Without question, some of the most embarrassing moments in your boating life will come while trying to bring your pontoon into a slip with people lining the shore line, all eyes are upon you. Whether it's a cross wind or a strong current, something will make it seem impossible to get your boat where you want it. I watched one day when a group of young people were trying to pull their pontoon into a slip on a very windy day. At one point the pontoon was sideways between two docks, taking up two slips. They ended up leaving the pontoon in the slip backwards, with the motor towards shore. This may have actually worked out better for them when they went to leave however. There is no avoiding it, when conditions are at their worst, there will be an audience and humiliation.
Just remember that everyone on shore watching you has either been in the same situation themselves or have seen this play out before. Either way they know that it's not just you, but that it happens to everyone.
Leaving The Dock
Pay attention to wind, current direction, and traffic conditions. Let your passengers know what your plan is and if you expect them to help. If your crew is inexperienced explain to them in detail what is expected. Cast off all lines and pull away from the dock slowly and carefully and don't pull the fenders in until you are clear of the dock and any neighboring boats. It may be good if you can have one crew member on the dock guiding the boat away from the dock. Once clear, put the motor in forward and slowly pull away from the docks. Remember that a boat does not steer like a car but rather pivots, due to the rear steering.
Once clear of the dock stow all lines and fenders to avoid a tripping hazard.
Pulling Into A Dock
Practice, practice, practice. There is no substitute for experience when it comes to docking any boat. Wind, currents, waves and traffic all play a roll in docking and you just never know what the situation will be until you're there.
On windy days, I always try to get close enough to the dock so that a crew member can jump onto the dock, with line in hand, then guide the rest of the pontoon into the slip. The slower you approach the dock the better, sometimes, but not always. It's hard to control a boat at slow speed when fighting the wind. Sometimes you need to come in faster, to maintain momentum and control, then put the motor in reverse to stop forward movement of the pontoon, avoiding a collision with the dock.
I remember while trying to dock my first pontoon at a local resort with an extended dock which had about 25 slips on it, the shift cable malfunctioned and I slammed into the dock, shaking it all the way into shore. I was lucky that no one was walking on the dock at the time.
Perhaps the best tip anyone can give when it comes to docking a boat is to not get discouraged. When you first learned to drive a car it took a while for you to get used to different situations and eventually there came a time that things began feeling like second nature to you. I'll bet that there are still times that, when pulling into a parking stall, you misjudge and have to backup and take another shot at it. Remember that the next time you're docking your pontoon.
Backup and take another shot at it!
My first pontoon was a Playbuoy Captain. As you can see in the picture it had a hard top, that folded up and back. I bought it with a 25 hp Evenrude 2 stroke. A good starter pontoon.
My 2005 Bennington equipped with a 90 hp Yamaha 4 stroke motor. I love it but would not get the fishing seats in the front next time.