Story and photos by Mark Boncher
Like most DIY projects, the scariest part is starting. Once you have made the decision to do it and you “get into it,” the job starts to flow and your natural problem-solving and deductive-reasoning skills kick in. This job is very straightforward and requires more time and effort than skill. Photo by Thinkstock.com
A couple of my neighbors and I took on this project last spring with several of our neighborhood pontoon boats that were past their prime. The project goes much more quickly with several people, but I will warn you: It can look daunting when you first start. However, redoing the floor on your pontoon is actually pretty straightforward, especially if you have an older pontoon without a lot of upgrades.
Tools You'll Need
Here's a short list of what to have on hand:
- Paint roller with extension and medium-nap cover
- 18V power driver/drill with assorted drivers and drill bits
- Wire strippers
- Socket set
- Wrench set
- Hammer, screwdrivers, crescent wrench and assorted hand tools
- Pry bar
- Dremel or other multitool
- Circular saw
- Rivet gun
- Electrical tape
First, you’ll want to get the pontoon out of the water and onto dry land and make a base for it to sit on the ground (or in a garage if you are luckier than we were). You want to be able to move easily around the entire boat with people and tools. Remove all of the seating first, then the Bimini top, and then the rails. All of these are most likely held on by screws or bolts; a nice air-gun system works well in removing them. You’ll also likely need a reciprocating saw to cut off old bolts and screws, but take care to keep all the rails and vinyl in good shape so you don’t have to buy replacements. Now it’s time to remove the console. Again, this is likely just held in place by bolts and/or screws, but all the electrical and steering cables run through the console. Take the time to mark each wire that you cut when removing it and leave plenty of lead wire from the gauges, stereo, throttle, etc. This will make your life much easier when putting it back together. Before taking the console off, you will have to pull out the steering rod and cable assembly. This is easily done by loosening the locknuts near the motor that hold the cable to the outboard engine. Then you’ll likely have to thread the cable through the underside frame of the boat and up through a hole under the console. Once all the wires are cut and labeled, the steering cable is up and out, the throttle is laid to the side, and the battery is disconnected, you can take the console off.
The rear floor area of the pontoon needed the most attention.
Next, make sure you remove your green and red lights, any other lighting, and any aluminum side trim and corner pieces. Try to keep the aluminum and corner pieces in good condition because these items are not cheap (an aluminum corner cap from an online catalogue can run almost $30 delivered). Now you’re ready to take off the old flooring. We removed the old carpeting first. Depending on the condition of your carpet, it can usually just be peeled back into a roll with a little elbow grease and strategic pulling. Once the carpet is removed, take out any/all screws, bolts or fasteners that you can find that may be holding the plywood floor on. Here is where the reciprocating saw, claw hammers and crowbars may be needed. We actually used an old iron pry bar that was 6-feet long to pop the plywood off. Much of it was so rotted that it almost fell apart. Feel free to let your inner beast run wild here, but be careful not to damage the frame, as most pontoons have all-aluminum understructures, and aluminum bends and breaks easily. At this point, you should be looking at just the frame of the boat plus the motor (if it is an outboard like ours).See also The Best Power Boat for Your Cabin
Now comes the more difficult and time-consuming aspect of this DIY project … the rebuild. Before you put the new floor on, it is smart to rewire your boat. Remember when I said to label all your wires in the console? Well, you should run all new wires along the frame (most pontoons have little circles cut out in the frame to run wires through) for lighting, speakers or whatever other electrical things you are going to have on your boat. Label these wires, too, so you can easily connect the correct wires that will be running under the floor of your boat with the correct switches and corresponding wires that you clipped in your console.
To refurbish a pontoon deck, start by taking off everything, even the console.
Once your wiring is complete, you can put the flooring on. We used ¾-inch treated plywood (the cheaper option), but if you really want your floor to last, opt for marine-grade plywood. (EDIT: The copper in new ACQ pressure-treated wood will corrode the aluminum stringers in a pontoon – potentially very quickly. Your best bet is to use marine-grade plywood to refurbish your pontoon deck.) Depending on where you go, marine-grade plywood will likely be about twice as expensive, and at places like Home Depot, Lowe’s and Menards, it must be special ordered. There are several options for attaching the plywood floor to your frame, but probably the most secure is to use aluminum or stainless steel bolts with round heads. It is a little more work because you have to drill through the plywood and the frame and line everything up, but it will be more permanent. We opted for the less time-consuming method and bought long stainless steel panhead self-tapping screws and simply used a bunch of them. This isn’t a cheap method either, but much easier because no drilling is needed.
Remove the carpet and decking to expose the pontoon frame.
We bought our carpeting through an online marine carpeting retailer. But you can get numerous types, colors, price points and qualities at just about any DIY big-box store or carpet store, and rent a roller at the same time. Equally as important as the carpet is the glue you use. Make sure it is a marine adhesive and not just an outdoor carpet adhesive. Laying the carpet is a two-person job. The easiest way to do it is to apply glue to the first plywood “section” of deck and to a similar amount of the carpet. Apply the glue to the underside of the carpet as you roll it out. Apply enough glue to cover approximately 4x8 feet, or one “section,” of the deck at a time. You will have to do this fairly quickly. Continue putting the glue on the deck and downside of the carpet one section at a time and simply unroll the carpet down the deck. Try to keep the carpet taut, square and with no bubbles. Once the carpet is laid, use a carpet roller to make sure the adhesion is set. A roller will also help smooth out any wrinkles or bubbles. Let the glue dry per the instructions (we let it set for at least 24 hours). Next, you’ll want to reinstall the console, as all the electrical and steering cables feed through it. We waited until after we installed the floor to cut a new hole under the console for the cable and all the wires, but others have found it easier to cut the hole first. We then finished installing the console, hooking up all the correct wires, rerunning the steering cable back to the motor, and testing everything to make sure it worked. Success!
At this point, all the heavy lifting is over and you simply need to install all your rails, any lighting on the deck, and aluminum trim pieces and corner caps. Don’t forget to wire up your navigation light in back as well. Most pontoons have a Bimini top, so make sure you loop the wire back up through the rail; the rear starboard side is the best option. Doing this before bolting or screwing down the rails is much easier.See also Fueling Up Your Cabin Boat
On a couple of our neighborhood pontoon rebuilds we replaced the entire fence paneling (siding) on the rails. You can buy this siding from places like pontoonfence.com
or any other online boating specialist. It comes in a roll just like carpeting.Simply drill out all the rivets and remove the old siding from the rails, then use the old pieces as stencils to mark off where to cut out the new siding on a laid out roll. You will need a multitool, small handsaw or something similar to cut out the new pieces. Once you have the pieces cut, simply rivet them back onto your rails.We also decided to reupholster the seats. This can be done at any local upholstery shop, but I suggest buying at least the “middle-of-the-road” marine upholstery. The cheap stuff literally cracks and falls apart after just one summer; I have been a witness!
We estimated that the total cost of the job – including plywood, carpet, glue, wiring, hardware and upholstery – was $1,500. I say estimated because there were plenty of trips to the store for drill bits, saw blades, Busch Light beer and other essentials for several people to do this project.
Marine Carpet Facts & Tips
Using the right glue is imperative to your pontoon carpet lasting, looking good, and not moving or getting bubbles in it. Marine-grade glue works in concert with the specific weather-resistant rubber backing on marine-grade carpeting. There are several online and big-box retailers, including Overton’s and West Marine, which sell glue for this specific application. Typically, 1 gallon of the glue will cover an 8x12-foot area, so most pontoons will need 2 gallons. Make sure to apply the glue liberally; don’t skimp or you won’t get uniform adhesion. We used a 3/8-inch nap roller to apply the glue, but any medium nap will work. Marine-grade glue also works well on pretty much any other standard boating surface, including wood, aluminum and fiberglass.I also can’t stress enough to use a heavy carpet roller once the carpet is laid. The amount of bubbles, creases and poorly bonded areas is significantly decreased with the use of a roller, since it can be difficult to get everything perfect when laying the carpet out. A carpet roller can usually be rented at a big-box store.
ABOUT OUR AUTHORDIYer Mark Boncher is editor of
The floor of this pontoon was soft and rotting; the carpet was also moldy and rotting; much of the electrical was unsafely wired; and bolts, screws and more were exposed and hazardous.
American Snowmobiler magazine, AmSnow.com.