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2011 BEST BOATS: Pontoons

These four picks all make a perfect floating home away from home

By Allan Tarvid
Published: March 24, 2011
List every way you can think of to have fun on the water and you can probably find a pontoon boat to handle each one. They can even serve as a mobile headquarters for enjoying other kinds of boats, like a pair of PWCs or a bevy of paddle-powered craft. A pontoon can also be your own portable platform for fishing, swimming or diving in a quiet, secluded spot far from the weekend crowds.
These four models include one with quiet, exhaust-free electric power that doesn’t impact the sounds and smells provided by Mother Nature. Another is a roomy model designed to make fishing even more relaxing. The third is a luxurious craft that’s equally at home handling family fun during the day or pampering guests on comfortable sunset cruises. The fourth pontoon boat has enough ‘oomph’ on tap to pull skiers, tubers and board riders when you’re in the mood to move beyond leisurely pursuits. So this summer, get out on the lake and enjoy!

Allan Tarvid has been writing about boating for more than 30 years. He has no plans to even apply for a real job.

PRINCECRAFT Length: 17 feet, 1 inch | Beam: 90 inches Dry Weight: 1,306 pounds Max hp: 48 volt Torqeedo Cruise 4.0R (equivalent to 9.9 hp gas engine) MSRP: $15,575 (with Cruise 4.0R) | Website: www.princecraft.com
Princecraft Brio E 17 (electric)

For Cabins: Cruise at up to 6.5 mph while the electric throttle displays remaining battery power and the distance you can travel before you need to “refuel” with a battery charger. There is enough power to push the boat on almost any body of water, not just where gas engines are prohibited.

Best Feature: The quiet ride – you’ll hear the loons. Boat builders normally create the boat and determine the propulsion type later, but Princecraft designed the Brio E 17 (and smaller E 15) around the German Torqeedo electric motor system. The boats’ structure and 23-inch pontoons are made of 5052-H36 marine-grade aluminum, offering both light weight and durability.

Accessories & Amenities:
Light doesn’t mean stripped down in this case. Princecraft includes plush upholstery, a folding/swiveling helm chair and lots of storage under all the lounge chairs. The helm console includes an acrylic top with an iPod-friendly AM/FM/CD stereo built in. A deluxe bimini top can be raised to fend off sun or rain.

SUN TRACKER Length: 21 feet, 11 inches | Beam: 102 inches | Dry Weight: 1,775 pounds | Max hp: 90 hp MSRP: $16,995 (with Mercury 40 ELPT 4-stroke EFI) | Website: www.suntrackerboats.com
Sun Tracker  Fishin’ Barge 21

For Cabins: This boat has a larger deck for 2011, bearing comfortable lounge seating and a removable dining or game table. And it offers a list of features aimed at water-loving families who also fish.  

Best Feature:
An all-new aft fishing platform has two swivel seats, a larger cushion-top livewell with baitwell insert and vertical rod storage. There is a second livewell on the port side, a new top-loading rod storage box to starboard and two more swivel fishing seats up front.

Accessories & Amenities:
The L-shaped lounge seat includes a lockable armrest storage compartment and dry storage underneath. The bimini top features a drop-down changing room/privacy curtain and the helm console sports a SIRIUS satellite radio-friendly, AM/FM/CD stereo with MP3 jack. An optional fishing package includes a Lowrance fishfinder and MotorGuide Wire-less trolling motor with remote control.
AVALON Length: 22 feet Beam: 96 inches Dry Weight: 2,600 pounds Max hp: 150 hp MSRP: $28,995 (with center pontoon and 150 Mercury Optimax) Website: www.avalonpontoons.com
Photo by AVALON
Avalon Catalina 22

For Cabins: A capable family boat in standard trim, the Catalina can be customized with options to do everything from pulling skiers to sleeping extra cabin guests on an inflatable mattress inside a snug camping enclosure. If you want options, a walk-on sunroof with ladder can be ordered, as can an entertainment bar complete with sink, electric faucet and two-gallon reservoir.

Best Feature: Adding a center pontoon and a large outboard adds enough performance to put watersports on this Catalina’s list of capabilities. Order the optional watersports package to further boost performance and you’ll have to look twice to make sure you’re really in a pontoon boat.

Accessories & Amenities: This affordable boat’s standard features include a polished, contoured helm stand with lighted rocker switches, full gauge panel and an MP3 player storage bin to help feed the high-powered Jensen stereo. Designer furnishings feature Matrix 50 marine upholstery and seat frames with flow-through ventilation. An extra heavy-duty motor pod is double-bolted to seven crossbeams to back up the performance of big outboards.

BENNINGTON Length: 27 feet, 1 inch | Beam: 102 inches | Dry Weight: 2,649 pounds | Max hp: 150 hp (350 with optional ESP performance package) | MSRP: $41,533 (with Yamaha 50 hp 4-stroke) Website: www.benningtonmarine.com
Bennington 2575 RCW O/B

For Cabins: Bennington’s awe-inspiring R-Series boats combine a luxurious interior and refined exterior lines in a package you can customize inside and out with a broad selection of colors, graphics and textures.

Best Feature: The gorgeous interior includes two aft-facing super lounges and two wide chaise lounges with fold-down armrests, all covered with soft-touch vinyl and illuminated at night with Blue Ice LED mood lighting.

Accessories & Amenities: The one-piece fiberglass console has an armrest, a footrest and a Sony M6 stereo behind a console door with dash-mounted remote. Full helm instrumentation is in place including GPS-driven speed and direction indication. Luxury options include aft teak flooring, a galley with refrigerator and a pillow-top furniture upgrade.
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