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Pontoon Dictionary: Common Terminology for Pontoons

Like any absorbing pastime, pontoon boating has a distinct culture and special language. While the jargon and insider language of other hobbies and purists may be quirky curiosities, nautical language has a specific purpose and is vital for clear, accurate communication on the open water. The sheer number may be overwhelming for the novice, but picking up a few important nautical terms is a necessary component of proper pontoon boat operation.

Below are some of the most common and important terms that every pontoon boat owner should know:

Advance: The distance a pontoon boat travels after its steering has been turned to a different course.

Aft: The rear section of your pontoon boat.

Amidships: The middle of your pontoon boat.

Bilge: The lowest area of a boat where excess water gathers.

Bow: The forward half of your pontoon boat.

Burdened: A burdened vessel is a vessal that must yield to another craft.

BWI: Acronym for Boating While Intoxicated. BWIs are the number one cause of boating fatalities in the United States.

Catamaran: A boat with two hulls. Many pontoon boats are catamarans.

Cross Beams: Parallel slats that connect two or more pontoons and form the basis of a foundation for the pontoon boat's deck.

Deck: The floor of your pontoon boat.

Deck Boat: A monohull boat constructed with fiberglass.

Gel Coat: A colored layer of resin that covers the fiberglass of pontoon boats.

Head-On: An event where two vessels approach each other head-on. Neither vessel has the right of way and both should usually pass each other on their port sides.

Helm: The directional control station on your pontoon boat akin to an automobile's steering wheel.

Hull: The outside of a pontoon boat that makes contact with the water.

Inboard: An arrangement where the engine of the board is in the interior of your pontoon boat.

In Extremis: A condition where neither captain of a vessel can avoid a collision and both should attempt to maneuver and take a “glancing blow” to reduce damage.

I/O: An abbreviation for “inboard/outboard” configuration where the engine is in the interior, while the drive unit is on the exterior. Also known as a “stern drive”

Inverse Buoyancy: A unique condition for pontoon boats where adding more weight to the pontoon boat decreases stability and increases the possibility for capsizing.

In Sight: A condition where the captains of two or more vessels can see the other's boat.

Logs: Cylindrical pontoons that provide buoyancy for pontoon boats.

Navigation Lights: All pontoon boats must display lights during nighttime travel to show size, type, and direction of the pontoon boat.

Making Way: A vessel that is both underway and propelled by an engine or sails.

Mayday: A term used over marine radio frequencies to denote a boat with an extreme emergency, such as a fire or sinking.

NMMA: Stands for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which is the only organization that certifies the manufacturing and quality of pontoon boats.

Not Making Way: A vessel that is adrift, not anchored, and moving due to currents or the wind.

Outboard: A configuration where both the engine and drive are on the exterior of the boat.

Overtaking: An event where one faster boat approaches from a slower boat's rear. In this situation, the slower craft has the right-of-way.

PFD: Stands for Personal Flotation Device. Law requires that every pontoon boat have at least one PFD per passenger.

Pontoon Boat: A multihull vessel that uses hollow cylinders for buoyancy.

Port: The left-hand side of your pontoon boat.

Pressure-Treated: The infusion of chemicals into wood to stop rotting. Many pontoon boat decks are constructed with pressure-treated wood.

Prop: The pontoon boat's propeller that provides forward motion.

Restricted Visibility: Rain, snow, or other weather condition that reduces visibility.

Right-of-Way: When encountering another craft, your pontoon boat with right-of-way can continue with its course and speed.

Safe Speed: The maximum speed that a pontoon boat can undertake to ensure no collusions with other vessels.

Stability: A pontoon boat's potential to handle weight shifts from side to side.

Starboard: The right-hand side of your pontoon boat.

Stern: The rearmost area of your pontoon boat.

Throttle: A hand lever or levers that controls speed and forward or reverse motion.

Tracking: The degree to which your pontoon boat can hold a straight course.

Trimaran: A boat, such as a pontoon boat with three hulls. A few pontoon boats have trimaran designs.

Underway: A boat in motion, either by deliberate direction or by drifting on a current.

Vessel: Every sort of vehicle, including pontoon boats, whose main mode of transportation involves water.

Visual Distress Signals: Non-electronic signals, such as flags or flares, to draw attention to a vessel.

Wake: The waves that are a result of forward motion of your pontoon boat.

Whistle Signals: Audible signals, made by air or electric horn blasts, to communicate between vessels. All power-driven vessels, such as pontoon boats, are required to use these signals.

Water Stage: The water level and depth of rivers. This varies based on location and season. Also known as a river's “gage.”

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