Pontoon boats popular at Atlantic City marina show

ATLANTIC CITY — Some of the most popular boats in the industry today are on pontoons, the wide-open carriers that look built more for comfort than for speed.

But these pontoon boats, which have helped buoy the industry the past two years, can provide both at once, according to several dealers at the Atlantic City In-Water Power Boat Show, which runs through Sunday at the Farley State Marina.

The 29th edition of the show offers 350 boats of all kinds at the marina’s extensive docks or on land, with 2014 models of yachts, cruiser, sport fishers and more.

Pontoon boats offer relatively affordable means to get into boating, are fuel-efficient, can still come with luxuries and — for more money on the high-end side — very powerful engines that can move them in the 50 mile-per-hour range.

“Our pontoons are probably the biggest seller right now,” said Shawn O’Neill, salesman for Sheltered Cove Marina with locations in Tuckerton and Vineland. The marina has a prominent area near the entrance of the boat show, and set up a row of Bennington pontoons to showcase.

“Everybody’s got a lot of pontoons. It’s an affordable, entry-level way to get into boating. You can run low horsepower, they don’t carry a lot of fuel so they don’t use a lot of fuel, and you can fit 14 people on them,” he said.

They can come with luxuries, like bathrooms that pop up on the deck. They typically travel around 20 miles per hour, he said, and some versions have a third buoy that adds stability.

Glenn Gioe, owner of Bayville-based New Jersey Outboards, said these “triple toons” can carry 150- to 300-horsepower engines and have become more popular recently.

“It’s not your grandfather’s pontoon anymore,” he said.

Of the 300-horsepower ones, Gioe said, the business sold around seven this year for about $70,000 each.

“People are spending money on these boats, and they are liking them,” he said.

The National Marine Manufacturing Association says new boat and engine sales reached nearly $9 billion in 2012. Pre-owned boat and engine sales totaled almost $12 billion.

Overall, industry saw an uptick last year from 2011, as new powerboat sales reached 157,300, according to the NMMA, which is based in Chicago.

But even before then — when sales were declining or flat in other areas — pontoon sales had increased.

The NMMA says sales of aluminum power boats, which include pontoons, increased 4 percent in 2011 compared to 2010. Overall, traditional powerboat sales were nearly flat during that time, with 142,830 units sold in 2011 and 142,330 sold in 2010.

Andrew Zierak, 30, of Johnstown, N.Y., was browsing pontoons boats Friday afternoon at the boat show.

Zierak, who bought a used pontoon boat last year, said he enjoyed taking it out with family and his young daughter.

“My father bought one two years ago. We got a lot of family and people who come up to the camps, you get the kids out on it,” he said.

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