The difference between a tritoon and a pontoon is all in the name. Where a pontoon has dual toons on the bottom (also known as just “tubes”), a tritoon has three, with an additional tube running directly down the center.
The tritoon vs pontoon competition started in the early 2000s, with the introduction of the first tritoons in the 1980s finally becoming semi-popular. Pontoon boats have been around since the 1950s, so it’s definitely an instantly recognizable name.
Both vessel types are built around the same concept—the creation of a slow-moving, party barge on the water. The tritoon design was incorporated to increase the weight capacity and size of the deck, along with a less shallow draft.
Tritoon vs Pontoon
The only physical difference between a tritoon and a pontoon is the addition of a center tube, making three total. Tritoons, thanks to a deeper draft, can handle waves better than pontoons, although neither craft is ideal for rough water.
Thanks to the additional tube, the weight capacity of a tritoon exceeds that of a pontoon. It also allows manufacturers to add a lot more real estate for passengers to stand and sit on. That means more or larger furniture, expanded grilling or cooking areas, more storage room, and larger tables.
This is the primary advantage of a tritoon over a pontoon—weight capacity.
Pontoon boats have been around for several decades longer than their tritoon cousins. They feature everything a tritoon features, except for being lighter in the weight capacity compartment.
One major advantage that a pontoon has over a tritoon is they are cheaper. When you have fewer materials going into the craft, you have a smaller expense and a cheaper selling price. A pontoon boat has a shallower draft, so waves and turbulent weather are not ideal conditions.
Differences between the two
Size changes things. With the most obvious difference being the addition of the central “third” tube, every other difference stems from that factor alone.
Speed & horsepower
Modern-day pontoons are a lot faster than some would give them credit for. In fact, some pontoon boats are capable of pulling water skiers behind them, if the water is open and pretty calm. The average horsepower of a pontoon boat is around 90, but they are known for reaching 150hp as well.
Tritoons are heavier, so they usually require higher horsepower to get them through the water at a reasonable rate of speed. With the addition of the center tube and a larger platform, a tritoon is capable of holding two engines.
When pulling wakeboarders, water skiers, and tubers behind them, tritoons are more stable in the water at maximum speed, thanks to a draft that’s not as shallow as a pontoon and a heavier center of gravity.
Weight & capacity
For obvious reasons, tritoons are heavier, but due to the additional engine and increased stability, they’re faster in the water and can hold more people than a traditional pontoon. A typical pontoon is capable of carrying up to ten people, so long as the other cargo is pretty light.
Pontoon weight capacities range from 1,500lbs to 3,500lbs. With a tritoon, you can safely add 500lbs to 750lbs to the minimum and maximum weight capacities of a traditional pontoon boat.
This really depends on the boat. Typically, a tritoon should have more space, thanks to the wider platform allowances from having three tubes. However, some tritoon manufacturers focus on weight rather than space.
You’ll often find that a tritoon can only carry the same amount of people as a pontoon. Not because of weight but because of space.
The ride is smoother on a tritoon because it can get up to plane faster than a pontoon, and its weight provides more stability when cruising along a lake or river. A tritoon’s stability aids it when dealing with wakes from other large and small craft as well.
If you like to wakeboard, water ski, or tube, the tritoon is the better bet, since it can get up and go quickly, and its top speed is faster. However, a pontoon is capable of doing all of those things as well, just at a slightly slower speed.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Depending on how you look at things and what your preferences are, there are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to owning either a tritoon or a pontoon.
Tritoons are the smoother rides of the two, with a more stable design and higher center of gravity on the water. They also handle waves better, since they don’t have as shallow a draft as pontoons. The engine capacity is greater, along with horsepower and speed.
In general, capacity is higher as are the weight limitations thanks to the added buoyancy of a third tube. Cost is a major disadvantage here. Expect to pay an additional $8k to $12k for a tritoon.
A pontoon boat’s greatest advantage is its short-term and long-term cost. They aren’t as expensive off the showroom floor, and since they only have one engine and a smaller gas tank, the price of fuel is lower as well.
Since it’s a lot lighter than a tritoon, your trailer-hauling choices are more diverse. Unfortunately, the disadvantages are just as diverse, including a shallower draft, less weight capacity, less horsepower, and less stability when cutting through the water.
If you are looking for a budget-friendly option and the extent of your water activity is a small, calm lake, a pontoon is the better option. For higher capacity and better stability, especially on bigger, popular lakes, the tritoon gets more votes.
You will find that some things are pretty negligible, especially considering deck real estate. Though a tritoon has a higher weight capacity, you may feel just as cramped with ten to twelve people as you would on a pontoon.
The differences between the two are sharp enough that you should be able to make an educated decision when you’re shopping for a party barge. Either way you decide to go, be prepared to have a lot of fun on the water with family, friends, and even a pet or two.