Pontoon Boat Operating Instructions

by David Weinberg

Most pontoon boats feature two long, welded-steel pontoons mounted to a platform and a motor. Although they are simple in design, these "party barges" require as much concentration and knowledge to operate as any other boat. The first stage in operating a pontoon boat is a complete safety and operations check to ensure that you are prepared for anything that you might run into on the water. The next set of operations involves getting to know the controls and mechanisms by which your pontoon boat functions.

Getting Underway

Prepare your pontoon boat to launch or leave the dock. Check that all of your boat's safety gear is on board and functional. Verify that the boat is up to date on maintenance and that all fluid levels are adequate for your trip. Store loose gear.

Fuel the boat. Have passengers disembark before you pump the fuel. Inspect the fuel system for signs of damage. Be sure that all electrical systems are turned off. Check the tank level repeatedly while fueling to avoid overfilling the tank. Open all hatches and engine compartments to check for fumes after fueling.

Load your boat. Be sure that you are within Coast Guard regulations for your vehicle. These regulations should be printed on a plate affixed to your boat near the steering console. Load your pontoon boat as evenly as possible with weight and passengers equally distributed from side to side and slightly more weight in the back of the boat. All passengers should be in proper seats with all extremities inside the boat.

Secure the boat to the dock before starting the engine. If your boat is equipped with a bilge pump, run it before starting the engine. Place the gear shift in the neutral position. Turn the key. Warm up the engine by running it at a fast idle before leaving the dock.

Check all gauges to verify that the boat is operating properly. Turn the steering wheel so that the propeller is pointed directly backward. Remove the lines from the cleats on the dock. Shift the throttle slightly into forward or reverse and turn the wheel as necessary to leave the dock.

On The Water

Push the throttle forward to increase speed; pull it back to the middle to shift your boat into neutral; pull it backward to shift into reverse. Always make slow movements with the throttle; like a car's gas pedal, applying too much force can be catastrophic. Follow posted speed limits.

Turn the wheel to turn the boat, but before making the turn, slow your boat down by pulling back on the throttle. Keep in mind that when you turn your boat, the back of the boat will swing in the opposite direction of the turn before the front end turns. Your pontoon boat is exceptionally wide, so it will turn slower than other boats.

Adjust the engine trim, the angle at which the engine sits in the water. Tilt the engine up or down using the control on the throttle to keep the boat level. If the front of the boat is too high, trim the engine downward. If the front of the boat is too low, trim the engine upward.

Stop your boat. Slowly shift the throttle into neutral to slow your boat down. Once your boat is going less than five miles per hour, you can shift it into reverse to bring it to a complete stop.

Anchor your boat. Bring your boat to a complete stop as a passenger lowers the anchor. The amount of line to be used depends on conditions and water depth. Once the proper amount of line has been released, tie the anchor off at the front of the boat. Check your position against landmarks on the shore to be sure that you are not drifting. To lift the anchor, drive the boat toward the anchoring point until the line becomes vertical, then haul the anchor back into the boat.

Dock your boat. Approach the dock slowly at a 30- to 45-degree angle. A good rule for speed is to "approach the dock as fast as you want to hit it." Turn parallel to the dock once you get close to it and shift the boat into neutral. Tie the boat to the dock. Because of the flat high walls on your pontoon boat, it will be more susceptible to the wind. Watch for crosswinds when docking your boat.

Items you will need

  • Safety equipment
  • Mooring lines


  • Review local operating procedures regarding waterway hazards and rights-of-way before taking your boat out on the water.


  • Take a boating safety class before going out on the water to ensure that you are prepared to handle all situations.

About the Author

David Weinberg began writing in 2005 at New College of Florida, composing articles on history and political science for publication within the school and for online circulation. Weinberg has been a professional outdoor educator for more than five years with experience throughout the United States.