Learn How to Drive a Pontoon Boat – Step by Step Guide

how to drive a pontoon boat

Fortunately, most states in the United States have made it easy for boating enthusiasts to own and operate boats. Very few states require you to have some certification, let alone a boating license.

According to a report by the American Boating Association, boating without a license or a certification is allowed in states like Wyoming, Virgin Islands, and Alaska.

On the other hand, if you wish to drive a boat like a pontoon in the state of Florida, you must take a boating education course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA).

However, you don’t need a boating license. Either way, it is always good to undergo safety training before getting your hands behind a pontoon steering wheel.

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How Much Boating Experience Do You Need

Driving a pontoon boat is similar to driving an automatic car. However, as you already would know, boats do not have brakes. Bringing a boat to a halt requires you to slow down until the vessel comes to rest progressively. Modern pontoon boats are fitted with two (or sometimes more) tubes. These tubes provide buoyancy and stability to the boat.

What I am leading up to is, you do not need specialized training to drive a pontoon boat if you are well-versed with an automatic car. Pontoons are one of the most comfortable boats to operate. To drive a pontoon, all you need to do is acquire necessary boat handling skills and learn about the controls. Speed modulation is the only skill you need as electric motors propel these boats.

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Tips for Driving a Pontoon Boat

1. Pontoon Boats Don’t Have Brakes

As I mentioned earlier in this post, pulling up a pontoon boat traveling at a 50-60 MPH speed in a freshwater lake can take anywhere from 5-10 seconds. Several other factors determine the exact stopping distance.

Ideally, it is recommended to have a stopping distance chart (provided by the pontoon boat). Suppose you find yourself in a situation where your vessel might collide with another boat, turn away. Do not try to pull up.

2. Be Careful While Turning

It is recommended for a newbie pontoon driver to learn the basic controls while driving in a straight line. A pontoon boat does turn as swiftly as an automatic car. Turning also changes the angle of the boat. Meaning, if you turn the boat at high speed, there is a good chance the vessel will topple.

3. Know the Water Body

The first thing you will learn in a boat driving class is to always drive in known territory. There are no traffic lights in a water body. Neither will you find white, yellow, or brown lines that indicate traffic traveling in your direction.

Driving a boat in an unknown or unexplored territory may seem fun, but it comes with risks. Also, a new pontoon owner must consider the anchorage requirements and restrictions set by the local governing body.

4. Get Acquainted With the Laws

Some states do not require a boating license or a certificate for boat driving, but it is always good to get some basic training. An induction course will make you aware of the rules and regulations set by the local authorities in your region. They will also get you acquainted with some nautical verbiage or technical terms that might be useful later.

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How to Drive a Pontoon Boat

Before driving a pontoon boat, you must ensure whether you have all the necessary accessories on board. For instance, a pontoon boat anchor and an anchor chain are fundamental to driving a pontoon. It helps you secure the boat onshore.

Also, most experienced pontoon drivers prefer having an emergency package on board. The package can be safely placed somewhere inside a storage space or a hatchet. In times of distress, you will need flare guns, fire extinguishers, and life jackets for all the passengers.

Reversing a Pontoon Boat

Pulling out of the dock is the first step in driving a pontoon. Before firing up the motors, make sure the area around the vessel is clear. Next, switch on the motors. To put the boat in reverse, you must use the throttle located adjacent to the gauges. Use the steering wheel to direct the boat as you move backward. Once you are in open waters, you can put the boat in neutral and push the throttle in a forward position.

Ramping up the Speed

Before ramping up the speed of the pontoon, make sure that the passengers are intimidated. If the boat has a broadcasting system installed, make sure to make an announcement beforehand. Some pontoon boats have an open stern, someone standing close to the rear end of the boat may fall off if you accelerate without warning them. To accelerate the boat, push the throttle ahead.

Turning a Pontoon Boat

Turning a pontoon boat requires practice. To make a sharp turn, you must trim down the motor first. Once the propulsion power is lowered, you can use the steering wheel to direct the boat. Modern pontoons come with a hydraulic steering wheel, hence turning the boat does not take effort. Just make sure there are other boats or an obstruction in the direction of the turn.

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Docking a Pontoon Boat

You have learned how to pull out, ramp up the speed, and turn a pontoon boat. Lastly, you must know how to properly dock (or park) a pontoon boat in the docking yard. As you enter the shallow water, raise the motor, so it does not hit a rock or any other obstruction. Move slowly towards the dockyard. As you are about to enter the dock, put the throttle in neutral.


Driving a pontoon boat also requires you to captain it. As the driver, you are in charge of the vessel and the passengers in it. To handle the boat properly, you must also learn how to set up the boarding ladder so the passenger can safely and effortlessly get in and out of the pontoon boat.

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