Any time is a good time for a party on a boat. With some planning, you can pull together safe and memorable events all summer long on your Harris.
1. Pick your guests
Once the word gets out that you’re having a pontoon party, you’ll have lots of interested friends. However, boats have capacity limits so make sure you don’t exceed the number of passengers. Check your owner’s manual for the specs for your model, and be sure your guest list doesn’t exceed the available seating on deck. If you have lots of friends who want to attend a boat party, throw another one on another day or plan to take them out in groups.
2. Plan where you’ll go
You can cruise the lake, head for the sandbar, or enjoy cocktails while anchored off the beach. Plan where to go and how long you’ll be there. Create an informal float plan by letting someone on land know who’s coming and when you’ll be back; if you don’t return on time, they can contact authorities to look for you.
3. Check the weather and your fuel
Check the forecast to make sure your party will be safe and comfortable during the whole outing. Fuel up so you have enough to get to your destination and back with a small reserve for emergencies. If conditions change, head back to the dock early.
4. Set a designated driver
A BUI is the boating version of a DUI, and it carries the same penalties, so be sure you or someone on board can drive the boat and won’t be drinking.
5. Educate your guests
Non-boating guests need information on how to dress (warm, dry, comfortable, in layers), what to bring (sunscreen, hats, glasses, water bottle) and what to expect (being out all day or sharing space with pets or kids aboard). Always give your guests a safety primer before getting underway.
6. Have appropriate life jackets
Personal floatation devices (PFDs) need to be provided for everyone aboard. Kids need appropriately sized PFDs and children 12 and under must wear one on a boat that’s moving. Be sure to check state and local regulations to ensure that you have the necessary equipment on board.
7. Plan rest stops
Figure out where you can stop for guests to use facilities, or consider storing a small camping toilet aboard in case of emergency.
8. Keep an eye on everyone
Throughout the day, you’ll need to watch your guests to make sure they’re safe. That includes when they’re in the water swimming or re-boarding the boat. Discourage excess drinking and watch for signs of hypothermia or seasickness. While it's a lot less common than other types of boats, there are a lot of new boaters on the water and everyone adjusts differently. If you’re out for the Fourth of July, don’t anchor right under any fireworks that can drop hot embers on your guests or on the deck. If you have swimmers in the water, watch for other boats coming too close to your party.
9. Keep clear of other boats
Unless you’re rafting up with others, keep clear of boats and their wakes. A large wake can send guests and gear flying even on a stable pontoon boat.
10. Make provisioning easy
Prepare snacks and meals ahead and pack them into a cooler. Ensure that trash (especially the plastic kind) doesn’t go overboard and bring a trash bag for easy clean up.
11. Designate helpers ahead of time
You may need help launching or loading the boat or tying up at a dock. Pick the most capable guests ahead of time and discuss what you’ll need done and how to do it.
12. Don’t overstay
It’s easy to lose track of time during a good party. Loading the boat or backing a trailer down a ramp at night isn’t fun so stick to your original itinerary and get everyone back safely. Carry flashlights in case this doesn’t work out.
It’s not hard to plan a boat party, especially if it’s on a Harris pontoon. Stick with these safety basics, stay sober and have fun. After the first time, you’ll be boat party planning pro.