Caution for Pontoon Boaters
Contributed by a fellow boater
I have never seen any formal precautions regarding the possibility of larger pontoon boats pitchpoling and rolling over, either from the manufacturer or any boating safety organization. The following experience actually happened to me and I hope others may benefit from my experience.
Several years ago I was aboard a 28 foot pontoon boat of a popular brand with an aluminum "cabin" structure aft. The owner/pilot was not the original owner. There were several people, including two infant children, aboard. The boat was NOT overloaded and life jackets were available for everyone.
Upon passing out of the mouth of a river into one of North Carolina's coastal sounds, we encountered larger ground swells than were expected. It soon became apparent that there was a possibility of the open deck at the bow dipping underneath a swell.
The pilot asked everyone to remain further back away from the bow. Everyone complied. The two small children were with their mother in the cabin. Less than 5 minutes later the bow did dip into an oncoming swell. The pilot had seen this coming and immediately slowed the engine. The boat came to an abrupt stop and the lower unit of the motor cleared the water. The boat heeled dangerously to port with the standing passengers scrambling to starboard. When the boat settled, it was moving quickly in a reverse direction. Everyone was OK and with a heightened awareness we made it back to port safely.
Afterwards we all had recurring thoughts of the incident and considered the "what-ifs." The pontoon boat was built for smooth water and that limit had been exceeded. Had the boat rolled over onto its side - we expected that the boat would have turtled completely, very quickly submerging and trapping the occupants of the cabin. We later thought that some sort of flotation installed in the overhead or on the roof of the cabin may prevent complete turtling of this type of pontoon boat.
Following this incident the owner/pilot of the subject boat never again made a trip into that area with that pontoon boat, has purchased a more seaworthy craft, and we still enjoy every minute on the water.
I would like for you to disseminate this information in a way that you feel most appropriate to let other pontoon boat owners be aware of what can happen so that they may take precautions to prevent a similar situation from happening to them.