New pontoon boats perfect for inshore or Gulf exploration

Andrea Stetson
Special to the News-Press

When most people think of a pontoon boat they probably think of a vessel with aluminum siding that putters at slow speeds through the back bays. But some of the newest models are changing that perception with luxury designs and top powering engines.

The Bennington pontoon at Marina Mike’s started out like a typical one. It was made at the Bennington factory in Indiana. Then it was shipped to Oregon for its transformation. Real redwood was used to make the handcrafted siding.

“It’s from trees that have already fallen so we are not killing trees,” said Gary Murphy, of Marina Mike’s who is selling the boat for one of his customers. “It is gorgeous. It brings out the workmanship of the old days.”

The redwood is all hand honed in individual sections. The top portion is made from walnut and the deck has a basket weave surface.

The boat also has twin 300 horsepower engines and can reach speeds of more than 50 miles per hour.

But that’s not the most power seen on a pontoon in south Lee County. Bonita Boat Center had a Crest pontoon with twin 350 Mercury engines. The 28 foot vessel could reach speeds of more than 60 miles per hour.

“It should even be able to go to 70 miles per hour,” said Wes Nichols, a salesman at Bonita Boat Center.

Nichols has been on the boat and said it’s not the type of pontoon that is only used in calm back bays.

“I have been out on that boat in solid three foot waves,” he said.

Nichols said the boat is perfect for people that want a wide range of uses from offshore fishing, to back bay fishing, to boating in shallow water, to a boat that comfortably seats a lot of people. He said customers will come from up north and ask to look at a bow rider and then wind up choosing a pontoon.

“Once they ride in a pontoon they prefer that,” he said. “It is a softer ride with more seating for family and friends.”

With all the new styles and power in recent pontoons, Nichols said the demographics of who is buying them are changing too.

“Our demographics were 55 and up and now we are seeing people in their 30’s buying them,” he said. “I’m 34 and I have one.”

Nichols said the Crest pontoon with the 700 in horsepower sells for $139,000. The one at his boat center was just picked up by the factory, but that boat can be ordered from them.

At Marina Mike’s, Murphy said a customer had the $229,000 wood designed boat custom designed, used it for about three months and is now selling it for $200,000.

“The wood grain alone is an $80,000 option,” Murphy explained. “There have only been two of these ever built.”

The vessel is 30 feet long and 10 feet wide.

“It is wider than most pontoons,” Murphy said. “It seats 22 people.”

The vessel has another unique feature for a pontoon. It can go in the Gulf and even travel in wavy water. Bennington patented a design that not only includes two round pontoons, but an elliptical shaped one in the middle. The 36 inch middle tube stabilizes the boat allowing it to travel in rougher water.

“So it takes on waves like a catamaran,” Murphy said. “Round pontoons can nose dive, but elliptical pontoons can’t do that.”

Both Nichols and Murphy see pontoon boats becoming even more popular as people see how different they can be.

“They have bigger engines and area sportier looking,” Nichols said. “They are really versatile.”