Pontoon boats have a reputation for being party boats. In fact, pontoon boats are known for a lot of things but seldomly are they known for pulling inner tubes behind them at a sufficient enough speed to be a great, big splashing event.

That doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, however, and it often is done, so long as the pontoon boat in question has enough horsepower in the motor to stir up more than a breeze and a brief wake.

The thing is, pontoon boats are exactly renowned for their high-speed antics on the water. After all, everything that takes place, when it comes to towing skis, boats, or inner tubes, is all about hydrodynamics, and it’s not a good start when you’re captaining a pontoon.

The size and bulkiness of a pontoon boat can be overcome, but it requires raw power. There’s no way a pontoon is going to pull inner tubes with sheer finesse.

How to know if a pontoon boat has enough horsepower?

A group of photographers capturing a mating pair of ospreys with their nest in a cypress tree.
Photo by Joshua J. Cotten / Unsplash

The average weight of a pontoon boat is roughly 4,000lbs. That’s 2 tons on top of the water and something has to get that big body moving through all of that.

They say that you need 1 horsepower for every 40lbs of weight. So, you’re looking at an easy 100 hp to push two tons through the water without overworking the motor.

It also needs to get up to at least 20mph if the riders in the tube want to do anything other than taking a nap. There’s a certain point where too slow is just too slow to bother with it. Fortunately, 20mph is just fast enough for everyone to have a pretty good time.

So not only should you have a minimum of 100 hp from your engine, but you should also have enough juice to get going fast enough to make it worth everyone’s time.

However, even if your pontoon is equipped to pull a tube rather effectively, there are still some drawbacks to riding an inner tube that’s being pulled by a pontoon:

  • It’s not going to be the ride of your life
  • Limited to one or possibly two passengers
  • You need to spend some money on horsepower
  • State laws and regulations

Even if the motor in question is 115 hp, the rider isn’t going to be shaken to their core by the blazing speeds or anything. You could probably get out on the road and get a mountain bike to go faster if you feel like pedaling hard enough.

The more weight you have onboard the pontoon boat, the harder it will be to pull the inner tube. Remember, every 40lbs. requires another horsepower and a single person can add 4 hp to the equation.

If you currently have a 40 hp motor on your pontoon,  you’re going to have to make a bit of an investment in something bigger and better than what you have because 40 hp just isn’t going to cut it.

You have to look out for state laws and regulations on pontoons as well. In all states, it’s perfectly okay to pull a tube along behind a pontoon but it’s generally against the law for you to not have anyone watching the person(s) on the inner tube.

The driver of the boat doesn’t count. If there is a reduction of passengers on the boat so that the pontoon can get fast enough to efficiently pull an inner tube, there needs to remain at least one to watch the inner tube and one to take the helm.

In other words, you want to steer away from using a trolling motor.

How to set up your pontoon to tow inner tubes

Having an idea of how many people you are going to be towing across the water all day long helps, especially when it comes to picking out the right tubes (more on that below).

Most importantly, make sure that your motor is up to the job of hauling more than one rider around because that can get pretty boring after a while. Get an idea of the average weight of all of the riders as well as who is going to be on the pontoon.

  1. Pick out the right rope for the job
  2. Pick up a good harness as well
  3. Make sure that your knots are tied right and secured
  4. Make sure everyone has their life vest
  5. Make sure that you have a spotter
  6. Inspect your tubes and ropes before you take off

Since the pontoon isn’t exactly a rocket ship, you might consider going with some bungee rope. With some give in the rope, it will create more sway for those who are tubing in the back and make the ride a little more exciting.

You also want to make sure that your rope is around 60’. You can go higher but you shouldn’t go past 70’ because it starts to become a safety hazard when you get too long. Go too short with the rope and you will spend the entire ride slapping the inner tubers in the face with your wake.

It may be funny for you but they won’t appreciate it too much.

The two most important safety issues that you. need to cover are checking (inspecting) the rope and harnesses along with ensuring that everyone has a life vest. Having a spotter is important as well but the first two are more essential.

Make sure that you know your knots well enough to tie a secure knot, both to the harnesses and to the boat. Do a visual inspection of your rope from one end to the other as well as the harness.

The best harness is a two-point tie-in. It will come with a y-attachment and is pretty easy to set up and attach to the rope. All you need to do is make two passes with your pull rope around the two-point and you’re ready to go.

Best inner tubes for pontoon boats

You can’t blaze your way down the river at supersonic speeds in a pontoon boat but that doesn’t mean your inner tube has to be boring. Some of the large ones, like the Super Mable, may seem counterintuitive but it’s best for kids.

Slap 5 or 6 kiddos on this behemoth of an inner tube and they’re bound to have fun, if for no other reason than getting soaking wet from the wake.

Grown adults weigh a lot more, however, so it’s fair to say that you should keep your adult inner tubes a little more streamlined so it’s not so much of a drag on your pontoon boat. The Airhead Hot Dog Series tubes are smaller and more narrow for a little flexibility when it comes to hydrodynamics.

You can also just stick with the KISS method (Keep It Simple Stupid) and go with a standard inner tube that’s not going to require a substantial amount of towing power to get going with just a single body on it. The Airhead Blast 1-Person Towable is perfectly suitable for this task.

Can a pontoon boat pull anything else?

Photo by Robert Linder / Unsplash

It all boils down to the motor. As we discussed above, you really should have a minimum of 100 hp to work with if everyone pulling and being pulled wants to have a pretty good time.

The fact is, you can go up to a 500+ hp motor if you want to, though that would be quite expensive and perhaps a bit of overkill. With the right kind of motor, a pontoon boat is more than capable of pulling just about anything, even a water skier.

Wakeboarding isn’t problematic either, however, for wakeboarding, you should probably have a tower on your pontoon, something that you may already have. If you do, you need to check that it is rated for towing and if it is, you have the setup you need for wakeboarding on top of everything else.

You can always get one installed aftermarket and although it won’t be a proper tower (it’s called an arch for pontoons) it will have the launch angle you need.

It’s a fairly decent upgrade and it will cost you a pretty penny, depending on what you go with. For example, the F250 Universal Pontoon Wakeboard Tower will set you back $2,400 easily.

Fortunately, it’s not the only one out there so feel free to shop around some. If you have a motor that’s around 150 hp and a pontoon arch, along with all of the gear, tow strap, harnesses, tubes, etc, you’re going to have a blast because you can pretty much handle anything on the water.

Final thoughts

Now that you know you can pull a tube with a pontoon boat, it’s time to get started. If you’re not quite up to where you need to be in terms of gear and hardware, take your time and save up.

At the end of the day, you know what a pontoon boat is capable of now and it’s not just made for lazily trolling rivers with weak currents and holding large crowds.