How to Drive a Pontoon Boat in Rough Water

How to Drive a Pontoon Boat in Rough Water

How to Drive a Pontoon Boat in Rough Water. 

Getting out onto the water is tempting at any time of the year, so staying on top of weather reports is key no matter when or where you are going out onto the water. So what happens when you are out on the lake in your pontoon boat and bad weather suddenly hits? You need to understand how to get you and your passengers out of the rough water as fast and safely as possible. 

How do I drive a pontoon boat in rough water?

1. Understand the risks before you head out. Check the weather and if it is bad, do not go on the water. 

How to Drive a Pontoon Boat in Rough Water2. Stay aware of your surroundings and know how to communicate properly. Know the weather reports, where the wind is coming from, and how much fuel you have left. 

3. Know your weight distribution to keep your bow high. Move items or people to keep the rear of the boat and sides balanced. 

4. Watch the waves and wash from larger vessels. Keep your bow above the water at all times. 

5. Take the waves at an angle. This will help to keep your bow from taking on water. 

6. Don’t take turns too fast. High winds or waves can cause your boat to tip or cause damage to your pontoon.

Pontoon boats are best suited for water close to the shore or on calm lakes, along with bays or coves where the sea stays mostly calm. But what happens when you get stuck in rough waters? Read on to find out how to navigate the rough seas in your pontoon.

1. Understand the risks before you head out. Going out into the water when the weather is reported to be bad may be one way you could get into rough water, but this is avoidable. Be sure to check weather reports before going out onto the water.

That being said, bad weather can frequently pop up unexpectedly and you must work your way through the rough waters it creates. Be aware of rising wind speeds or any maritime flags indicating that the weather is shifting.

2. Stay aware of your surroundings and know how to communicate properly. 

The worst thing you can do during rough waters in your pontoon boat is panic. Maintain calm and make sure everyone on the boat recognizes your authority and will listen to your instructions if things go poorly. They should also know where their safety gear is and put it on.

Be aware of where the wind is coming from—already, the weather will be hard to navigate, but if you make note of how the waves are going to come at you, you have a better chance of navigating through the waves without taking on water.

Also, know how much fuel you have left—you could be left in rough waters without any fuel to drive your boat. If your fuel is too low for you to navigate back to the dock in choppy seas, it’s time to consider just heading back in safety.

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3. Know your weight distribution to keep your bow high.

How to Drive a Pontoon Boat in Rough WaterKnowing where the weight lies on your pontoon boat is key to keeping it afloat. Have your passengers or crew spread out items so you are better balanced—or have them spread out so the boat does not tip.

Putting heavier items and people at the rear of the boat also helps in making sure the bow stays up.

4. Watch the waves and wash from larger vessels. 

Because of the pontoon’s physical shape—its flat-bottom hull—you could find yourself in a tough situation. While stable in calm waters, the flat shape will not be easy to keep afloat in exceedingly rough waters. Be aware that you may take on water as the pontoon boat cannot cut through waves and it has a shallow draft. Also, due to your pontoon boat being relatively small, watch to make sure you do not get caught in the wake of a larger boat.

Because of its propensity to dive, take care to not take a wave or a wash head-on—if you are traveling at speed and hit that wave or swell, your pontoon could easily become caught in the wake, slowing it down rapidly and forcing it to submarine, or when the nose of your pontoon literally slips underwater. The boat itself is shaped in a way that this may have happened to you before but note that it is much more common and more dangerous when you are within rough waters.

5. Take the waves at an angle. 

By taking the waves at an angle, you reduce the possibility that you take on water. Keeping your bow out of the water is key and should be your biggest priority when you’re in rough waters. Try to ride the waves rather than slip under them.

In this case, understand that going too slowly may force your bow under the waves.

Taking the waves at a 30-to-45-degree angle will help keep your bow out of the water and let your pontoon ride high. Understand that you may still dip into the trough of the waves, but maintaining your speed, angle, and control is key.

How to Drive a Pontoon Boat in Rough WaterAnother way to keep your bow high is by trimming—changing the angle of your propeller so it raises the bow out of the water, making your boat almost skim across the surface. This can help make sure your bow does not go underwater. Combining this with a higher rate of speed can help you cut through the waves easier.

While it may seem counterintuitive, in this situation, going faster may save your life.

6. Don’t take turns too fast. 

Turns may also negatively affect your boat’s stability, as high winds can cause the bow to dip and waves can rip through parts of the deck. Depending on the vertical profile of your pontoon boat, it can also cause your boat to flip.

Prevention is the best policy when considering how to navigate your pontoon through rough water. If you can help it, don’t put yourself into that situation, and make sure you have checked over all the weather reports before heading out. If you can’t help it, stay calm, know your boat, and keep your bow above the water.


What size waves can my pontoon boat handle?

Pontoon boats are safer on calmer waters due to their flat bottom and construction. If waves are over two feet high, find your way to calmer waters.

Can my pontoon boat flip over?

It is very rare for a pontoon boat to flip over due to its construction.

Can I beach my pontoon boat?

If the beach is fairly clear of large debris, it is perfectly safe to beach your pontoon boat. Avoid anything that could cause damage to the hull or your pontoon tubes.

How to Drive a Pontoon Boat in Rough Water

Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal or medical advice. Please consult a legal expert or medical professional to address your specific needs.

Shawn Chun

Aloha! My name is Shawn and I Love the Beach and Ocean! From surfing to beach sports to boating and fishing I like it all. More importantly, I Love the people I get to meet who also share a passion for the sand and surf. Living and growing up near the ocean my heart has always been connected to the beach and its lifestyle. I wish to share my experience with those around the world. Mahalo (Thank You) for visiting and enjoy your stay here on my site!

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