Pontoon Boat Advice

I'm considering getting a pontoon boat to increase my access to rivers this winter. Just seems a little easier and cheaper for one person to get out there on the river.
Any advice on which boats do well in slightly rougher water? I'd also prefer one that allows the pilot to stand and cast. Obviously, I want to keep costs down, but don't want to compromise on safety or durability.

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
There are a ton of good models out there. But be prepared to pay for one, if you want the standup feature. You have the Outcast 10HD (not sure if it's still HD anymore, but 10' model), the Steelheader series (9' steelheader and 10' guide model), the Xstream boats, and the Waterskeeter River Guide (do believe it's a 10' model, but with zippered tubes). Even Scadden has upgraded his tubes, and think he has a standup frame now too. So lots of ways to go, but comes down to pricing.

My preference has always been the Steelheader. But been running them alot longer, and have always been treated well there. Was the first "whitewater grade" fishing pontoon I had seen. From all the years running whitewater for fun and professionally. So was hooked at the first sportsman show I saw them at well over 12 years ago in the Kingdome. Here's a picture of my old original version Steelheader. 9', but have the 10' guide now.


David Holmes

Formerly known as "capmblade"
My meagre experiences point up only the folllowing advice: get something with an aluminum frame! You will appreciate the premium you paid later.
outcast pac 1000

I bought this pontoon last year, I dont use it very much but must say its a pretty sweet river set up. I hated the smaller boats as you usually have your legs in the water. This one your much higher and it actually has a standing platform on it which definately has advantages. It is a bit heavier than the other 7 and 8 ft models but I plan on using it in AK next summer and it has a better weight spec than the smaller pontoons.

I like outcast but the steelheader models were a close second. I swear by outcast but those who own steelheader boats swear by them. Its all preference and whatever you buy is always better than what you didnt.

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
Yup, you're right. But I've owned outcasts, and ran most. Still take a steelheader top for a production boat (custom is always the best way to go with tubes from a whitewater company).

Richard E

Active Member

Simple rule of thumb: buy the best you can afford. Seriously. If you want to run rivers (like those in the pics offered in one of the responses), you'll probably die with one of the $200 models you can get on sale at GI Joe's. Not dissing GI Joe's, but IMHO you shouldn't buy those inexpensive craft; it's only your life we're talking here.

Althought the Steelheader is a great craft, what makes it sturdy also makes it heavy and not as portable as most. If you want to use it in lakes or reasonable rivers (say, the Skagit or the Yakima, for example), you will want something other than the Steelheader.

Aluminum frames are good; however, if you want to use it in the salt, the stainless steel frames offered on the Bucks Southfork and the Bronco are the best.

Although I have an Outcast PAC800, and I happen to think it's a better all-around boat than the Steelheader, with emphasis on all-around, I think the Bucks Southfork is the best value out there. Good quality, company that will likely be around a long time, a model that has been out there for years so any bugs and design issues are worked out, stainless frame, etc. Although I think my PAC800 is a better craft than the Southfork, I'm not sure that it's 50% better (cost-wise, comparing retail to retail).

The Southfork is a great craft for the money. :thumb:


Only 3 more years until I can think like a fish.
Bucks bags gets my vote. Anything with a platform on it will be heavy and hard to transport. Not to mention the steelheader is more than twice the cost. I would love to own a steelheader boat as long as I was using a ramp.
If you are in the market for a pontoon boat,You first need to decide on what your main use will be.Will you be fishing stillwaters,rivers,backcountry lakes,whitewater.The next thing you will need to know and I hate even putting this in here but it is very pertinent, How much are you willing to spend?

I would put pontoon boats in 3 categories,kickboats,pontoon boats and catarafts.

Kickboats will generally be a smaller boat with no floor deck for standing that require the use of fins to propel the boat.

Pontoon boats can be classified as the boats that have standing platforms and oars to use for propulsion and generally meant for 1 person

Catarafts are the larger boats that can accommodate multiple persons and are usually trailered to your destination.

These boats in general have a large selection of styles and manufacturers and are available in any price range.When looking for a pontoon boat some things to look for are frame materials used,frame construction,weld quality,pontoon construction,weight,and fit for the person using the boat.The smaller boats,if used in a river should be used for transportation only and never anchored in current.There is not enough capacity in the pontoons on the smaller boats and if anchored in heavy current they run the risk of being swamped.

PONTOONS: There are basically 3 types of materials used in pontoon manufacturing,PVC and Polyurethane and I think Nylon or Cordura(mostly on bladder boats).Most all manufacturers use the term "ounce" for the rating on how heavy the total weight of material including the core fabric and the coating they use. The term "denier rating" is basically the weight and thickness of the material that is sandwiched between the layers of PVC or Poly. I spoke with Seattle Textiles who import virtually most all the materials from Germany that are used in boat manufacturing, and they told me that most of the materials used are between 15 and 35 oz with up to 40 oz available with denier ratings of up to 1200,The builders that advertise ratings above this are probably layering the seams or wear pads and adding the totals.PVC is the best value and is used in bladder as well as non-bladder boats.It is not as strong and is more prone to UV damage than Poly.The Poly is what basically all the top quality boats are made with and what the military uses in its rafts.PVC is made with polymers that will "break down" with continued exposure to UV and over time will crack much as the same that PVC waterline becomes brittle over time if exposed to sunlight.There are several methods that are used to join the seams on both materials from high frequency welding to hot air welding and glueing.Welded seams are the strongest joints although I have never seen a glued seam come apart yet and the warranty on most of these boats are as good as the makers that do weld the seams.The most important factor in the lifespan of your boat is the storage and care taken when not in use.

FRAMES: Frames can be made from a variety of materials,The least expensive is the frames made from EMT (electrical metallic tubing) a conduit used in the electrical industry,this is available at almost any hardware store and is very inexpensive.It is a low grade of steel but is still sufficient for most applications in the boating industry and its coating makes it very weather resistant.Care must be taken when welding on EMT as the coating is a zinc base and causes toxic fumes when inhaled.Other materials that are used are aluminum,stainless steel,mild steel,and chrome moly tubing,Price and where they will be using the boat will dictate what most people will decide to use for the frames they purchase.

I have tried to be as unbiased as I could when writing this and give as much information about pontoon boats in general. There is no 1 person that can tell you what YOU are looking for or the best deal except for yourself ,Most people can be biased on what they have purchased or the friends they know. Get out and compare the different boats and the quality in your price range and make the decision after you have seen what is available and what will work for what you want to use the boat for.These are not a small investment and my only other suggestion is to buy the best you can afford as from my experience it is usually cheaper in the long run
I use the Buck's Bags Southfork mentioned above, and I really like it. It's 48 lbs, and with some intelligent packing, you can get it in a decent backpack and carry it quite easily. I've had it in the surf, stillwater and some moderately aggresive moving water as well. But it sounds as though it may be a bit small for what you want. But regardless of what kind of craft you end up with, I recommend stripping it down first and foremost. These things come with all kinds of stuff hanging off of them, and every bit of it loves to snag flyline. I started off with conservative pruning, but ended up with basically a frame and two bags. I even took the oars and locks off and just propel myself exclusively with fins. It sounds like you want a bigger boat, but I just mentioned this because it took me a while to get the boat stripped down far enough, and in the meantime I was constantly fighting with it and getting fed up with the blown casts and a few lost fish as I wrestled with the boat more than I was with the fish. It took a friend recommending I just strip it all the way down that I did, and saved myself the headaches. Just my thoughts on it, though I thoroughly agree with everything mentioned above. There seems to be alot of smart folks on this website.

Take care all,
8' ain't much boat on a river. I had one and did some really easy rivers with it. Before trying any heavier water (but still not that heavy) I got a 10' boat. Two feet makes a world of difference. Two guys can carry it fine as long as it's not more than a couple of minutes walk to the river. To transport assembled requires a trailer or fullsize pickup bed.
I think the ideal setup is to have two frames. One steel with a platform and storage capacity, then one basic aluminum frame with no platform and little storage for the times when you want to carry it down a beach, closed road, etc.

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
Yup, Brian is right. Get the boat that suits you, why I said to go out and check them out. TONS of people out there that are biased on boats. I won't lie, I am. Skookum was first whitewater grade fishing boat I ever saw on market under 12'. Was hooked right then and there. LOL. Most whitewater grade companies back then didn't make them under 12', and that's a big boat just to fish out of. Whitewater, now that's a different beast. Though I do honestly tell people what they should buy depending on circumstances. I've actually sold more Waterskeeters and Outcasts then Steelheaders. In fact, sold one guy out of a Steelheader into a Sotar Coho. Too bad I didn't make money on either, I'd be a rich man by now. BUT, I do know quality, and where the best truly lies. WHich is in custom boats, and tubes not offered by most of the makers out there. Most are private stock makers you must buy the tubes from and have your own frames made for. Before the net flourished like it has, I went and visited almost every major whitewater company first hand and scouted boats. That is Maravia, Sotar, Wing, and Aire (NRS is a bit hard to get to lol). Went to the production plants and took tours. In end, I liked the Sotars best. Plus, like Brian said, it's in the material. They were making military boats for awhile. I was in process of having 3 custom cats built for whitewater and fishing based on Sotar tubes. Divorce killed my upgrades, and the cats I sold paid for my divorce. LOL. Kept my original baby (my 16' Aire Ocelot), since it was first boat I bought on my own.

I'd set a price and go from there. I heavily fish steelhead rivers, and never had to hike my boat more then 15' on any river on the westside. I agree, a steelheader is NOT the boat for you if you want to fish rivers. Most whitewater grade boats aren't. You pay the price in weight on the tubes, even in the higher end tubes like Wing, Sotar, and Maravia. I'd definitely settle with a bucks, outcast, etc for that. I'm a river guy, and always launch/takeout near the road. Plus, can transport on my back to the river no sweat (when not injured that is lol). But hey, who needs a trailer for a boat over 10'????? ;)

BTW, I loaded that boat up there myself. :thumb:

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
ex nihilio. I think I posted that above on my first post, but not sure. But you're correct. Dave scrapped his line and pretty much rebuilt it. Improved the tubes. Really making a nice boat now.
I agree with cuponoodle on having two frames for your pontoon. I have been looking for a aluminum frame for my 10' cataraft for smaller streams that I walk into. Dragging a 10' cataraft is no easy task, especially over any distance.

Any suggestions on HD aluminum frames w/o platforms that are reasonably priced?

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
John, do a websearch. Not sure of the address, but Northwest Rafters Association has a "for sale' section. You can find NRS adjustable frames pretty cheap there sometimes. Just have to look.

If all else fails, you can buy a stripped down basic frame for fairly cheap. Just buy the whitewater frame version (not the fishing frame by NRS). All you'll need is the open frame with just oar towers and a seat anyways. You can see it at http://www.nrsweb.com . Great company to work with. Been buying whitewater stuff from them for years, and Cascade outfitters for almost 20 years. Try both. But the NRS frames are awesome that you can take them down. I just never cared for aluminum in whitewatering though. Mostly because of the "dent" factor and weakening on impact. But for a lake boat, you'll be fine.