The Difference Between a Catamaran and a Pontoon Boat

pontoon boat

When it comes to hiring a boat for a fun day out on the water, there are a lot to  choose from. Two of the most popular types of boats that are frequently hired are catamarans and pontoons. And while both have the same core function – getting you on to the water – there are distinct differences that set them apart.

Why is it important to know what these differences are? Well, to have the most enjoyable and memorable boat party, you’ll need the right boat for your needs. From the number of guests to the activities you do on it, both catamarans and pontoons are more effective in different areas.

So what are these differences? Let’s get right to it, and find out what makes a catamaran and what makes a pontoon.

What is a catamaran?

The term catamaran comes from the Tamil word, kattumaran, which means ‘logs bound together’. It’s from this meaning that catamarans were born, because they are essentially a type of boat with two hulls or ‘logs’ which are connected with a cabin or a deck.

They were first used primarily for fishing, but nowadays are used for a variety of other purposes such as cruising and racing. Catamarans are made of fiberglass or carbon fiber, and can feature sails, motor engines or both! They can also vary in size, from smaller vessels to much larger ships.

What is a pontoon boat?

Like a catamaran, a pontoon features the same two hull build. In fact, these two floating hulls are specifically referred to as pontoons, which lends itself to the name of the overall ship. Pontoons (we mean the floating hull device) are airtight and hollow, making them virtually unsinkable. While most pontoon boats will feature two pontoons, there are some vessels out there that use more than the usual dual hulls.

Pontoon boats are very popular in the charter world, mainly due to their recreational versatility. Considered to be a jack-of-all-trades, pontoons are great for fishing, partying and daytime cruising.

What are the differences between the two?

Despite their shared characteristics (like their dual hulls), catamarans and pontoon boats have stark differences which set them apart from each other. Let’s take a look at them below.


Pontoon boats are usually made up of a single deck which is placed on several pontoon floats. They aren’t limited to a single deck; some higher-end pontoons will feature two or even three decks.

This greatly differs from catamarans whose pontoon floaters are actually a part of the boat itself, occasionally used for things like storage space. This allows for cabin space below the deck which can accommodate passengers and guests. Catamarans will also feature a sail or mast whereas a pontoon will only feature the deck.

Size and speed

When stacked up against catamarans or yachts, pontoon boats are typically smaller in size with the biggest vessels measuring up to 50 feet. In contrast, the average catamaran is about 40 feet, with bigger models measuring well over 100 feet.

Catamarans are also much faster than pontoons. There’s a reason why catamarans are popular choices for boat races, their power lends them to move fast even in choppy waters. Pontoons on the other hand are designed to be slower and more cruisey in terms of speed.


Because of their wide deck spaces (and in some cases, multiple decks!) pontoon boats are perfect for boat parties, relaxing cruises and serene fishing sessions. Their large amounts of space also make them great for seated dining, live bands and DJs and dance floors.

Catamarans are right at home in the open sea, where their greater power and stability are perfect for racing and cruising in choppier waters. They’re also good if passengers are looking to spend the night on board since they typically have cabin space underneath the deck.

Which boat is best for my needs?

Now that you know the difference between catamarans and pontoon boats, all that’s left to do is pick the right one for you! Do you need a boat with plenty of room for a lot of guests, as a wedding or big birthday party calls for? Then a pontoon may be more suitable with its capability to accommodate for ceremonies, seated dining and dance floors. A pontoon boat would also be ideal for a family day out, complete with fishing and a bbq!

A large catamaran may be more your style, if you and your crew are looking for a real day out on the water, with sails, masts and open waters! They’re also great if you’re looking to take your boating experience past that of a slow, windy cruise. Catamarans may also be more suitable if you want to be able to ‘lounge’ around or go ‘inside’ the boat itself.

Need help finding a boat?

If you’re looking for a luxury catamaran or pontoon to celebrate your event on, our crew at VIP Boat Hires can help you! We’ll help you decide between a catamaran or pontoon boat, recommend a specific luxury boat and then help you sort out the entire event. So don’t wait, make your time on the water an extravagant one with VIP Boat Hire!


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