Pontoon Boats Keep Recreational Industry Afloat

By Groening, Tom | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), July 13, 2012 | Go to article overview

Pontoon Boats Keep Recreational Industry Afloat


Groening, Tom, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


HOLDEN, Maine -- Pontoon boats may have elicited a raised eyebrow when they first began appearing on lakes, ponds and rivers in the Northeast about 25 years ago. Today, the boats are familiar sights, moored at lakefront campgrounds, in front of cottages and puttering around lakes and ponds.

Mike Menne, an industry spokesman, said 25,000 pontoon boats were sold last year in the United States. Locally, the boats have been a hedge against the recession for dealers.

Steve York, manager of Port Harbor Marine in Holden, estimates that 40 percent of his sales are pontoon boats. And even though only two of Port Harbor Marine's five locations sell pontoon boats, co- owner Mark Soucy says the business is on pace to sell 70 of the vessels of an estimated 400 total boat sales for the year.

The state Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife reports that last year, 4,800 pontoon boats were registered from among a total 120,000 registered boats.

Menne said industrywide, sales are up 25 percent over the last few years.

The appeal of these versatile watercraft is easy to understand.

Jim Dunn, who lives on Beech Hill Pond in Otis, bought a new 20- foot Berkshire pontoon boat this year. Other family members also have pontoon boats.

"This lake in particular has an abundance of new pontoon boats," he said.

Dunn and his family enjoy cookouts on the boat, tying up with other pontoon boats to visit with neighbors and family, and with a ladder off the side, children "can use it like a swimming platform," jumping off in the middle of the lake while the adults hang out and talk.

"We like the fact that we can put more people on [it] than in a regular boat," he said. "We go out and watch the sunset just about every night."

Not only do Dunn and his wife enjoy their evening cruises on the lake, they actually were married aboard a pontoon boat 18 years ago.

"We had two or three pontoon boats tied up together," he remembers, and the ceremony took place on one vessel while friends and family watched the from the others.

At 53, Dunn has grandchildren and young children, and likes knowing they are "kind of caged in" by the rails on the pontoon boat, yet free to roam around the vessel.

Menne said the vessels were conceived in the early 1950s when Ambrose Weeres of Richmond, Minn., attached a wooden deck to two rows of steel drums that had been welded together, end to end.

"He was kind of an inventor," Menne said, and wanted to accommodate more friends and family than a traditional boat could handle. Weeres is now a leading manufacturer of the pontoon boat.

Sixty years later, the boats are "kind of like floating living rooms," Menne said, with price tags that match, up to $50,000- $70,000 depending on the amenities that come with them. …

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