Pontoon Chassis…Does It Have Good Bones?

Boater's Chat Boat Buying Information Muskoka

On the hunt for a new pontoon boat at the 2015 Toronto Boat Show or out shopping this spring?   What structural pontoon chassis do I want or what is best value for my money?  Is there a difference between a 2 tube and a 3 tube pontoon chassis?  How would I recognize a superior designed best value chassis no matter how many tubes?  Okay what would be considered the chassis on a pontoon boat?  The chassis is the entire pontoon structural elements including the pontoons themselves, the “M Brackets” or attaching mechanism of the pontoons to the deck, the cross members running across the pontoons and joining them,  the transom pod where the engine is installed and the floor itself.

One of the key points I what to make is that no one and I mean essentially no one either asks real questions about the chassis or even attempts to look at it.  Pontoon buying is unfortunately…..backwards!   All the time and initial view is about furniture, layout and style….the emotional hot buttons.  If we get past his point there may be some discussion on tube size and that’s about it.   Pontoon buyers should ask detailed questions about chassis construction first and then if they are satisfied with the construction quality and then consider taking a look at the interior.  Buying a pontoon strictly on look or the emotional decision tugging at your heart should not be considered prudent.    The chassis is the most expensive part of any pontoon boat from a builder standpoint…if buyers do not look….this presents the opportunity for pontoon builders to cheap out or cut corners.   Right  now the boat business is so tight from a builder perspective on margins that given the situation….builders will always try to reduce costs in areas that do not affect retail sales.  In other words if the buyer is strictly focused on price and look….I need to cheap out the chassis and pay attention to style only at the moment of purchase.

The Right Pontoon Chassis

Okay lets get to it!   What is the right pontoon chassis for a 2 tube and 3 tube pontoon and how do I recognize it and what questions should I be asking.  Part of this is the willingness on your part to get down on your hands and knees and look under the floor…..do not depend on what the salesperson is telling you….see for yourself and what you see and what you here is a representation of the sales process and whether you should decide to continue.  Again as I have stated earlier in Boater’s Chat, Huntsville Marine represents two premium lines of pontoon boats.  These are Cypress Cay pontoons and Larson Escape Pontoons and the decision to carry these lines was mine.   I will also state upfront that I am not a fan of value boat lines say Bayliner or Tahoe in fiberglass bowriders and Tracker, Bentley and Weers or Sunchaser in the pontoon segment as I feel the value to cost relationship is very poor.  This again is my opinion and with that I believe other brands present a better value to cost relationship.  I am not saying these brands are poorly built…but choices have been made by the builder to reduce the build cost which provides the opportunity to lowers the retail pricing and we all know that price is high on the attraction scale.  I am saying you can do way better for the money plus a superior built pontoon will hold its overall look and remain structurally tight!   Back to the right chassis.

Why Is The Pontoon Chassis So Important To Me?

Ever heard the expression when taking about older homes “it has good bones”?  Unfortunately when we go boating the lake is seldom like a pane of glass in smoothness.  Waves, wind, chop, spray and other boats wake comes into play.  One of the key differences between say a fiberglass bowrider and a pontoon is the point of entry into waves or lake turbulence.  A bowrider has traditionally one point of entrance into the water or waves at the bow and a great bowrider has a very sharp deep entrance design.  A 2 tube pontoon interacts with the lake at 2 points or 3 points for a 3 tube high performance model.   Here is the difference….the pontoons tubes enter or interact at different times as waves do not or cannot strike all the pontoons at the same time as it is impossible to be 90 degrees to a wave at all times.  Okay so……this fact will place and does place large torsional stress differences on the supporting chassis on a second by second minute by minute basisThis fact essentially twists the chassis at varying amounts over time and is relative to the stress placed on the chassis by the speed of the pontoon and the size of the impact.  If the chassis does not have sufficient built in quality torsional rigidity, the chassis will loosen over time at the joints and begin to become noisy.  This loss in torsional rigidity can result in weld failure, loosing of bolts and fasteners which can manifest itself in floor seam problems with lifting or buckling.

Don’t pontoon builders understand and know about this and design for it?   This comes down to conversation about minimum code and expected usage plus just what is the warranty or better still how is the warranty backed up by the builder.  All large boat building companies tract warranty claims and act to minimize warranty costs!  Warranty offered is reflective of the claim level but what is more important is how they stand behind warranty and a statement of lifetime warranty is meaningless if the conditions state that you the owner are responsible for all costs to transport to the factory for repair.  Lets review here as most buyers are confused here about what is a warrantable claim.  So if my pontoon chassis starts to have issues as described above…would this be covered under warranty….the answer to that question in almost all cases would be…..no!  That is right…no!  Remember warranty normally covers repair or replacement of a defective part or a construction flaw say a poor weld.  Cut to the chase….a cheap pontoon is not designed for wave impact anyway and therefore is intended only in calm water usage and therefore that pontoon you now own being used in wavy conditions is not covered as the chassis has merely loosened over time and or the use under these conditions may be considered abuse.

Summarizing warranty…Boat warranty generally states that the warranty covers repair or replacement of a defective part in normal usage with all required maintenance and proper storage preformed as specified.   You are going to get a lot more verbiage than this but the condensed view is close.  Therefore a twisted frame, loose or broken welds, floor issues not related to rot are essentially non warrantable considerations.  Just so know as well “Goodwill Warranty” has not existed since 2008 in the marine business…it is all business and no exceptions plus the dealer usually does not have the authority or right to grant warranty without the builder’s approval or the dealer is stuck with the bill and we are not going to be paying that.

Again as I stated before…if you are boating on a very small quiet lake or pond with little to no waves…probably does not matter as much except where you are using the boat for watersports and high person loading.  What about watersports?  Watersports can cause torsional load shifting on the chassis depending on the weight of the person and how hard they are cutting across the wake.  Add to this, the faster the pontoon is driven the higher the torsional stress is placed on it…this is one of the reasons why 3 tubes are used in high horsepower situations.

The aspects to consider for pontoon chassis will continue…lots more to cover!

 

 

 

Pontoon Chassis Toronto Boat Show
Strong ” M Bracket” fully welded to pontoon tube, notice crimping on pontoon joint for superior welding to next section