below the flooring for a flat planning surface.  Bennington does offer a 32” elliptical center pontoon as a performance option which is not configured lower into the water than the outer pontoons.

G3 Pontoons represents a significantly different construction philosophy with respect to the use of “U “shaped pontoons versus the cylinders used by all other pontoon builders in this comparison.   G3 pontoons are filled with non-water absorbing floatation foam and as such are not chambered, pressurized or sealed as Manitou, Bennington, Princecraft and South Bay Pontoons.  Starcraft and Legend Pontoons appear to share the same chassis, pontoon and construction detail.

Hull Construction:  Manitou provides the heaviest pontoon construction at 0.190 on VP and SHP models in the center pontoon at the stern transom mount area.  Manitou is the only pontoon builder utilizing a pontoon that is 0.90 and increasing to .100 past the midpoint of the pontoon on port and starboard outer pontoons to increase strength in higher load areas.  A pressurized pontoon as utilized by Manitou, Bennington, Princecraft, South Bay and Cypress Cay/Harris will provide additional side wall strength to all pontoons and potentially lessen impact damage.  G3 pontoons use of foam filled pontoons will accomplish the same result.  Generally a pressurized pontoon costs more to construct than a non-pressurized pontoon due to the requirement of sealing the structure during the welding process.  Fully sealed and chambered pontoons as utilized by Manitou, Bennington, Princecraft, South Bay and Cypress Cay/Harris will provide a stronger pontoon wall to lessen impact damage as well as additional security in a worse case situation of a significant underwater strike as only the affected chamber will fill with water. Multi chambered pontoons utilized by Manitou, Bennington, Princecraft, South Bay and Cypress Cay/Harris will limit water ingression to the pontoon chamber that was perforated.

Starcraft, Legend and Princecraft Pontoons provide the thinnest pontoon wall thickness at 0.80.  Generally all pontoon builders with the exception of Princecraft utilize the same grade of aluminum in construction that being 5052 H34.  The exception is Princecraft which utilizes 5052 H36 which is a slightly softer aluminum grade than 5052 H34. Bennington, Starcraft, Legend and South Bay do not state which aluminum they choose to construct with in their website information for buyers.  

Transom Strength:  All pontoons have a maximum horsepower rating by the builder which corresponds to government requirements for safe operation.  Starcraft simply speaks about the number of bolts utilized…20 versus say 10 by South Bay to secure the engine pod to the chassis.  All pontoon builders with the exception of Manitou Pontoons utilize an aluminum plate fabricated welded construction technique.  Manitou places the most emphasis on the engine pod through the use of a fully sealed 3rd pontoon directly in front of the engine as well as the use of a single piece of a thick billet aluminum machined to required tolerances.  It follows that Manitou on all SHP models provides the strongest transom assembly and that Manitou’s VP model with a fabricated transom bracket with a fully sealed transom pod is superior to all other pontoon brands as well.

Extended Center Pontoon:  Manitou Pontoons (all) Bennington ( in some cases) and Cypress Cay/Harris (all) are the only brands in this comparison utilizing the more expensive to build extended running surface center pontoon design.  Only Manitou has a fully sealed extended center pontoon.  The fully sealed center pontoon increases strength significantly in this area as well as reducing drag from trapped water in the center pontoon directly in front of the engine.

“M” Brackets:   M brackets are sheet aluminum formed into a shape that corresponds to the letter M.  These brackets are utilized during the construction process to attach the round pontoon to the cross members to which the flooring is attached. M brackets are a vital part of the construction process and can be seen by examining the area of the pontoon just under the floor from a stern view from behind one of the port or starboard pontoons.  Manitou, Bennington and Cypress Cay/Harris provide the highest level of “M” bracket attachment to the pontoon and thereby provide a superior strength opportunity.  G3 does not utilize “M” bracket at all in construction as G3 utilizes a “U” shaped pontoon to which cross members can be attached directly and securely to the top of the U log.    

Cross Members:  Cross members are a very important part of the overall rigidity of the pontoon chassis.  Cross members can be difficult to visually see as they are directly below the floor and frequently in three models covered with underdeck shielding.  There are basically three types of cross members used during construction processes in the pontoon industry.  These are “Z” channel which is derived from sheet aluminum bent into the shaped of a Z, “C” channel which is an extruded aluminum in the shape of a C with an open side with the bolt going through the C from top to bottom as if we were dealing with a letter C.  The last variant is the hat channel…think of a cowboy hat with brims on both sides.  Hat channel is the strongest and most secured as it has 4 bolts per securing location versus 2 for C channel and at best 2 for Z channel. Hat channel is the most expensive and can be as thick as 0.250 versus 0.125 max for Z channel. Manitou, Bennington utilize Hat channel throughout whereas Starcraft, Legend, South Bay and Cypress Cay/Harris utilize in selected areas only.  In the case with Manitou, the use of Hat channels exclusively would mean as many as 74 more high grade bolts in the chassis securing the cross members.  Overall chassis strength is very important in cases of 3 tube performance pontoons where speeds of 50 MPH can be achieved as the continuous impact with water and waves places significant ongoing stress on the chassis.





Bow Support and Corner Castings: Only Manitou, Bennington and Cypress Cay/Harris provide additional bow support with a directed specially designed aluminum cross member below the floor at the bow behind the decorative trim.  This is important for protection of the bow area form impact…think of it as a car bumper…as well as providing additional structural rigidity. 

Hat Channel Cross members: Manitou uses Hat Channel cross members vs. most competitor’s C or Z channel cross members. Our cross members give you twice the mounting area resulting in twice as many bolts than competitors.  The shape of the “Hat” channel is similar to a rectangular box extrusion giving better torsional strength.

Hat channel on the right is the most expensive construction method but will provide the strongest chassis due to the overall thickness of the Hat Channel (0.250) and the double stainless steel bolting to the “M” bracket.  The taupe material on top of the Hat Channel is an insulating material placed between the Hat Channel and the flooring.

Bennington claims to be through bolting the flooring material to the “C” or Hat Channel versus the Tech Screws that most other builders utilize during construction.  Bennington places the bolts with washers in the seam where the two pieces of flooring join.  Manitou and Cypress/Harris use a double Tech Screw method (one screw either side of the seam) with the seam sealed.       

Nose Cones:  Manitou is the only brand to over a Barracuda design of the nose cone every other brand utilizes a Dolphin design.  The dolphin design is similar to the front bow portion of the hull design on a bow rider. It is designed to ride up on the water so that the pontoon travels in a bow up position.  The Manitou exclusive Barracuda design has a forward knife edge which provides a sharper leading cutting edge intersecting with the water and waves.  The Barracuda nose cone also does provide for a flatter riding pontoons with less bow rise. Manitou’s Barracuda nose cone is the heaviest in terms of construction at 0.125 thickness plus the integral splash guard and crimping provide the strongest nose cone of all brands. 

Overall:  The chart demonstrates wide differences in construction details, materials and standard features at situations where all compared brands are priced competitively with each other. 

The Flat Bottom Design Versus “V” Bottom Design: The flat bottom (all pontoons equal distant into the water) tri-toon pontoon boats may use a wider center tube on their boats, along with a variety of strakes. These have been successful at getting their boats to bank at slow speeds, but they can handle erratically at plaining speeds and due to physics cannot heel over like a tradional bowrider design which limits overall handling and higher speed maneuvering.

Without a v-shaped hull, pontoons have very little rise. To correct this, some manufacturers have added reverse chines or negative angled lifting strakes. That may improve lift but it can produce under the right conditions a harsh to jarring ride.  There are a couple manufactures that have tried to add an inch or two drop to the center tube but they are limited due to Manitou’s patented design. 
Manitou V-Toon: Drop center pontoon design will handle more like a v-bottom mono-hull than any other pontoon in the industry. The engineered hull heels into a turn like a race car on a banked track. As speeds increase, the natural ability of a hull to heel becomes increasingly important, not only for comfort, but safety.

Rough Water Performance: All pontoons with a center pontoon drop will provide superior rough water performance or in other words less jarring than pontoons with all three pontoons equal distant into the water .