Peculiar pleasures of the pontoon
Ayachtsman’s 240- foot gold- plater may reside in Miami or Monaco, but a 24- foot pontoon boat often floats happily at hand behind his home. One serial superyacht owner shared with me that, without question, his ’toon was his favorite vessel, explaining, “All we have to do is walk down to the dock, turn the key, cast off the lines, and we’re off for a nice sunset cruise.” My auburnhaired sweetheart holds similar affection for our pontoon, referring to it as her “favorite room in the house.”
Try as they may, pontoon builders have yet to make any pontoon boat a styling success, and the performance of such boats is usually less than impressive, so their popularity must lie in something else. I propose it is the fact that they offer unrivaled open deck space for a given length, with corresponding versatility in both arrangement and activity, all in a straightforward package that is simple to operate and inexpensive to acquire and maintain.
It was inevitable that designers would find it necessary to tamper with this winning formula. In fact, we can see this “upscaling” clearly manifested in two different versions. In the first, pontoon builders have upgraded the basics and added innumerable options to the original flat platform, sadly boosting both complication and cost with little improvement in the enjoyment factor.
In the second version, the twin pontoon hulls have been replaced with a single planing hull to create a so-called “deck boat,” with a big flat deck remaining the essential ingredient. The first iterations were actually built by pontoon boat builders, but it wasn’t long before yachtbuilders took notice.
First was Wally Yachts, whose Wally Tender series enjoyed immediate success as both day boats and superyacht tenders. They were soon followed by the 48- foot EAMS Tender Toy, which folded out Transformers- style to increase deck space for guests and water toys. Wider Yachts launched another variation, with sliders to expand its 42- footer’s deck area well beyond the hull beam.
Astondoa Yachts, with a design by Luiz de Basto, offers a 63-foot model called the Top Deck. It’s a true yacht with luxurious belowdecks accommodations, but a large uncluttered stem-to-stern flat deck is its obvious distinguishing feature. Upping the ante once again is Wally, whose Ace series premiered with Kanga, an innovative 79-footer that doesn’t let her compact deckhouse get in the way of full-length outdoor spaces. Wider Yachts, in turn, has responded with a 150-foot version of its expandable-beam design.
So where will it end? We need only look at recent concept yachts for clues. The fertile mind of Luca Bassani gave us the 193-foot Wally Hermès Yacht, with the apt acronym WHY. Some critics fawned over it, some panned it, but they failed to note that, at heart, it was just a huge deck boat. Yacht Island Design returned closer to the pontoon roots for its Streets of Monaco, a 508-foot concept yacht that rides atop two SWATH hulls, which are essentially submerged pontoons.
I fear we will not see the end of this escalation until someone trumps all the others by proposing the ultimate flat top: the repurposing of a surplus aircraft carrier into a yacht. Lots of open deck space, accommodations for 5,000 and you don’t need to mess with a helicopter because you can land your private jet on board. Of course, with all that, there’s only one thing you’ll still need: a little pontoon boat for the dock behind your home.