While when we talk about pontoons, we are almost always referring to pontoon boats, the buoyancy of pontoons allow them to be used for a wide variety of uses. A pontoon is a device that can take on various shapes that is buoyant in the water and can be used for practical purposes to support a various amount of weight. Pontoons are designed to displace a large amount of water, while at the same time being light. The majority of pontoons are hollow, but can be filled with foam or other light materials.
If you were to talk about pontoons 100 years ago, people would likely assume that you were referring to temporary floating bridges. The history of pontoon bridges, also known as floating bridges, dates back to the earliest forms of civilization. They were used in 11th century BC in China, the Greeks around 500 BC, and were documented in stories of Alexander the Great and the Persian king Xerxes. Pontoon bridges were used primarily to transport goods across rivers and impassable bodies of water, but were often documented in Greek and Roman warfare campaigns, where huge numbers of people and horses needed to cross treacherous rivers. Early constructions involved placing large pieces of wood or other materials on top of a line of boats, but over time it evolved to constructing bridges with sturdy pontoons that were reliable and would last for a relatively long period of time. Throughout history, they were used as a means to safely cross bodies of water for a variety of reasons, and to this day, they are used by the military to quickly set up a bridge in order to transport heavy items across water like tanks.
Pontoons can be commonly found on the bottom of seaplanes, or planes capable of taking off and landing on water. Seaplanes are just about as old as aviation itself, as seaplanes were designed in the early 1910’s and were frequently used throughout WWI. The pontoons on seaplanes are commonly referred to as “floats”, which is why seaplanes with floats are often referred to as floatplanes. The design of the pontoons allow the fuselage and the rest of the plane to stay dry by keeping it high out of the water, and only the pontoons come in contact with the water when landing and taking off. Because floatplanes are typically small with small engines, minimal surface contact with the water is necessary in order to minimize drag so the plane can build up enough speed to take off. Additionally, because weight of the floatplane is critical in the design, the hull of the seaplane has to be as light as possible. Finally, planes in general can be very top heavy, which requires a base that is extremely stable, particularly when the plane is sitting in water during rough weather to avoid capsizing. Pontoons offer solutions to both of those issues, and make taking off and landing on water for small planes possible.
Docks or Landing Stage
Similar to bridges, docks are often designed to float on the water instead of being anchored to the ground under the water, and it happens with the assistance of pontoons. They can be built to a variety of sizes, and are often designed as floating piers, sometimes known as Jettys, to be used at marinas to dock large boats. This can be beneficial bodies of water that experience significant tidal changes, as the height of the pontoon docks will adjust with the heights of attached watercraft.
Of course, the one application we are most familiar with is the use of pontoons for the purpose of constructing a water craft. The history of pontoon boats starts with the early constructions of rafts, as travelers needed to design a watercraft that could carry a lot of weight, and would be stable in extreme conditions while out on the water. So what makes the design of pontoon boats so desirable?
Shallow – Some pontoon boats have a draft of only 8 inches, which means that they are less likely to run aground or into underwater objects.
Stable – With a wide base relative to the length of the boat, pontoon boats are extremely stable. Additionally, pontoon boats are like floating rooms, and you don’t feel like you’re climbing into a space ship or a crammed room when you board them.
Spacious – Pontoon boats are so desirable because they are capable of carrying a large number of people for their size. As boating is a often a social experience, we like having the ability to invite large parties of people on our boats.
Speedy – Yes it’s true! Pontoon boats aren’t just for those who don’t like going fast. Big improvements to pontoon and hull designs, like our patented V-Toon technology, have made pontoon boats faster and better and turning and banking at high speeds.