Differences Between a Catamaran and Pontoon Boat

A classic adventure out into the wide-open seas proves a relaxing and enjoyable time for most. Onboard a catamaran or a pontoon boat, you are sure to find the fun and adventure you are looking for.

Whether you are looking for a slow-paced, easy-going ride or sailing through the water with the wind blowing through your hair, you can find this with a catamaran or a pontoon boat.

What Are The Differences Between a Catamaran and a Pontoon Boat?

What are the differences between a catamaran and a pontoon boat? Many refer to the catamaran and the pontoon boat as the same thing due to the base of the boat’s shape and purpose. The twin hulls (catamaran) or pontoons (pontoon boat) create a buoyant platform for the cabin of the boat. However, differences include accessibility to the deck, power source and speed, amount of power, expense/upkeep/resale value, and purpose of the hulls/pontoons among others.

While both boats are similar in comparison with other boats you may see out on the water, they each have their own unique qualities that they bring to the table. Some of those may persuade you one way or another. As we explore some of the differences between the two boats, just know that either is sure to bring you memories for a lifetime.

What Characteristics Distinguish a Catamaran from a Pontoon Boat?

As mentioned, catamarans and pontoon boats are often confused with one another. In many articles and advertisements, you will see that some argue that they are the same thing.

While they do have similarities, a catamaran and a pontoon are absolutely different boats. Here are a few of the characteristics that distinguish a catamaran from a pontoon boat:

Accessibility to the Boat’s Deck

Differences between a Catamaran and Pontoon boat
Crestline 240 Pontoon Boat – Photo Source

While both a catamaran and a pontoon boat have two hulls (or pontoons) that are created to help maintain buoyancy and a more easily navigable boat, the positioning of the boat’s deck differs.

On a pontoon, the deck rests directly over top of the pontoons. Thus, the pontoons themselves are not accessible through the deck. In fact, they are considered an entirely separate portion of the boat as they were designed to be a platform on which the deck/cabin rests.

A catamaran, on the other hand, was designed with a much more spacious cabin capacity which means that the hulls are actually accessible from the deck and are often designed to mesh together.

Often, the hulls will have cabin space or storage built into them, so their accessibility is not only for maintenance but is designed to be functional for passengers as well. You may see many catamaran models that have small staircases built into the hulls to transfer passengers from the upper to lower deck.

Differences Between a Catamaran and Pontoon Boat, Power Catamaran
World Cat 250 DC

If you are looking for more areas for your passengers to be able to lounge, go “inside”, or navigate the boat, a catamaran may be the way to go. With the hulls still accessible, this gives your guests more space to move around. If you are looking for a boat that has an “open-air” concept, the pontoon boat might be the right choice, as the passengers will inevitably be standing or sitting on the upper deck and will not need to access the pontoons

Power Source and Speed

The power source on a catamaran or pontoon boat may be similar, but there are areas that these can differ as well. On a pontoon, you will find that there is one engine or motor that is doing the legwork. This is where the pontoon will get its power to move across the open waters.

With only one engine, though, the pontoon reaches its peak speed capacity at around 25 miles per hour (depending on the boat and motor setup).

This is still enough to get the wind blowing through your hair, and enough for a loose-fitting hat to even come off, but it is less speed than many boats offer. A pontoon traveling at 25 miles per hour (or less) is sure to provide an entertaining time out on the open water, but it is also more of a relaxing pace for passengers looking to enjoy the views rather than glide past them.

A catamaran, in comparison, will have much greater power capacity as it typically houses dual engines located on its twin hulls. The double engine provides twice the horsepower, twice the fuel (when independently connected), and twice the ability to navigate by propelling the force against each engine.

On a catamaran with a dual engine, you will be able to reach speeds of double that of a pontoon boat. Thus, a 50 miles per hour trip is in your due course.

Differences Between a Catamaran and Pontoon Boat

Another form of a catamaran is a sailing catamaran. Sailing catamarans utilizes sails for its main propulsion system. While many catamarans use the force of an engine, you can also find them with sails that are used to catch the wind and set sail.

On a pontoon, though, you will never find a sail. Pontoons rely solely on their singular motor engine for the purpose of movement. Thus, if you are looking to use your sailing expertise, a pontoon will not be the right choice for you.

Amount of Power

As mentioned above, the catamaran can handle a lot more horsepower and thus it has the ability to be a faster vessel for most uses. This power can rather obviously be used for speed in normal weather conditions. What many people may not consider, though, is how this amount of power impacts the safety of the boat in rough waters. 

Due to the amount of power (among other factors such as buoyancy, navigability, etc.), a catamaran is an appropriate boat to take out into rough seas.

While rough seas are never an ideal situation for any boat, the catamaran is designed to weather the storm. A pontoon, on the other hand, is not. A pontoon does not have the horsepower that a catamaran has, so even though it is similar in overall design, it is not as capable of powering through the ocean or rougher seas in the same capacity.

Additionally, the hull design of a catamaran is designed to create an air cushion between the two hulls (sponsons) that creates a cushion for the boat.

This way, when a catamaran is traveling at a good speed and goes over a large wave, the air cushions the impact of the boat coming back down into the water. This is why power catamarans are becoming famous for its excellent ride in the ocean.

Pontoon boats also offer a good ride, but their pontoons simply glide over the water and do not have the ability to create this air cushion that makes a catamaran so special.

Kids on a 25 foot Power Catamaran

Expenses, Upkeep, and Resale Value

Other differences that will be particularly noticeable for boat enthusiasts looking to purchase their new ride include the expenses, upkeep, and resale value of catamarans versus pontoon boats. Catamarans are more expensive, have higher upkeep costs, and, in return, have higher resale value. 

When looking to purchase a boat that has been previously owned, you may have difficulty even finding a used catamaran. Previously owned pontoons, however, are not as difficult to find.

This is often because the resale value of catamarans is higher than that of pontoons. Catamarans purchased second hand is of greater benefit (financially) to the new owner because the cost differential is typically greater.

The upkeep of a catamaran is typically more expensive than that of a pontoon because of the parts included. A catamaran has two engines compared to the pontoon’s one.

Additionally, you typically see a catamaran used in coastal saltwater conditions and pontoon boats are mostly seen in inland freshwater lakes.

The exposure to saltwater makes maintaining a boat much for expensive regardless of the type of boat.

Purpose of the Hulls/Pontoons

When discussing the hulls or pontoons of a boat, it is important to recognize that these are typically referring to the same portion of the boat: the portion that hits the water and creates a buoyant surface for the boat to float on. The hulls/pontoons are also the part of the boat that you will typically find the engine/motor.

Hulls are typically associated with catamarans, as they are called “twin hulls” due to their nature of having two hulls rather than one (which would be a monohull).

If you are referring to just a single side of a catamaran hull you can call it a “sponson”. Pontoons are obviously associated with pontoon boats.

The design of the hull/pontoon, as mentioned above, creates a difference in the accessibility of the boat’s deck. The catamaran’s hulls are incorporated into the design and are thus accessible from the deck. They are typically constructed of metal and are a part of the overall design of the structure that will keep the boat afloat. This also implies that the catamaran’s hulls can serve as a storage place in and below the upper deck.

The pontoon boat’s pontoons, on the other hand, serve as a platform for the deck that will rest entirely on top of it. Thus, the pontoons will not be accessible from the deck. This means that they are not required to be able to contain stairways, storage space, or cabin space. Thus, they are often filled with air or foam, adding to the buoyancy of the design. 

So, the purpose of the base of the boat is always the same: to keep the boat afloat, to aid in navigating the waters, and to pass through varying wave heights.

Marine Head (toilet) on a 25 foot Power Catamaran
Marine Head (toilet) on a 25 Foot Power Catamaran

In considering the catamaran versus the pontoon, though, you will want to look at where the cabin and deck rest and consider which category the boat fits into to distinguish the boats from one another.

Differences Between a Catamaran and Pontoon Boat