Small pontoon boats are electric paddle boats powered by electric motor or manually using pedals, paddles or oars. These, usually two man boats, are small fishing boats that can be taken almost anywhere and can be used for fun, but also for some serious fishing.
A pontoon boat is, more or less, flat boat that relies on two or three pontoons to float. Today, most of designs are catamaran type, featuring two pontoons.
Pontoons can be empty or can be used as passenger area, storage space, equipment compartments and similar.
Small pontoon boats come at acceptable price, often depending on additional equipment like oars, paddles, batteries, canopy, trolling motor, anchor, ropes, rod holders etc.
Mostly they are made out of plastic, reinforced and coated PVC and rubber or some similar durable material, but there are also other materials in use, especially in home designs, like PVC tubing, steel, aluminum or even wood.
On the photo: Water Wheeler Electric ASL 5 Person Pedal Boat with Canopy is a good example of small, leisure boat with paddle wheel and combined pedal and electric trolling motor propulsion, suitable for short fishing trips on calm water. With additional battery, it has an exceptional range - practically all day long!
Small Pontoon Boat Propulsion
Most common types of propulsion of small fishing boats are:
- Paddles or oars - oars are connected to the boat with oarlocks (rowlocks), while paddles are held freely in hands. Paddle and oars are very quiet and if you are in shape, it is possible to move around for longer period of time, especially during calm weather. One of the drawbacks of oars and paddles is that both hands are occupied while lines are in the water. On the other hand, some people think that this is not a big problem when trolling.
- Central paddle wheel - small pontoon boats that are designed as catamarans with paddle wheel(s) almost exclusively have central paddle wheel between hulls/pontoons. Such position provide additional protection for paddles and enables such paddle wheels to be powered by pedals using legs, leaving hands free for fishing, even while boat is moving around. Rarely, such paddle wheel can be powered using additional electric motor. More often, small trolling motor is used with retractable (up/down) propeller.
- Small trolling motor - Trolling motors for small boats are in most cases - electric. Internal combustion engines can be used, but they are noisy, produce a lot of smoke (compared to electric motors, who don't have emissions of any kind), they consume fuel even when idle. On the other hand, electric trolling motors produce almost no noise, they are almost maintenance free, they are very light, don't consume energy when not working, can be used immediately and have other benefits when compared with small petrol trolling motors.
On the other hand, deep cycle marine lead acid batteries can be very heavy and when discharged, it takes hours to be recharged again. NiMH and various lithium batteries are lighter, stronger, have larger capacity and power density, but they are also more expensive than lead batteries.
Thrust required for small fishing boats depends on many things like size and weight of the equipped boat, hydrodynamic form of the hull(s), weather conditions and similar. For pontoon boats, up to 10-12 feet (3 - 3.5m) in length, 30 pounds (15kg) thrust is enough on really calm water, while 55 pounds trust motors deliver more than enough power. 80 pounds (or stronger) motors on such small boats are usually an overkill, but in bad weather, when one seeks shelter, they can come handy :) Keep in mind that stronger electric motor requires larger battery.
- Small sail - for increased autonomy or simply for fun, some small fishing boats, especially catamaran types, can have small sail. For sails to be used, some wind is needed, but on the other hand, small boats are made for calm weather. It is all up to a individual preferences.
Small pontoon boat propulsion - long story short: central paddle wheel between hulls, powered by pedals, leaving hands free for fishing. Electric trolling motor with retractable propeller and F24 or F27 sized deep cycle battery that can be used for 2-4 hours under full power or much longer for slow trolling. Auxiliary oars or paddles, just to be sure, is nice to have on board. Or, if you want good upper body workout, you can use oars or paddles while trolling :)
Fishing Paddle Boat Parts
Parts depend on the boat construction, but generally they are:
- hulls - there are mostly one, two or three hulls, depending on the design. Catamaran designs are stable fishing platforms and mass produced plastic hulls made out of just two parts (lower and upper) are most common small fishing paddle boats today.
- seats - depending on the size of the boat, paddle boats can have from one up to five seat. Mostly, these are two man boats. Seats are usually adjustable to provide most comfort while paddling, fishing or simply enjoying your time. Boats that claim to be designed for more than 2 persons, usually have adjustable back-to-back seats and when you extend one's sitting area, you are also shortening another sitting area. Anyway, most of such boats are advertised not as, for example, 4 person boat, but 2 adults + 2 children boats.
- paddle wheel, pedals, paddles, rudder oars and oarlocks should be made out of lightweight, but durable plastics. Some paddles and oars can be made out of wood and as such, they look beautiful, but they require more maintenance than plastic ones. It is highly recommended that all parts that can fall off the boat should be attached to the boat with some thin rope and that they should float. Better safe than sorry.
- bearings should be made out of stainless steel and/or bronze. Saltwater is very aggressive and low quality alloys rust quickly. When possible, parts that are not under large loads should be made out of strong plastics - they will not rust and are practically maintenance free.
- electric cables and connectors should be marine grade - even such equipment must be periodically checked and if needed, replaced or at least repaired before they malfunction.
- motor mount can be on the stern or on the bow. Some electric paddle boats have on-board electric motor with retractable propeller - this provides additional level of protection for propeller when not in use, but some people simply can't remember to lower it first and then turn motor on - been there, done that :)
- electric trolling motors are common trolling motors on small boats. They are cheaper than motors with internal combustion and much quieter. Heavy deep cycle batteries are required, but they can be used for providing additional stability. F24 or F27 sized batteries have 70-90Ah and around 50-60 pounds (actual data varies!) and motors with up to 55 pounds of thrust can operate for few hours, unless pushed to the max. For stronger motors, take either two such batteries connected in parallel or one larger battery. For example, Water Wheeler ASL Electric Pedal Boat has built-in Minn Kota electric trolling motor with 30 pounds of thrust - more than enough. With single F24 or F27 battery, it can be used entire weekend, unless pushed to the limit (to the max throttle) - then, you can expect 2-3 hours of operation.
NiMh batteries can provide 2-3x more energy for the same mass, while lithium batteries up to, or even more than 5 times more energy from the same weight. Such batteries cost much more, can't be easily connected in parallel (actually, they should not be connected in parallel, unless special circuitry and controllers are used), are heat sensitive etc... I like mine SLA batteries and I am not yet going to switch to non-lead batteries as main battery type for long period of time.
Canopy protects from sun and UV rays. Canopy should be easily retractable and during periods of relatively strong wind, it should be lowered since it acts like a small sail.
Note: during strong sun, cool breeze can mask strength of the sun, leading to sun burns, extra dehydration, excess sweating (leading to muscle cramps) etc. Even with canopy, have a small hat (or similar) on your head and enough water. Good marine radio and/or cell phone are not required on such boats, but those gadgets can fit in the pocket and can come handy - be sure to have waterproof radio, just to be sure.
- depending on the preferred fishing technique and number of people onboard, small pontoon boat can have several fishing rod holders on the sides and on the stern. It should be possible to mount and dismount rod holders as required.
- most of the pedal boats have drink holders, too. Personally, I like to keep my beverages away from fishing lines and rods - storage compartments are usually insulated and can keep beverages cold/hot for longer period of time.
List of spare parts and tools to have onboard is rather short - you are close to the shore or main fishing boat and you can have much more spare parts there. I would recommend to have universal pliers (for example, as part of some multi-tool combination), some screwdrivers, pins for propeller shaft, good knife. And a good duct tape!
Other parts that can come handy are: spare bearing with holders, canopy mounting hardware, bearings, bushings, pedals, pedal assembly (this can be expensive to have it around), various self-tapping screws, duct tape, cordless screwdriver, rudder, rudder rods, seat etc. List can be quite long.
Are all those spare parts required? Absolutely not! Most of the worn out parts can be spotted and replaced before they fail completely.
Two Man Boat - Improvise or not?
Pontoon fishing boats for one or two man are very small vessels. They range from simple rafts suitable for ponds and very calm weather to somewhat larger catamarans that can be used even on not-so-calm sea.
Two man boats have seats either side-by-side or one behind another. To provide best fishing experience possible, seats are adjustable and often each one has swivel - for left-right rotation - very important for covering larger fishing area from one fishing position. This sounds perhaps too much, but such details are very important if you are going to spend hours and hours sitting and waiting for fish to grab a bait.
Plastic paddle boats can be purchased at acceptable prices (few hundred dollars/euros) and can be used as small fishing boats suitable for short trips off the shore. As said before, their means of propulsion are paddle wheel and/or paddles/oars. Such boats can be handled with two adults with ease.
In order to use such boats for fishing, one should add few fishing rod holders. Also, a handheld fish finder can come handy.
Adding deep cycle marine battery and electric trolling motor increase costs and weight - in this case you should need trolling motor mount, too! How far will you go with improvisation of such paddle boat is up to your DIY skills and your needs.
Some people go that far and make small pontoon boats out of PVC and similar pipes/tubes. If you are going to do something like that, you are doing it on your own responsibility and if something happen to you or somebody else, it is entirely your fault.
Anyway, before doing anything, do some math. For example, a tube 30cm in diameter, 2.5m long, half submerged, can carry 88kg. Two of such tubes (half submerged) can carry around 175kg (around 390 pounds). Two 40cm/2.5m half submerged tubes can carry around 310 kg (690 pounds), etc.
Those results (175 and 310kg) in these examples include tubes, pontoon construction, fishermen, gear, propulsion ... And those numbers are given only as an example!
Such boats can come very cheap, but do you want to risk such improvised construction to fall apart while fishing? If you like to improvise, get small plastic paddle catamaran, add electric trolling motor mount, oars and oarlocks, rod holders, small anchor etc. Although such small boats are not required to have lights, if you are going to use it during night, be sure to add one central white LED light - it's power consumption is very low, but it can prevent other people ramming you!
Barbeque holder and other details? Limited only by your imagination :)
Inflatable Pontoon Boats
If you are really into outdoor holidays and you really like fishing, inflatable pontoon boat is perhaps the best solution for you.
These boats are lightweight one to two man boats that can be transported in any car with other camping equipment.
Depending on your preferences, they can have one to two seat, electric trolling motor mount, battery storage area, fishing rod holders, oarlocks, aluminum/wooden/plastic oars etc.
Their inflatable hulls are made from various materials like abrasion resistant PVC and/or nylon with aluminum and rigid plastics frames and support.
They are light enough to be handled by single adult and can be used on ponds, lakes, rivers and sea.
Using 12V electric pumps can be inflated and deflated rather quickly - we emphasize 'deflated' here, since many people have issues with deflating and packaging inflatable items in general.
One of the differences between 'Float Tubes' and 'Inflatable Pontoon Boats' is that inflatable pontoon boats keeps fishermen out of the water all the time - but still very close to the water and exposed to the Mother Nature :)
Electric trolling motor - highly recommended. Why? Well, these vessels are small and light and by using oars and paddles, fisherman can change position with ease. However, with small electric trolling motor, up to 55 pounds of thrust, one can wander around for hours using common F24 of F27 deep cycle marine battery. Not to mention slow and quiet trolling using live bait. If you feel like paddling around, feel free, but when you have motor with you, you can start using it in no time. When you don't have it, you MUST paddle or use oars :)
Note: Hooked big game fish can pull small boat of any type for hours, rough seas can fill it with water, strong wind can blow it away from the shore etc. Small pontoon boats can be used in numerous ways, just be sure to stay safe.