Catamaran Vs Pontoon Boat? 12 Important Facts (When Choosing)

A catamaran and a pontoon boat both have many similarities.  However, they also have many differences, and there are reasons you might want to choose one over the other.

In this post, we’ll compare catamarans and pontoon boats so that you can decide for yourself which type of boat will work best for you and your needs.

The Deck Space Area

Pontoon boats consist of a deck that sits over the top of a set of pontoons.  This can be two or more pontoons depending on the size of the pontoon boat.  These pontoons are usually made from aluminum, and the only purpose they serve is to support the deck.

Because of this, the deck sits completely over the pontoons as the pontoons will never be accessed from the deck.  With catamarans, this is completely different.

A catamaran has a set of hulls that serve the same purpose in that they support the deck.  However, they can also be used for storage and for living quarters.

Because of this, the hulls of a catamaran need to be accessed from the deck.  This cuts down on deck space when compared to a pontoon boat that does not need to create access points for hulls.

On top of this, most catamarans will have an enclosed space that the captain can use to pilot the boat.  This enclosed space can be inside the Salon area or even overtop of it.

Pontoon boats usually have a windshield and a bimini top to protect the driver.  The exception would be in a pontoon houseboat where the captain might be within close quarters.

As a result of all of this, a person with a pontoon boat will have more deck space than a person with a similarly sized catamaran.  However, this doesn’t take into account that often-times, catamarans are larger and wider than standard pontoon boats.  This means that if you want a large amount of deck space, you could go with a larger catamaran versus a smaller pontoon boat, as the larger boat will still end up with more deck space.

The Hull Space Size

As we said earlier, a pontoon boat covers its pontoons with the deck.  A catamaran also sits its deck on the pontoons, but it still provides access to the hulls.

Catamarans will often have berths and heads inside the hulls.  In fact, larger catamarans may have multiple berths and heads located inside of the hulls.

Slightly smaller catamarans that lack the space for a kitchen on deck may even have a small galley kitchen inside one of the hulls.  Go even smaller, and the catamaran may not have room for any living arrangements within the hull, but it will still provide access to the hulls for storage.

A pontoon boat does not offer any of these benefits.  With a pontoon boat, the pontoons do not serve any additional purposes other than to keep the boat afloat.  This can be good as it cuts down on weight, but it is limiting as far as space goes.  It’s also limiting as far as living space goes as well.

Sailing Capabilities

If you want to go sailing, you’ll need to stick to buying a catamaran.

Sailing catamarans can be found in the form of small sailing crafts, and they can be found in the form of large ocean cruising sailing catamarans.

Some people prefer sailing catamarans over standard monohull sailboats because these boats don’t heel like traditional sailboats.  Others prefer monohull sailboats because they do heel.

Some people also feel that monohull sailboats are easier to learn to sail on as catamarans do not provide instant feedback like a monohull sailboat might.

For more information on the differences between catamaran sailboats and monohull sailboats, please read my post titled, Catamaran Vs. Monohull Boat Facts.

You won’t find sailing pontoon boats at all.  In fact, you’ll really only find two types of pontoon boats.  The first type is the recreational type with lots of deck space.  The second type is the house-boat type that you might find on lakes, rivers, and protected bays.

Do You Want To Race?

As we just mentioned, you won’t find any standard pontoon boats with sails on them.  For this reason, you won’t find any pontoon boats in sailboat races.

However, you can and will see sailing catamarans raced. 

These boats may not be as thrilling as monohull sailboats for racing, but they can be raced recreationally, just like any other type of sailboat.  This is especially true with the smaller models known as Hobie catamarans.

The motor versions of both of these boats could technically be used for racing, but this isn’t something I’ve ever seen or even heard of.  These boats sit on the top of the water so they can pick up decent speeds on calm waters, but they really aren’t designed for serious racing like a racing motorboat.

Recreational Use?

There are many recreation opportunities with both of these types of boats.

The recreational opportunities that exist will vary based on the features of the boats and the types of boats within each category.

Some of these different types include:

  1. Pontoon houseboats.
  2. Standard pontoon boats.
  3. Pickup truck fishing pontoon boats.
  4. Hobie sailing catamarans.
  5. Ocean cruising catamarans.

1) Pontoon Houseboats

A  pontoon houseboat might have water slides and diving boards connected to it.  These boats can also have large recreational areas both within and above the housing areas.

Pontoon houseboats are perfect for people looking to have large parties or for those looking to spend a weekend out on a large lake or river.  In fact, these types of houseboats can often be found for rent on some of the larger lakes and rivers throughout the country.

2) Standard Pontoon Boats

A smaller pontoon boat might have built-in grills for barbecues and built-in stereo systems for cruising.  These boats can be great for people looking to spend a day out on a small island.  I’ve done this myself on South Carolina’s Lake Murray, and it was a lot of fun.  Because the pontoon boat can penetrate into shallow waters, we were able to run it right up to the island that we wanted to swim from.

These smaller pontoon boats can also be used to pull water skiers, kneeboarders, and tubers.  They are great for this because they are straightforward to get in and out of the water with.  These boats are usually low enough in the water that a ladder won’t even be needed.

3) Pickup Truck Fishing Pontoon Boats

You can fish off of any pontoon boat, but the ones that can be loaded into a pickup truck are even more convenient to fish with.  These boats have decks that slide in so that the pontoon boat can be reduced in width.

Once the boat is collapsed in on itself, it can easily be wheeled into the back of the truck.  When the person is ready to fish with the boat again, he needs to wheel the pontoon boat out of the truck and to the water.  Once at the water, he can make the deck wide again.

4) Hobie Sailing Catamarans

Hobie sailing catamarans are small catamarans that are built just for recreational sailing.  These boats can be used for high-performance sailing as well as for cruising.

The nice part about these types of sailing catamarans is that they are often small enough that they can be put on a trailer. 

This makes them great for recreational sailors that do not have a place to dock their boat.  In fact, some of these boats are so small that you can place them on top of your vehicle.

5) Ocean Cruising Catamarans

We’ll talk about this more in the next section, but needless to say, many catamarans are large enough that they can be taken across the ocean.

In fact, many people who wish to sail the ocean via the island countries will choose catamarans because their shallow draft gives them the ability to get close to land without having to worry about hitting bottom and causing a hull breach.

Also, a large sailing catamaran’s additional stability can make sitting at an ocean dock more pleasant.  This is because a catamaran will not rock back and forth as much as a typical boat might.

6) Recreational Advantages

Neither type of boat has an overall recreational advantage over the other.  Catamarans are a more seaworthy design for rough weather and big waves.  Pontoon boats are great for lots of room and cruising on a calm lake.

Certain types of catamarans will meet some people’s recreational needs, while certain types of pontoon boats will meet other people’s recreational needs.

Ocean Faring Is Best Done With Catamarans

As we said earlier, a catamaran is capable of cruising across the oceans while a pontoon boat is not.

This is mostly because of the way the two boats are built.

Catamarans are often built to category A status so that they can sail out into the ocean.

Also, catamarans are often built with sails, while pontoon boats are not.  People looking to do long ocean voyages will usually choose a sailboat so that they are not restricted by how much fuel they can carry.  As a result, even if a pontoon boat were built strongly enough to navigate rough ocean waters, it would also need a sail added to it.  Do both of these things to a standard pontoon boat, and you have basically converted your pontoon boat into a catamaran, but with much worse performance.

Pontoon Boats Are Smaller Than Catamarans

One of the reasons why catamarans can go into the ocean and pontoon boats cannot is that catamarans are often built to large sizes.  It is easy to find a catamaran that is over 40 feet long, but you won’t find a lot of pontoon boats that are built to these lengths.

The exception to this is with pontoon houseboats, but these boats are usually not built strongly enough to traverse the ocean.

According to Pontoonopedia, the most popular pontoon boat size is about 22 feet in length.  Sailing catamarans, on the other hand, often range from 35 – 50 feet long.

Catamarans Can Be Costly

If you’ve read my post on Boat Price Comparison (a great read to get a basic understanding of different boat types), you’ll know that catamarans typically start off at a price of $10,000.00.

But they can go all the way up over a million dollars depending on the type of catamaran that you buy.

However, you can get some smaller Hobie catamarans for less than $10,000.00.

Pontoon boats typically cost between $15,000.00 to $50,000.00.   However, this assumes that you’re buying a standard pontoon boat that ranges between 20 to 30 feet in length.  If you buy a small pontoon boat for the back of your pickup truck, you could spend less than $5,000.00.  If you decide to buy a large house pontoon boat, you could still end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As you can see, it is hard to do a price comparison on these boats as they are so different from each other.  When making a financial decision, you’re better off deciding on what type of boat you need and then deciding between buying a new one versus a used one.  This will help reduce costs when needed while still providing you with the type of boat you actually want for your particular use.

Maintenance Issues To Consider

The maintenance on a catamaran is usually more entailed than it is on a pontoon boat.  There are many reasons for this.  For starters, motor catamarans will always have two motors.

A pontoon boat is narrow enough that it can have a single outboard motor built onto the back of it.

Secondly, a pontoon boat cannot be a sailboat, while a catamaran can.  Sailboats often come with more maintenance because the sails need to be examined and cleaned off each and every time you use them.  This is especially true for people heading out into the ocean on a sailing catamaran.  One ripped sail or damaged piece of hardware, and the person could be stranded at sea in their catamaran.

Another reason that catamarans require more maintenance is that they are made from fiberglass, while pontoon boats are usually made from aluminum.  Aluminum boats can become dented, but it takes a lot to put a hole in them.

Fiberglass boats, on the other hand, can easily become scratched, and holes can form in them.

The additional space of a catamaran can also lead to more maintenance.  A pontoon boat does not have living quarters inside of the hulls to maintain.  Maintaining living quarters within the hulls is a bit more work than maintaining houseboat living quarters that are all built above the deck.

Resale Value And Depreciation

Typical pontoon boats seem to go down in value quickly.  In fact, it is usually better to buy them after they are already a few years old as you’ll lose a lot of value through depreciation over the first three years of ownership.  After this, the depreciation tends to level off, and the boats depreciate in a similar manner to most other boats.

The resale value of a catamaran is usually pretty high. 

Catamarans are more difficult to find, so there is less competition in the used market.  This is great for people trying to sell their catamaran on the used market but not so great for people looking to buy a used catamaran.

With a pontoon boat, I’d always recommend that you consider buying a used boat.  With a catamaran, you might want to shop around before deciding between buying a new or used boat.

If you are the least concerned about the resale value of your boat, you need to read our complete guide to boat depreciation. We did an extensive study on a ton of data to give you a clear picture of exactly what to expect from each boat type.

DIY Enthusiasts? Look Here

I haven’t seen a lot of DIY catamarans in recent years.  These boats are a bit more complicated to build when compared to both monohull boats and standard pontoon boats.

On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of DIY pontoon boats. 

Some people take standard pontoon boats and build houses on top of them.  These people save a lot of money by doing this as they usually buy a used pontoon boat for less than $10,000.00 and are able to build a cabin on it for only a few thousand dollars.

I’ve even seen some people make temporary tent houses out of their pontoon boats, which is an even more economical way to make a DIY houseboat.  This isn’t something you see with a catamaran.  A catamaran is either built with an interior, or it is not.

DIY enthusiasts often build smaller pontoon boats from scratch as well.  People will use 55-gallon drums, barrels, and even large pieces of PVC pipe to create their own little DIY pontoon boats.  A small sailing catamaran can potentially be built in the same way, but the larger versions certainly cannot.  A few pieces of PVC pipe just isn’t going to seem seaworthy to any sane person.

Other Boat Types To Consider

People considering a pontoon boat will often look at deck boats, airboats, and even Jon boats.

This is because these types of boats meet the same needs that a typical pontoon boat meets.

When a person considers buying a catamaran, they are usually comparing it to a monohull sailboat, a yacht, or a large cabin cruiser.  This is because these boats match the needs that a catamaran owner is usually trying to meet.

Final Thoughts

Catamarans and pontoon boats both have their own unique uses.

If you’re thinking about buying one of these boats, consider how you might use the boat and go from there.

It’s impossible to say which boat is right for you as everybody has different needs and priorities. But it would help if you had a clear understanding of the differences between pontoons and catamarans after reading this article.

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