Pontoon sales growth has increased an average of 8.4 percent during the past five years, far outpacing any other boat segment. The battle for pontoon supremacy is one of the industry’s most competitive, with builders that have many decades of experience designing and constructing pontoon boats.
So what does a pontoon newbie like Bombardier Recreational Products, parent company of Sea-Doo, bring to the table? A lot, as it turns out.
At a Sea-Doo press event held outside of Minneapolis, the big reveal was, surprisingly, a new line of Switch pontoon boats.
A Clear Difference
The phrase “starting with a blank sheet of paper” is largely overused, but when it comes to the design of the Switch line of jet-powered pontoons, it’s spot-on. Little about these boats is related to other pontoons. The project was 42 months in the making. According to Martin Lachance, Sea-Doo’s director of development, the idea of a jet-propelled pontoon went back to 2004, “but we felt the market wasn’t ready for it yet.”
This isn’t a boat for introverts. It attracts a ton of attention. During our daylong test on Lake Minnetonka, other boaters were actually flagging us down so they could get a better look.
There are three models at 13, 16 and 19 feet, each of which can be stretched 2 feet with an optional swim platform. All have the same 7-foot, 10-inch beam. To reduce costs, Sea-Doo used a modular approach to add 3-foot sections, with parts and materials common to its personal watercraft division.
Pricing starts at $17,999 for the 13-foot Compact with a 100-hp motor and trailer. Along with the base models, there are two trim lines called the Sport and Cruise models, which have bundled option packages. The top-of-the-line Cruise 21 lists for $36,499. Expect a fishing model to be added later.
From afar, the most noticeable feature is the clear panels. Made from the same durable material as viewing panels on sailboard sails, this design element serves several purposes. They creates an open feel that enhances a rider’s oneness with the water. It also creates the illusion of greater interior roominess, which on the 13-foot Compact model makes a huge difference. On most pontoons, these panels are aluminum, which can make pulling up to a dock on the port side problematic because the driver’s vision is blocked. With the Switch, the skipper can see the dock when pulling up to it.
Where’s the Aluminum?
The other eye-grabbing exterior element is the use of Polytec 2.0 in the boat’s construction. The material is glass-fiber-reinforced polypropylene, the same material found on the Spark and GTI personal watercraft models. The new-gen Polytec is more durable and scratch-resistant than the original on the first Spark models. The use of Polytec, which is softer than fiberglass or aluminum, helped designers dampen the pontoon’s vibration and noise when combined with engine compartment acoustical foam.
The most noteworthy design feature on all Switch pontoons is the trihull. The center hull resembles a personal watercraft hull and sits more than 7 inches lower than the outer, narrower hulls. The design allows the boats to lean into turns like more traditional runabouts. The smallest Switch is capable of crazy-tight turns, while the larger models’ turns are smoother and less abrupt than on traditional pontoons.
Instead of air-filled aluminum tubes, BRP uses closed-cell foam compartments for flotation. The Polytec side panels aren’t watertight, but they overlap like fish scales. The builder says this setup doesn’t affect hull integrity since everything inside is sealed.
There’s no Steering Wheel
Drivers quickly learn they are aboard a new breed of pontoon when they grab a handlebar instead of a wheel. Not only does it provide a sportier feel, but it also leverages Sea-Doo’s personal watercraft technology to improve handling at all speeds.
All Switch models have BRP’s Intelligent Brake and Reverse feature — the driver never has to let go of the handlebars to shift from forward to reverse. The right trigger is forward, and the left is reverse — the game-changer is having “brakes.” Should an obstruction be seen at speed, the driver can let go of the throttle and yank the left lever. The pontoon slows quickly.
But this feature’s real advantage is for slow-speed maneuvers such as docking. The learning curve for docking a Switch is much shallower than for a traditional pontoon. Once a driver learns that the bow goes in whatever direction the handlebars are turned — whether in forward or reverse — the boat is incredibly easy to maneuver. Spinning the boat in its own length is possible (yes, on a pontoon). Little blips of power in both directions make for precise control, and turning the handlebar from lock-to-lock takes less than half a second.
Sea-Doo incorporated its LinQ technology for fastening interiors with a flip of a lever. The Switch series uses LinQ to let owners quickly change the layout of seating, tables, coolers and other accessories.
For customization, optional items can be added. Mats can be placed over all sections of the deck for comfort. Backrests can be added along with thicker pads to create on-deck bowrider seats. There’s a mat for a dock that will accept the pontoon’s seats for docktailing, or just for storing seats when not in use.
The optional Bimini top is well braced and can be lowered by one person. A double-Bimini option lets owners select a clear camper enclosure that should add about a month onto each end of the boating season up North.
All models come with a single Rotax 1630 ACE jetdrive that produces 100 hp, 170 hp or 230 hp, depending on the model and trim line. Jumping to the 170-hp iteration (from the standard 100 hp) made a huge difference in performance on the 13-foot model. With the smaller engine and a passenger weight of 550 pounds, the boat failed to crack 18 knots. With the 170, the same boat reached 31-plus knots with a 150-pound-lighter payload.
The 16-footer with the 230-hp supercharged Rotax is the rocket of the lineup, reaching plane in 3.6 seconds, aided by fixed trim tabs (all models have them) and hitting a top speed above 36 knots during our test.
Sea-Doo’s director of product strategy, James Heintz, says the company believes this product line will bring new people into boating rather than just reapportioning market share. “We predict 60 to 70 percent of Switch owners will be first-time boat buyers.”
This article was originally published in the October 2021 issue.
Read More:The Switch Is On