Sleeping on a Pontoon Boat
Ian Fortey Updated on February 23, 2023. In Pontoon Boatsby
Sleeping on a pontoon boat is absolutely possible and, in fact, you can get pontoon boats that have cabins and are generally considered hybrid pontoons/cabin cruisers. Many of these boats look like small houseboats and feature some remarkable amenities including a sun deck on top of the sleeping quarters and more.
Additionally, pontoon boaters with a bit of a penchant for DIY have for years been rigging up custom sleeping quarters and, of course, kits can only be purchased to help adapt your pontoon boat giving you at least three potential options for sleeping on a pontoon.
Pontoon Boats with Cabins
Since the early 2000s there have been a number of pontoon boat models available that feature cabins. These cabins are designed much the way you’d expect them to be on your more modern cabin cruiser type boats and, for those who have no boating experience, they tend to resemble the interior of a smaller RV or camping trailer. Here’s a video of a walk through in one model to give you an idea.
You can see the amenities are simple but still comfortable and the sort of stuff that would make an overnight stay on the water a lot more enjoyable. A bathroom with a shower, a kitchen area with a microwave and several seating areas that are easily adapted to sleeping areas ensure room and relative comfort for a number of passengers. The bathroom alone is a remarkable feature for a pontoon as pontoons typically never have these since there’s no below area where they’d be tucked away. But obviously if you plant o spent the night on the water you’re probably going to need to accommodate bathroom use somehow.
The upper deck area also offers an opportunity for camping under the stars if that’s more your speed, which in turn means more room for extra passengers/sleepers as well.
That model in the video is a 2009 Sun Tracker and today, buying that same model used but in good condition, would likely set you back around $50,000. But keep in mind they also manufacture things like the 65-foot Titan pontoon houseboat that you can rent on Lake Shasta. This thing is three stories tall and would clearly cost millions to buy. So there’s quite a rang when it comes to size and functionality for these camping cabin style pontoon boats with many essentially being small houseboats. The best pontoon boat with an enclosed cabin like an RV or trailer can make you experience similar to a night at home.
The big advantage to many of these cabin style pontoons is that they may even have actual bedrooms complete with real beds. If you’re looking to spend a lot of time camping out on the water this makes the experience a lot more comfortable. But keep in mind you’re paying for that comfort as well, and pontoons with cabins that are in good condition are rarely cheap.
Pontoon Boat Camping Trip
Pontoon camping is a very low budget option but it’s actually the only way I have ever slept on a pontoon boat so I consider it near and dear to my heart. My uncle used to have a pontoon that we’d go fishing on when we visited the cabin at the lake when I was a kid. One night we decided to just stay out on the lake instead of coming in to shore so we packed up a tent and some supplies and stayed out there.
We used a small pop up tent that fit comfortably between the seats and then used bungee cords to secure it to the boat since we obviously weren’t hammering stakes into the ground. Inside I had a sleeping bag, a little electric lantern and it worked out really well.
The advantage here is that you don’t need to really get a lot of extras and set up and take down is really quick. It’s faster than using the same boat on the ground in the woods because you’re not even fixing it in place. Instead, use the eye holes to use rope or bungee cords to secure it to hand rails, the chairs or whatever you’re close to that offers your tent stability.
This is a good option for smaller pontoons but larger pontoons will obviously offer more room for setting up multi-person tents and maybe using air mattresses as well.
Sleeping Under the Stars
My uncle opted for this so I’ll have to include it here because I know others have tried it, too. If you’re not the sort of person who wants to put a ton of effort into rigging a pontoon boat for sleeping then pack a sleeping bag and call it a night. As long as you have room to lie down on a pontoon boat you technically have a boat you can sleep on.
The upside of this is a lot of fresh air and freedom. The downside is bugs and the potential for bad weather to ruin your good time, so plan accordingly.
Canvas Pontoon Enclosures
The next step up from a quick and dirty pitched tent on your pontoon is to buy a pontoon specific camping enclosure. These are typically canvas and come in two styles – you can get a full pontoon cover and half enclosures.
Partial covers work by offering a covering that extends typically up to the helm from the read of the boat. These are often canvas and may also feature vinyl or plastic windows. They attach to the rails of the boat and will usually feature a front door-style area that you can close over to both offer privacy and also keep out insects or drafts at night. You should be able to add some privacy curtains for sleeping or changing your clothes as well.
A cover like these needs to be custom fit for your boat if you want to get the most from it as possible. You can’t really use just a general cover to offer the same fit, after all.
A full cover is essentially the same style but obviously covers the entire boat rather than just part of it. Many people prefer this kind if they want to be able to operate the boat in colder weather to avoid a breeze or the rain, rather than having a half enclosure and a tonneau cover or bimini top over the helm. This makes the whole boat warm and dry, so you don’t need to worry about someone passing in and out of the half cover to control the boat or fetch items from the other end of the vessel.
Obviously a custom full cover needs to be specific to your boat. You may be able to find a manufacturer of ones made for your specific boat model but expect that a full canvas cover is going to set you back at least $2000 but likely will cost closer to $4000 or even more. It really depends on the size of your boat and the style of cover you end up choosing.
Once you have a canvas cover in place, however, you can really treat the inside area like a houseboat or a tent. It’s easy enough to set up a sleeping bag and pillow or an air mattress or whatever you want to make it comfortable for sleeping. The lounge seats that many pontoon boats come with can be pretty easily adapted into beds for a night or two on the water.
Benefits of Sleeping on a Pontoon Boat
Interestingly enough, people who suffer from sleep conditions like insomnia have reported that sleeping on a boat can drastically improve their sleep. And a pontoon boat seems to offer some of the best results of all. A traditional boat has more of that boat movement known for making people prone to seasickness feel bad, and that can affect sleeping. However, a pontoon boat with its increased stability helps people avoid this. The result is a smoother night’s sleep with the benefit of the fresh air, the lapping waves and a very gentle rocking motion.
Research has shown that gentle rocking allows adults to fall asleep on average 7 minutes sooner than in a stationary bed on land. People sleeping in a bed that rocks slightly are also less prone to waking up and will spend more time in deep non-REM sleep as well. The end result is that, if you sleep on a bed that is gently rocking, you go to sleep sooner, you sleep longer and more restfully, and you have fewer instances of waking up over the course of the night. In other words, you will get a better night’s sleep.
Interestingly enough, in one study, those that slept while gently rocking also displayed better memory recall of things that took place the night before, so that’s something to consider as well.
Factors to Consider When Sleeping on a Pontoon Boat
There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re planning to spend a night or two on the water.
Most pontoons are not designed for overnight stays. We just saw a few ways you can switch it to make it easier to spend the night on the water, but aside from the camping cabin pontoons designed for living on board, there is a major setback to most pontoons in terms of an overnight stay. Whether you use a full cover, a half cover or just a tent, your pontoon boat doesn’t have a bathroom on it.
What most pontoon owners do to address this issue typically is to set up a small privacy area under the bimini top or, if you have a canvas cover, off to one side where you can use a screen or a curtain. From there you’ll have to set up a porta potty or other portable toilet solution for the duration of the stay. This is one of the major setbacks for most people when it comes to extended stays on a pontoon as not everyone likes using tools like this for going to the restroom.
Larger pontoons like party barges may actually have a marine toilet built in which solves that problem, but typically the pontoons you’d be using for you and your family as a fishing boat ot cruising vessel won’t be designed that way, so make sure you have an area set aside for a portable toilet on any overnight stay.
I covered a few of the ways you can sleep on a pontoon including sleeping bags, air mattresses and using the lounge seats themselves, especially if they’re designed to pull out wider to make room for sleep.
Consider making a sleeping space for yourself with a folding sleep cot if your seats don’t extend and you find them too narrow for sleeping. A cot will keep you up off the floor making it easier to get in and out, and can be folded up and put away during the day when you’re done.
You need to make sure you have enough space for your trash bags, the portable toilets and things like a solar shower or whatever else you want to have with you.
If you’re spending all night on the boat then you’re going to be drawing more power than usual, obviously. You’ll need to keep safety lights on all night so other boats can see you, plus you may want to be running other devices to keep you entertained, to help you cook and so on. Make sure you have the ability to keep everything running with powerful enough batteries and a reliable charger to get your boat started again the next day.
If you don’t have a full enclosure and a way to stay warm, don’t forget to pack to keep warm. A pontoon boat sits higher on the water than a traditional boat and you’re a little more exposed as a result. You may find that a chill sets in faster on your pontoon than you were expecting, so keep yourself warm with extra clothes and blankets to help seal in body heat and give you a good night’s sleep.
Make sure you pick a good spot to anchor your pontoon and you know you have it well anchored as well. This will limit boat drift and allow you to better enjoy camping on deck. We covered anchoring pontoons in another article so check that out. Depending on where you’re anchored, you could benefit from a pole anchor which is really easy to set, or a more traditional anchor style. Just make sure you’re confident that you are in position and not going to suffer any drifting before everyone goes to sleep at night. Consider using two anchors for an overnight stay, just for some added security and stability.
Another thing that a pontoon boat has going for it compared to a traditional boat when it comes to sleeping is that you can bring your pontoon to shore. If you’re worried about the weather or the lake getting too choppy overnight, dragging your pontoon to shore and anchoring in remarkably shallow water or right on the beach is also an option.
Weather and Water Conditions
On a still lake you can have a great night of sleep on a pontoon, even better than you would on a regular boat. The stability of the pontoons means you aren’t likely to be disturbing by shifting water too much at all and it’s actually a bit like enjoying a big water bed for the evening. That said, conditions need to be calm for this to pan out.
Rough seas and windy conditions do not mix well with a pontoon. If the wind kicks up the night can become pretty rough for you and will make sleep difficult. Waves will be very problematic for you if a storm picks up and what might make for a mild disturbance on a typical boat can actually end up making things extremely unstable and uncomfortable on a pontoon.
Always check the weather reports before spending time out on the water in your pontoon, especially for an overnight trip.
Picking the right position for your boat is important for anchoring but also for sleeping. It’s the sort of thing you won’t realize until first thing int he morning, however. When the sun rises, if you’re pointed directly at it, your sleep may end up being rudely interrupted as a result. Unless you want to see the sunrise, consider trying to angle the boat such that the sun rise is to the side or not pointed directly at you where you’re sleeping.
Alternatively, you can just adjust your sleep position to try to avoid the rising sun if you don’t want to be awake first thing, or make sure you have something set up to block those early morning rays.
Rules and Regs
You need to keep up to date on the rules for overnight boating in your area. Some lakes will have specific requirements for anyone who wants to spend a night on the water. For instance, you may be required to have a Coast Guard approved portable toilet or waste holding tank before you can set anchor. Make sure you double check before committing to anything so you don’t ruin your trip.
The Bottom Line
Sleeping on a pontoon boat can be surprisingly comfortable. Whether you go all out to get a full cabin sleeper on a pontoon, a canvas enclosure, or just a tent you set up on deck, there are a lot of ways to adapt the deck into an overnight sleeping space.
Make sure you’re following local rules and regulations and you have all the gear and warm clothes you need to get you through the night. Pay attention to the weather, anchor your boat safely, and enjoy the benefits of a soothing sleep unlike one you can get at home. As always, stay safe and have fun.
Categories: Pontoon Boats