Best Upgrades for a Pontoon Owner

You’ve finally worked enough, won the lottery, inherited some cash from your rich aunt you never knew existed, or you otherwise managed to get your hands on some $30,000 or so. You’re now ready to buy the pontoon boat of your dreams! But wait… the Tuscany leather seats are an extra $2,000. The gold-plated sound system goes for $8,000. The unicorn horn inlays on the steering wheel are 2,000 pieces of goblin gold. And so on.

Even without such luxury/fantasy accessories, you’re still bound to pay more for your boat than you initially expected. This is because, unless you’re buying a completely stock model or a second-hand boat, you’ll be facing an astonishing amount of customizable and optional accessories, some of which you may think are really necessary. And, of course, some of them actually are, such as a sound system. However, do you really need that high-end $1,000 sound system?

For those who are planning to buy a boat and have budget limits (which means pretty much everyone who’s not a millionaire and even a few people who are), we’ve compiled a list of things you do want to spend money on and things you don’t really have to get. Of course, it’s all up to you at the end of the day, but you may find these guidelines pretty useful if your budget is tight.

First, three items you shouldn’t be cutting corners on:

#1: Dual-axle trailer with brakes, painted

You will quite often find that the boat you’re buying doesn’t come with a trailer included. This is a bit deceptive, as the seller is probably trying their best to make you buy it anyway, but that’s beside the point. The thing is, regardless of whether you take your boat home after every ride or just leave it there, owning a trailer is not optional. What’s more, given the fact that it’s transporting your $30,000 boat, you do want to invest in something sturdy and reliable.

An important element of a good trailer is the dual axles. After all, you don’t want one of the two tires on a single-axle trailer to pop in the middle of the highway and let your boat slip to the side and fall off. It may never happen, but if it does, you’ll have to dish out some pretty serious cash to fix the damages. Also, since we’re talking safety, you will also need brakes for your trailer. Again, they’re not absolutely necessary, but they will make a huge difference in the way you control your car + trailer, to begin with, and the wear & tear your trailer suffers in the long run.

While for the dual-axle trailer you might need to go to an actual store to buy it (few online stores will bother with such heavy-duty deliveries), what you can get online is a brake controller for dual-axle trailers. Our recommendation is the CURT 51130 Reflex Brake Control – for the reasonable price and excellent quality. This unit will monitor the speed and acceleration of your trailer and will calibrate the force with the simple push of a button. One thing that is great about this model is the adjustable power output, that can be tweaked to the exact weight of your trailer plus pontoon. You can give it a look or get your own CURT 51130 Reflex Brake Control here:

 

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Another important element, even if it doesn’t seem so at a first glance, is paint. Not only will it dramatically increase the trailer’s resistance to corrosion, very important for something that will go in and out of the water all the time, but it will also cause great improvement in the resale value of the trailer.

#2: Vinyl

We agree this is more a matter of personal preference rather than necessity. However, after you try the vinyl, we’re pretty sure that you’ll never go back. After all, even if you want to get a carpet at one point or another, you can simply get a snap-on carpet and install it and take it off whenever you want.

The unquestionable advantage of vinyl is that it’s durable and water resistant (and, as a corollary, also resistant to mold and such). When you’re on a pontoon boat and you have people going in and out of the water and dragging water all along the floor, what you’ll get with a carpet is the uncomfortable feeling of wet textile and some serious mold if it’s not properly dried afterward.


While the carpet has the advantage when it comes to looks and texture, this is becoming less and less of an issue with modern vinyl covers. You can have your vinyl floor look exactly the way you want and, due to modern padding, it also gets pretty soft. What’s more, as stated above, you can put a carpet on top of it anyway, and then remove it when it has to dry.

The Marideck Marine Vinyl Flooring is everything you could ever wish for in terms of marine-grade vinyl flooring. The size is perfect for pontoons, at 6’ width, and there’s a wide variety of colors to choose from – from dark gray to white or wine red. Naturally, it is waterproof and resistant to mold and mildew and is pretty heavy so you won’t catch it rolling off the ‘toon floor anytime soon. The manufacturer can also advise you on what is the best glue to use for this process. As soon as you have this vinyl flooring in your boat, you’ll be settled for at least a decade. The price might be a bit biting, but hey – it’s pontoon upgrades we’re talking about here, and the quality will certainly pay off. Check out the latest price for the Marideck Marine Vinyl Flooring here:

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#3: Motor

As much as pontoon boat sellers would like you to believe that, having a powerful engine is NOT optional. Well, it is actually optional if the only thing you want to do is fishing. Otherwise, you will forever regret not getting a more powerful option. There’s a difference between 75 and 90hp and even more of a difference between 75 and 115hp – the difference, in other words, between a fishing boat and an everything boat.

Don’t forget that, with the engine playing a big part in the overall cost of the boat, an engine upgrade will also up the price of the boat in case you want to sell it.

When it comes to pontoon engines, you’ll have to choose between two manufacturers – it’s either Minn Kota or Motorguide. They’re kind of like the Apple and Android of pontoon motors – with Motorguide being significantly more expensive, but also having more tech features like GPS and fish finder syncing. However, if all you want is a powerful and simple motor that will ensure precise steering response and last you for a long time, we recommend going for the MinnKota Pontoon 55 Hand Control Trolling Motor. This motor will accommodate any pontoon with a 52” shaft, has five forward speed setting, and a 2-year warranty included in the price (which is pretty cheap by trolling motor standards). Find it here:

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Here are the three items you really can live without:

#1: Hydraulic steering

Hydraulic steering, or otherwise assisted steering, does indeed make driving more comfortable. However, the difference is not that great to be worth the money. In the case of a G3 Suncatcher V22RF, for instance, you’ll buy it for $2,400 less if you give up the hydraulic steering, which, let’s be honest, is quite a lot of money. Also, even without the hydraulic steering, a 10-year-old can drive the boat no problem.

What’s more, shockingly enough, you can purchase and install by yourself hydraulic steering for $600 or so, or $1,000 if you get a professional to do it for you. And yes, it can be installed at any point if you want. As such, if you’re tight on money, you can simply leave it out at the initial purchase and add it yourself later.

However, if you’re hardcore and like to do things by yourself, you can get a hydraulic steering kit from Amazon and try to install it yourself. It comes with all the necessary parts included, from the pump and cylinder to the hydraulic steering fluid and essential hoses. All you have to do is install it yourself – which honestly might be a bit tricky. You can find a wide variety of hydraulic steering kits online, starting from the very basic to high-end ones. The prices differ as well, but we recommend you start with the Baystar Kit HK4200A-3 that you can check out here:

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#2: Stereo upgrade

Some people want an upgraded stereo with Bluetooth and all sorts of other gimmicks on their boat. This is not an unusual, nor an unreasonable request, but it’s not very financially smart to get one from the boat maker. In fact, such a stereo upgrade will often cost up to $500, which is quite a lot. Compare this with the Dual Electronics AMB600W Stereo, which has Bluetooth, USB, radio, and whatever else you need, and you’ll see that it makes a lot more sense to buy the boat with the stock stereo and simply replace it yourself afterward if you want.

 

 

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All you need to make sure when it comes to sound system upgrades for your ‘toon is water resistance. You don’t necessarily have to for something that has “marine grade” in the title, but make sure they won’t give up at the first drop of water that touches the surface. This applies to both speakers and radio head units, so keep that in mind before purchasing anything.

For the rest of the money, you can also get an upgrade to the sound system. The Infinity Reference 612m delivers divine sound quality. You can create your own Boat Cinema sound system while still paying less than you would on a simple stereo upgrade.

#3: Camping cover

We agree, this is normally an upgrade that we actually recommend. There’s nothing nicer than bringing in a heater and fishing on a cold day, or simply enjoying an autumn morning on a lake, when the fog goes up, with a cup of hot tea. However, if you want a financially sound investment, we advise that you don’t get it on the retailer’s terms. In fact, a cover can easily cost upwards of $2,000 if you buy it from the boat retailer.

Besides that, covers are really useful if you plan on docking your pontoon or taking it back home on a trailer. In any case, you don’t want smashed bugs, mineral buildups, rain, snow, or ice affecting the surface of your boat, do you? A cover can spare you a couple of long, painstaking cleaning sessions, so why not get one, in the end? They’re not that expensive, attach with simple rope to rugged D-rings, will not scratch or damage your pontoon in any way, and will ensure the perfect protection against weather and all sorts of physical factors. For instance, you could check out the Classic Accessories Stellex Pontoon Boat Cover – a simple budget alternative that will certainly make a difference for your pontoon. Find it here:

 

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On the other hand, if you have a local fabric shop or something similar, you can order a custom cover for your boat and save at least $500. What’s more, you get a custom cover – meaning it will look exactly as you want it to, for less money than you’d pay on a stock cover.

Jerry Brookes
 

Hi I'm Jerry, founder of PontoonHelper.com. I've been pontooning for over 30 years believe it or not and have learned a thing or two about pontoons. As my passion project Pontoon Helper is aimed at educating any reader on all the different things you need to know before pontooning. I consider myself somewhat of an expert in this industry as it has become my life since retirement. Feel free to submit a comment or question on the website and I'll try to get back to you.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 2 comments
Jeremiah

I always though hydraulic steering is not worth the hype but a pal finally convinced me and I got it installed last week… I’m not much of a diy guy so got a pro to help installing it, it’s costed me a pretty penny but can’t complain – driving became 100x smoother!

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Alan

Yo man, I’ve had my ‘toon for over five years now and it was one of those older boats with carpet for flooring. Just switched to vinyl this summer and I still can’t belive how much more I’m enjoying my time on the boat not! The smell is gone, the wet carpet feeling is gone… if anyone’s wondering what’s the #1 thing you should upgrade on your boat it’s the flooring!

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