Pontoon Boat Camping: A Complete Guide

If you’ve ever considered bringing your pontoon on a camping vacation, I strongly advise you to do it!

Nothing soothes me more than falling asleep to gently swaying and waking up to the sound of waves crashing on the coast.

While you may make your camping experience as basic or lavish as you like, you’ll discover that camping is an affordable “and unplugged “family holiday!

But, before you step out into the wide outdoors, let us guide you through everything you should consider first. Choose your spot first, then prepare yourself, your family, and your pontoon!

How to Choose a Great Camping Spot for Pontoons

Park Regulations to Be Aware Of

Check with the park or the state to see if any permissions or licenses are required (like those for boat launch and fishing).

Some lakes and rivers may not allow boats to tie up overnight, while others may not allow camping at all.

There’s a good chance you’ll have to follow a few guidelines. If you plan on camping for an extended period of time, you may require a special inspection or authorization.

Ask around for nice camping locations in the area. Quiet coves may be discovered by word of mouth. And don’t think you’ll be able to just wing it and pull over someplace. There are spots that appear to be uninhabited but are actually private property, even if you’re on a vast lake with little no-man’s-land islands.

Look for safe coves to anchor in

Pontoons, unlike other boats, were designed to be pulled to shore and beached, making it easy to bring your camp stuff in.

Whether you opt to anchor or pull into shore, look for a lee, a sheltered cove or channel where you won’t be buffeted by the wind or float back out into open ocean.

To be safe, bring an extra anchor and enough rope to tie off to a tree on land.

If your boat drifts too far in the middle of the night, use a GPS anchor alarm and app to notify you. Drag Queen for iOS and Anchor Watch for Android are two applications that can help with this.

One thing to keep in mind while picking your anchoring spot: you’ll find less bugs and more seclusion if you anchor in the middle of the cove.

Keep an eye on the weather

Nothing is more frustrating than arranging a camping vacation just to get rained out, yet weather may be unpredictable at times. There are various boating applications that will alert you to bad weather.

Bring a dry bag full of ponchos and additional clothing just in case the weather changes. Also, if you need to come back home, you should know how to boat in bad weather.

How to Get Your Pontoon Ready for a Camping Trip

Tents that are commonly used

If you don’t want to invest in a complete canvas enclosure yet, a basic tent is a good option. Something basic may be extremely versatile. Simply choose a size that will fit between the seats on the front deck.

Then, if you’d like, you may set up camp away from the lake.

If you decide to pitch it on the front deck, use the tent’s eye holes to secure it. Normally, you would peg a tent into the ground, but because there isn’t any, you’ll need to secure it to your pontoon using a bungee rope or zip-tie to keep it from blowing away.

Pontoon Enclosures Made to Order

The ideal choice for pontoon camping is to invest on a canvas canopy enclosure that will serve as your tent.

They come in half-enclosures, and a complete canvas enclosure for your pontoon might be a wonderful addition.

They may cost anything from $1700 (made locally) to $2200 (manufacturer cost), and plastic windows, zippers, and mosquito nets can all be customized.

Beds

On your pontoon, be sure to get a decent night’s sleep.

Sleeping Bags

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For me, sleeping bags are a must-have. I’ve tried camping with simply a couple blankets from home, but they don’t stand up to the cold like an all-season sleeping bag does. Coleman (Check Price on Amazon) is a well-known brand in the camping world, and they provide a number of bags to select from.

Camp Pads and Camp Cots

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The most common camping bed is an air mattress. However, I’ve always had a problem with them. They don’t keep body heat well, aren’t very pleasant to sleep on, and never seem to hold air (leaving you re-pumping the next night). Instead, grab a Teton camp pad (check price on Amazon) and a camp cot (check price on Amazon) if you like to sleep above ground.

Pull-Out Sofas

If you like pontoon camping, you might want to consider changing one of your seats to a fold-out sleeping seat. It is possible to sleep on the seat as is, however the seats are quite tiny.

Unbolting and removing the furniture is the second option. Obviously, this isn’t practical for a one-time weekend vacation, but if you camp frequently, this might significantly expand your area.

Creature Comforts

Food and Water

Cooking

When it comes to camping, make things as simple as possible when it comes to cooking. Make it simpler on yourself by preparing your meals at home.

Of course, there are exceptions, such as if you plan to catch a few fish or bring hamburger meat that tastes better when it is freshly cooked. However, if you have dinner sides, lunches, or breakfasts to prepare ahead of time, wrap them in foil and keep them in a Ziploc bag above ice in your cooler.

As I previously stated, some foods simply taste better when they are freshly grilled. You may cook on land with a grill that attaches to the pontoon or a grill that attaches to the pontoon. Remember to carry additional propane for the camp stove and remember to bring the propane tank. But don’t forget that you can always cook over an open fire!

If I have a good campfire at my campsite, I take use of it and save the propane for emergencies (like when the coals and wood are dampened by rain) or preparing a much-needed cup of coffee in the morning.

H20

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Bring an ice-filled cooler with you. Unfortunately, unless you invest in a cooler brand like Yeti or Pelican (available on Amazon), which can retain ice for up to a week, you’ll have to go to a store that sells ice bags to replace and keep your supplies cold. And, of course, keep it as much as possible in the shade!

Make sure you have enough water to drink as well as prepare and clean meals. Bring a 5-gallon water tank and a pump with you (Available on Amazon).

I tented far enough away from civilization to be able to go to a local creek and use a water purification. Even so, keep in mind that most purifiers aren’t instantaneous and need time to work. It might take up to four hours to properly disinfect microorganisms in some cases.

Showers and Waste

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The majority of campsites feature showers within walking distance of your camper. If you’re camping in a remote location, carry a solar shower, such as this Viking Nature 5-Gallon Camping Shower Bag (Available on Amazon), and biodegradable all-purpose soap, such as Campsuds (Check Price on Amazon).

Bringing a portable toilet is also a good idea. A fantastic alternative is the Partysaving New Travel Portable Toilet (available on Amazon).

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Of all, if you truly want to immerse yourself in nature, all you need is a trowel (and bury appropriately and sanitarily far away). Also, make sure you don’t leave anything non-biodegradable behind.

There will be a disposal station at each campground where you may dispose of your trash, recyclables, and propane bottles. Never leave trash on your pontoon because it attracts creatures, especially at night. Instead, bring a couple trash bags with you to throw away any collected waste, and drop it in the bin or hang it on a tree at night. If you don’t have anywhere to dispose your trash, carry it out with you as you leave.

Finally, consider cleanup. Some folks bring paper plates that they can throw away once they’ve used them. I prefer to bring a set of Fozzils foldable bowls (available on Amazon) with me because they pack flat and save room. With a cheap kitchen scrape and dish soap, they clean up easily as well.

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Warmth

Campfires

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There’s a strong possibility you’ll have access to a fire pit if you’ve reserved a campsite (rather than just stopping on a deserted island). Bring dry wood (nothing too recently cut), firestarters, and a lighter if you have a fire pit.

Obviously, during your boat excursion, make sure these don’t get wet. In fact, once you’ve placed the wood on land, carry a tarp with you to cover it and keep it dry.

Cabin Heaters

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A tiny cabin heater can be used if your boat has a canopy enclosure or a tent. Just make sure it’s connected to a power source other than your boat’s battery. When operating a heater inside an enclosure, a carbon monoxide detector is also a must-have piece of boat safety equipment.

Lighting

Solar and LED Lights

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Aside from safety lights, you’ll need at least a few light sources on board to read or play games with the family after dark. Pick up some rechargeable solar lights and attach them to the pontoon as an easy solution.

Always pack LED lighting for under the bimini, as well as flashlights if you need to go ashore. I like a hands-free light (available on Amazon) since roaming about in unfamiliar terrain at night might result in an unintentional fall, which you will be able to catch.

Safety and Running Lights

If you’re out on the water after sunset, make sure you’re visible to other boaters (like early-rising fishermen zipping by in their bass boats). From nightfall till morning, always use your white running lights for safety, especially if there is thick fog.

A battery should suffice, however cables and a backup battery should be brought along just in case.

The Ultimate Pontoon Camping Checklist

Aside from the goods you’d ordinarily bring for a day on the water, here’s a shortened list of the above, plus some additional items to consider for overnight camping trips:

  • Shelter: Tent, enclosure
  • Sleep: Camp cot, camp pad, sleeping bags, pillows
  • Food prep: Plates, cutlery, cooking utensils, pot and skillet, oven mitt, camp stove, foil, napkins, coolers
  • Water: Five gallons of water, pump, water purifier and/or tablets
  • Showers: A moisture-wicking towel, body wipes, toiletries, and a portable shower are all provided.
  • Bathroom: Personal wipes, portable head, trowel, toilet paper
  • Warmth: Dry wood, lighter, fire starters
  • Lighting: LED lanterns, headlamps, flashlights
  • Clean-up supplies: Trash bags, dish soap, kitchen scrub, quick-drying towel
  • Comfort: Bug repellent and/or citronella candle

So, right now, you’re probably feeling very prepared to go camping.

Even so, you should always have a backup plan. Make certain that someone is aware of your whereabouts. You should be aware that if things goes horribly wrong, you may phone a neighbor or locate a nearby motel.

Finally, keep in mind that you may not be able to persuade everyone in your family to go camping. Some people adore it, while others despise it. You won’t frighten them away from the notion for the rest of their lives if you start carefully and create a good first impression. You could find that they begin to crave it as well! Heck, you could even be able to live aboard in the future with your own marina slip!

Have a great time camping!

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