Boating Basics Online is reader-supported. When you buy via our links, we may earn a commission at no cost to you. Learn more

How Shallow Can a Pontoon Boat Go? (Maximum Shallow Draft)

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers


We don’t ever want to put our babies in harm’s way, so “How shallow can a pontoon boat go?” is a reasonable question any well-meaning pontoon owner should be asking.

Two to three feet are considered the minimum water depth for this boat.

The maximum limit for any pontoon boat depends on its draft, load, weight distribution, and the bottom you’re dealing with. I’ve had instances when I could run with just one foot of water in a purely sandy bottom.

Stability in Shallow Water


Pontoon boats are generally categorized as shallow draft boats with excellent all-around stability. This combination makes them a highly preferred boat for shallow-water fishing since they can slide in and out of shallow and deeper waters with relative ease.

1. Typical pontoon boat draft


The average draft of a pontoon boat is determined by various factors like hull design, load (passengers and cargo included), the boat’s weight and size, how it’s trimmed, and weight distribution, to cite a few. To be safe, I suggest you check the information provided by the manufacturer to know your boat’s exact draft.

Assuming everything is optimal, i.e. the weight distribution is fairly balanced and you’re not overloaded, expect drafts that don’t go past 2 feet, with most barely reaching 1 foot, even if the motor is trimmed down.

Trimmed up, you can reduce the draft further to 10 inches.

2. Examples of shallow-water pontoon boats

If you want concrete proofs of actual pontoon boats with draft numbers like the ones above, you can take a look at the following models:


  • The 2020 Lowe SS 210 CL only has a maximum draft of 1 foot.
  • The Sun Tracker Bass Buggy 16 XL Select’s draft is exactly 1 foot and 8 inches.
  • The 2019 Ranger Reata 223FC tops at 1 foot and 1 inch.
  • The opulent Crestliner 220 Rally DX drafts at a maximum of 1 foot and 9 inches.

Obviously, these models can reduce their draft further if you trim their motors up. Overall, these figures only prove that it’s not for nothing that a pontoon boat is innately classified as a shallow-water boat.

3. Factors that determine the shallow water capability of a pontoon boat

  • Draft


This is one of the main factors since it tells you how deep the boat’s hull is submerged or the part of it that’s below the waterline. A shallower draft guarantees safe navigation in what boaters call ‘skinny water’ or simply waters that are too shallow for most boats.

  • Hull Design


Hull design greatly impacts maneuverability, stability, speed, and even the boat’s draft. Shallower hulls make better options for shallow waters.

Most pontoons have a cylinder-shaped hull, which not only lowers their construction cost but the higher displacement naturally aids in reducing draft and drag as well.

  • Total Weight


A heavier pontoon boat in water will have a higher draft. Once we add in the equipment, passengers, and fixtures, they’ll only increase the draft further. This is why I always advise carrying only your necessities to leave enough margin of error when navigating skinny water you’re not familiar with.

Don’t forget about properly distributing your load, to keep the draft balanced and your boat stable.

  • Water Conditions


Boating in shallow areas with plenty of rocks and other hazards can spell trouble even for pontoons. I favor sandy bottoms mostly because of this.

Again, this highlights the importance of familiarizing yourself with the waterways you frequent and being sure to go slow, especially in areas you’re still testing out.

  • Type of Motor


I admit that I said you can always trim the motor up to reduce the draft. But, obviously, that’s impossible if you have a pontoon boat run by an inboard motor. Now you know why outboard-run pontoon boats are a crowd favorite among shallow-water anglers.

Tips for Boating in Shallow Water With a Pontoon Boat

Boating in shallow water with a pontoon boat requires careful navigation and consideration. Here are some tips to help you navigate shallow waters with a pontoon boat:


  • Keep at least a solid 2 to 3 feet of water depth and pay attention to possible underwater hazards. Always leave a margin of error.
  • Be just as mindful of surface obstacles.
  • Trim the motor up as much as possible without overheating while making sure that you’re still in control.
  • Learn to “read” present water conditions. Rivers are “alive” in the sense that they’re subject to constant change every season.
  • Don’t push it unless you’re sure of how deep the water is and if it’s generally a sandy bottom.

Best Pontoon Boats for Shallow Water Navigation


Any of the examples I said above are good for shallow water navigation. In fact, I can say the same for any kind of pontoon or tri-toon.

Pontoon boats go in shallow water, much like how it’s completely natural for camels to traverse the desert. They’re the ultimate shallow draft family boat.

To me, it’s better to just be mindful of the brand you choose. Sun Tracker, Manitou, Godfrey, Harris, and Bennington are solid options for beginners and those who want a veritable workhorse that you can rely on in your shallow-water fishing and boating for a long time.

Pontoon Boat Accessories and Equipment for Shallow Water Boating


Do you know what works wonders for me, costs zilch, and is just lying around in your average urban backyard? A stick! You can use a PVC pipe with safety markings for when it’s still good to go or the water’s already too shallow.

If you want something more numerical and automatic, I suggest a good depth gauge, assuming it’s not already stock equipment in your vessel.

We can’t forget about the outboard motor, too. The good news is that most are easy to trim and are designed for convenient navigation in shallow waters.

I recommend checking out Mercury’s jet outboards, but Yamaha ones are just as great.

Regulations and Safety Guidelines for Shallow Water Boating


When boating in shallow water, or in any body of water, it’s important to adhere to regulations and practice safety to ensure a safe and responsible experience. While specific regulations may vary depending on the location, here are some general regulations and safety guidelines to consider:

  • Take the time to spot hidden rocks and other objects you may hit.
  • Don’t rush! It will only reduce your boat’s risk of hitting anything it shouldn’t or running aground.
  • If you have a depth gauge or depth finder, be sure to know how to use it and check it regularly, so you’ll always be aware of the current water depth.
  • Assign a spotter. It helps a ton to have more eyes on the lookout for obstacles that may be hard to see on your own.
  • Don’t overload your pontoon.
  • Utilize a poling deck to efficiently work your way around potential bumps, stumps, and rocks.
  • Learn how to identify changes in the water’s color. It readily indicates whether it’s becoming shallower or deeper.
  • Remember that there is such a thing as over-trimming your outboard motor.


To recap the correct answer to “How shallow can a pontoon boat go?”, most pontoons can do with a draft and water depth difference of at least 2 feet or 3 feet at most. You can go lower than that if you trim your motor up and you’re sure that the bottom is mostly composed of sand, with next to zero hazards.

Try to learn more about the draft, how water conditions change in your area, and the limits of your own pontoon boat so you’ll be a better boater in the future.

5/5 - (2 votes)