Inflatable Pontoon Boats
Pontoon fishing boats have become more and more popular with fisherman for their affordability, portability, and mobility. With a small body frame and 2 pontoon floats, you can pack your ‘toon into the trunk of most vehicles. Pontoons can be outfitted with rod holders, trolling motors fishing finders, and many more accessories – you can turn them into quite the fishing machine. Fishing pontoons are better suited for flowing water than float tubes, as oar power allows you to row against currents, etc. If you also prefer to not get wet, then a pontoon is for you as well. Hybrid frameless pontoon boats and pontoon fishing tubes have gained in popularity as the give you the best of both worlds. Pontoons boats offer quick-turn maneuverability and superior balance, their seats are positioned higher which offer heightened visibility and greater comfort.
Transporting Your Inflatable Pontoon Boat
Once you pick your inflatable pontoon boat, one of the major considerations is how to get their craft from point A to point B, and back again. These two points can be any permutation of residence, vehicle, lake or stream, launch/beach site and targeted fishing spot. A basic float tube can be easily transported, fully inflated, in or on many vehicles. And, tubes are easily handled and carried by one person. Pontoons, on the other hand, usually require more space and are often heavy enough that it is helpful to have a fishing buddy for assistance. The other option is to employ some kind of wheeled carrier if you are alone.
Not all tubers and tooners own trucks or other vehicles large enough to comfortably transport big bulky craft. Those on limited budgets or those who simply prefer to drive smaller vehicles have limitations on the type and size of the craft they can own and transport. Because tubes and toons can be deflated you can fit them into small spaces unless you want them aired up and ready for action when you reach the water. Even the frames on pontoons
usually break down into sections that fit into the back seat or trunk of the family sedan. You must sacrifice a few minutes of fishing time to set up your craft on the water but at least you are able to transport your pride and joy to your favorite spot.
Tubers and tooners prefer to be able to drive up to their launch site, unload a fully inflated craft, get aboard and start fishing. They also prefer not to have to go through a bunch of deflating and disassembly before loading up their craft for the ride home. In short, they want their tube or toon to be readily accessible and quickly loadable just like a boat and trailer. There is also the consideration of proper storage of your ride in between trips. “Down times” may be only a day or two or they could last throughout a long winter. There are some things you can do (and avoid) to insure the maximum useful life of your craft with minimal preventable damage. Storage strategies are covered in the final pages of this chapter.
The longest part of any tubing or tooning trip is usually the distance between your home and the lake or stream upon which you plan to launch. The vehicle you use and the method of transport will depend upon the size and weight of your craft…and whether or not you carry it “broken down” or aired up and ready for launching. Here are some of the options.
TRUCKS & PICKUPS
Serious tooners prefer wide-bodied longbed crew cab trucks. They can stack two or three toons in the bed and have room for a couple of buddies and all their gear. Add 4 wheel drive and they can take their craft almost anywhere without having to mess with a trailer. Pickups are generally wide enough to accommodate fully assembled and aired up pontoons. For wider toons in narrower truck beds you may have to let out some air to squeeze them in. Truck beds are often shorter than the length of your toon. If that is the case just leave the tailgate down. That’s seldom a problem for float tubes with or without a camper top on the pickup. If you transport your tube or toon in the back of your truck it is a good idea to use tie down straps before you hit the highway. It can be “deflating” to reach your fishing destination and to discover that your tricked out craft was sucked from your truck somewhere back down the road. Security is another potential problem when transporting tubes, toons and gear in the back of an open pickup. All it takes is a brief moment of inattention to result in damage or theft. Secure
your stuff inside a shell or a tough cover to keep “attractive goodies” from the view of thieves. Most thefts are simply crimes of opportunity. At least post a guard at “pit stops”.
Not many vans can transport a fully inflated full-size pontoon inside with the back doors closed. However, they can carry your partially deflated toon, or several inflated float tubes, quite well. Vans are good floatation fishing rides especially if they have high clearance and 4-wheel drive. Unfortunately, most vans are designed for city driving and may not handle rough roads very well. But, they can be ideal for short trips to easily accessible launching locations.
There are many different models, sizes and styles of “sports utility vehicles”. Some are not much more than “soccer mom” kid-mobiles…without 4X4, high clearance or other features expected of a good offroad vehicle. If you are a tuber or tooner you should be looking at the models with lots of cargo room (instead of extra seats) and with back road capability. If you can’t have or don’t want a truck an SUV is a good compromise. You can’t haul a
launch-ready pontoon inside, but you can carry one on top if you have a good roof rack. And, if you are a tuber you can haul at least one or two aired up tubes in your rig along with all the tackle and other stuff you need for a day on the water. A large model SUV can carry quite a bit of gear besides your tube(s). And, with high clearance and 4X4 it can land you and your stuff right at waters’ edge on some remote ponds.
The good old station wagon fills the niche between a van and a sedan. They provide more interior cargo room for fully inflated tubes but you can’t carry a battle-ready toon inside. Again, with the proper roof rack you can strap a smaller toon to the top for short rides to the lake. They don’t make family sedans like they used to. Not many regular cars can carry inflated tubes either in the back seat or in the trunk. Forget it if you have a pontoon. Of course, you can carry either tubes or toons in their deflated and disassembled state. There are also car top racks available for passenger cars that can carry an inflated tube or even a small pontoon. Some dedicated and creative tooners have “made do” with the family ride for their inflated toons for many happy trips. You just have to be sure that everything is well secured and that you don’t exceed mach 3 in your haste to go fishing. There is another consideration when carrying tubes or toons on the top of a family vehicle without a proper roof rack. You need to protect the painted roof of your car with a pad or blanket to avoid having it marred by the grit or rough surfaces on the bottom of your craft.
Many tooners use small “utility trailers” to get their craft to the water and back…fully “locked and loaded”. There are many sizes and options available. If you can find one that holds an inflated toon you can stack two or three for a group expedition. A drop-down rear gate makes it easier to load and unload your craft at the launch site.
Few vehicles come with factory installed luggage racks. But, there are aftermarket roof racks that can be set up and taken down easily and which are strong enough to handle small to medium sized pontoons. If you are handy with PVC you can make extensions and side supports to help with the stability and to make it easier to load and unload your toon. Of course, if you are simply loading a float tube you just need to make sure that it is well strapped down against lift off while you are cruising down the road. A light utility trailer like this one makes it easy to launch a tube or toon…fully aired up and tricked out. The back gate on this model folds down for easier one
man launching and loading. Custom made 2-toon trailer. Serious tooners who want to be able to head out whenever they have the time would benefit from having this kind of trailer ready to hook up and go.
Don’t load a large toon on a roof rack for the first time and then take off on a long trip without testing it first. Some SUV’s and station wagons have factory installed roof racks that are more for show than for heavy use. They will handle a couple of pieces of luggage okay but cannot withstand the tremendous lift and drag put upon them by a large pontoon while you are traveling at warp speed. There have been cases of tubers and tooners who have had severe damage to their vehicles and to their craft when everything ripped loose at high speed. A good policy is to first secure your craft very well to the rack. Then run additional tie ropes from the front of your craft down to the front bumper. Stop a couple of times on a long trip to tighten them up if needed. These guy ropes can absorb a lot of the lift and pull exerted on your craft by “road wind” and will help prevent catastrophic “lift-off”.
There are a lot of tubers and tooners who ride motorcycles and who want to use them to get their craft down to the water. The bikes themselves usually do not have much cargo area or places to lash down more than a deflated float tube. Some road-worthy machines have saddlebag storage and you can find small trailers designed for carrying limited loads behind you. Taking a fully inflated craft on a road run is not recommended. Gusts of wind from nature or other vehicles can cause the trailer to whip. Not good. However, you can certainly deflate your craft and stow it in your trailer or lashed behind you.
Bicycles can also be employed to move your craft between points. Obviously, a float tube would be about the largest craft you might want to handle. Most bikes are capable of carrying a tube for short trips from home to lake. A good all terrain mountain bike can serve to access launch sites around a lake or even to cover rough terrain back into a remote pond. Bicycles are cheaper and healthier to ride than driving a car especially on short runs. The
main problem to overcome is method of carrying your tube…and other gear. One simple solution is to stuff as much as possible into a large backpack and to carry it all on your back. Some float tubes actually come in a bag with backpack straps. You can stow pump, fins and waders inside the nylon cover for the trip. TubeDude’s Outcast Cougar secured and lashed down on his Jimmy. The sturdy rope through the front rings on the pontoons helps to stabilize the load at highway speeds. This aids in preventing the whole roof from peeling off, as has happened to some tooners who tried to transport heavy toons on lightweight vehicles with poor roof racks.
For short jaunts across open terrain…without trees, bushes or other hazards…you can air up your tube and carry it on your back. Some models have backpack straps…either standard or as aftermarket accessories. Because of the increased wind resistance when biking an inflated tube, you don’t want to ride on busy highways or during windy weather. If your bike has a sturdy carrier over the rear wheel, you can lash down your deflated tube
and some of the other components. Just be sure to secure it well and do not leave loose straps to tangle in the spokes. Stop to check your load often, especially if you are riding over rough ground. You can also use a bicycle trailer to carry either a tube or deflated toon. Just make sure that the terrain is not too much for your bike (or trailer) and that you do not try to take a load that is too bulky or top-heavy.
As mentioned in other places within this work, it is usually not a good idea to transport tubes or toons fully inflated. This is especially true if they are being carried inside a warm vehicle, an enclosed trailer or if they are outside on a hot day with intense sunshine beating down on them. A basic law of physics says that air expands when heated. Inflated water craft can suffer seam splitting or outright explosions if they get overheated while fully inflated.
As a general rule, it is a good idea to load up your inflated craft and then to let a bit of air out before heading down the road. Stop to check on them a time or two. If the covers have become hard again reduce the pressure by letting out some more air. Once you reach the water it usually only requires a few pumps to restore the air chambers to a full condition. You might even want to set your craft down in the water’s edge to cool it off a bit before “topping off your tank”. Cold water can cause the covers to sag just like heat can cause them to get too rigid.
Here are some of the more practical options:
Quite a few of the older “donut” tubes came with either a backpack bag or at least pack straps that you could attach to the inflated craft for hiking into remote fishing spots. Modern openended craft are often bulkier and heavier and are more difficult to stuff in a pack or to carry fully
However, there are several modern tubes that are especially designed of light materials and which can be easily carried in a pack for long distance walk-ins. And, there are some models which come with a complete pack-in setup…pack bag, tube, fins, pump, etc. Just add tackle and waders. If you want to make a pack trip with your tube you should carefully consider cutting down on weight wherever possible. Take lightweight waders and fins and leave the heavy tackle box at home. Take one lightweight rod and reel and only a good working supply of flies or lures. Some backpack fans even cut the handle of their toothbrush in half. Every extra ounce can feel like like a
pound as you trudge farther up the trail. There are a couple of pontoons that are small enough and light enough to consider carrying on your back into a remote lake. But even the specially designed “pack-toons” are bulkier and
heavier than tubes. That is one of the areas where tubes can claim superiority.