Pontoon boats deliver far greater living space than a conventional boat, so maybe we should be seriously looking at them for family boating.
The pontoon craft is essentially a catamaran with twin pontoons strapped together by a deck. It’s a simple enough formula and it works beautifully as a spacious and very stable boating platform.
This style of craft is hugely popular in the USA, so much so they are found in their hundreds on the American inland and coastal lake systems. However as popular as they are in the USA pontoon boats have been a little slower to take on here in Australia, possibly because we mistakenly think of them only as inland lake boating.
As it turns out Pontoon boats are pretty good at handling enclosed coastal waters. As we found out during a recent test of the Aussie built Runaway Bay 220FX these boats can slice through bay chop rather well. This 6.7m pontoon boat could even duck outside and ride waves. The builders have proved the point by taking the craft through the infamous Jumping Pin bar on several occasions!
The 220FX is particularly good at handling bumpy water because it’s designed for Australian conditions. To be fair it’s not much different in design terms to US pontooners’, however better in the sense it’s specifically designed for saltwater usage.
Taking this craft for a spin on Gold Coast waters was a real eye-opener I can assure you. We found this locally built Runaway Bay 220FX can travel comfortably at speed over sharp, nasty chop because the hulls are so slim and provide little resistance.
The tubular hull shape does a wonderful job of softening the ride because of its rounded shape with no hard chines. This means you can take that on-coming cruiser wash full pelt with needing to brace for the inevitable crash, bang. The 220FX simply slices through this stuff like it was marshmallow fudge!
However, it’s the sheer amount of deck space that really blows you away with the Runaway 220FX – if you’re use to normal trailer boats you just believe the room. And keeping in mind this is pretty much the ‘baby’ of the range it’s amazing to consider it’s rated to take 10 people quite comfortably.
Effectively what you’ve got here is a big rectangular space of 6.7m by 2.5m. It’s all living space and really like a floating lounge room with plush-padded lounges. You’ve even got a toilet/change compartment at the back.
This whole area is ringed by a metal fence that has opening doors at the front, back and sides so stepping aboard is like coming into a comfortable lounge room, or veranda.
This ‘armchair’ style of boating probably offends the purist boaties because it looks so comfortable. But, hey, isn’t that what boating should be about, especially with the family!
Despite a perception of not being quite ‘proper boating’ Runaway Bay is enjoying a growing list of buyers especially as they exhibit around the boat show circuit.
Best of all, the 220FX has can take you fishing. There are a pair of American ‘bass seats’ both front and back so you can fish to your heart’s content. And with a large esky aboard, plus sound system you’ve got the makings for a perfect place to fill in the hot lazy hours of a summer afternoon. You could say it’s the ultimate ‘party’ boat especially over summer.
The 220FX measures 6.7m overall and fits the maximum trailerable beam of 2.5m. The slim ‘pontoon’ hulls are really alloy tubes made up of four separate, fully-sealed compartments so the craft is just about impossible to sink.
The company behind these boats (Holmwood Highgate Australia) is a leading manufacturer of fuel tankers so they certainly know a thing, or two about making alloy craft.
With the technical expertise of the parent company Runaway Bay Boats is able to build these pontoon boats to a very high build standard. They meet the Australian standard AS/NZS ISO9002:1994 and can easily be turned in commercial self-drive hire boats.
The parent company was the first to import aluminium welding equipment into Australia and has been a leader in alloy technology ever since. The fully sealed RB pontoons are exceptionally strong and feature a minimum of 2.5mm gauge sides.
The air-tight hulls are also pressure-tested and linked by exceptionally strong bridge-decks. Whilst styling is very American construction is more robust. That’s nothing against the US boats but just to point the Runaway 220FX is built for our coastal boating conditions.
Everything on the Runaway Bay boats is marine grade quality right down to the plywood floors fitted over the decking. The pontoon hulls are made from 2.5mm grade marine grade alloy, sealed and pressure tested for leaks before assembly. Each pontoon is made up of four separately sealed compartments so it’s virtually impossible to sink the 220FX.
Cross beams are made from alloy C Channels so they don’t hold water and won’t corrode after salt water use. The whole craft is fully engineered so that it will meet quite high stress loads.
The quality of finish is exceptional too on the Runaway Bay. Not just in the welding but also the quality of upholstery, trim and paintwork. There is a choice of hull colours, carpets and, of course upholstery so customers can personalize their boat to suit their own personality.
This is not the only model that Runaway Bay Pontoon Boat builds. They produce a range of stock and custom model pontoon boats covering a range of sizes from six metres up to 12 metres and bigger – if you wish.
Beam width for this model is kept at the trailing limit; however an extra wide version is available especially for those who will be keeping their boat on a dry stack, or in a wet berth.
At time of writing the factory was putting the finishing touches to a massive 11m pontoon boats with a three metre beam. This craft will run twin 175hp outboards so it will fly.
And talking of power our test boat ran a more modest 90hp Suzuki four-stroke, yet it slipped along very nicely doing a top speed around 22 knots. This is fast enough to get places reasonably quickly.
Like all pontoon boats the 220FX gets up and planing with the throttle down. However, the rounded hull it slips along very nicely, especially at slower speeds around the 10 – 16 knot range. This is because the change between the planing and displacement mode is nonexistent.
Alternative you can really put a bonfire under the performance by going for the maximum allowed power of 140hp. With the later it will really fly - doing 30 knots pretty easily.
The standard boat is rigged with a single, pod-mounted motor but you can have twin motors as well if you prefer.
With such a big deck area it’s possible to enjoy family cruising AND fishing. The front and rear fishing decks provide room to swing a cat, or flick a fishing line. Or, alternatively you can really take it easy and lounge back in the comfortable passenger lounge.
All up trail weight is 1700kg so the Runaway Bay 220FX can be towed by mid-sized four-wheel drives and many Utes. It will suit towing behind SUVs like the Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Prado, Hyundai Santa Fe and Ford Territory.
It wasn’t the calmest of days but we enjoyed out little sojourn in this Aussie pontoon craft. What amazed me was the smoothness of the ride despite the closeness of the wave chop.
The helm position is pretty comfortable too thanks to a very comfortable console steering station. This console gives you a nice sports wheel, instrument binnacle and room to mount extra electrics like a VHF radio and sounder. The helm also gives you hydraulic steering and a drink holder.
There’s very little to report on the handling other than to say that the Runaway is almost boring easy to drive. You basically just ‘point and shoot’ when driving. There’s no need to play with trim, you just increase or decrease speed according to the speed limit.
Vision from the helm is pretty good too, helped by the fact that the front opening door is made from see-through polycarbonate so you can see the water more easily.
The Runaway 220FX is also equipped with navigation lights and docking/anchor lights. The latter are like car headlights and a great help if you are coming back to the ramp after dark.
The deck is carpeted for comfort and there’s a Fusion stereo sound system (at the helm) to keep everyone entertained. Our test boat was also equipped with a folding bimini top with envelop cover.
It goes without saying this craft is super stable and just no bothered by crew moving about, or standing one side.
Speeds on the GPS were as follows:
3500rpm 13 knots
4500rpm 17 knots
5500rpm 22 knots
This felt pretty good on the water and, I might mention, was achieved with a heavy load of five blokes aboard. My only criticism is we didn’t have a lot of shelter from wind and some optional vinyl clears might have been a good idea to protect us from the wind.
As noted the Runaway Pontoon is really just one big deck. However, the fence around this deck is cut short of the stern so the rear section is left open for fishing area.
Either way you’ve got some real fishing possibilities with this craft despite it’s rather ‘cruisie’ image. There are no rod holders, or live bait wells provided but it takes very little imagination to see how these things could be added afterwards. I guess the main thing is the fishing seats are provided and that’s a good starting point.
So what else do you get? A big L-shaped lounge that seats three or four people is opposite the helm so you can be chatting to your guests as you play skipper. This is a very social arrangement and just perfect if you’re out with the family and friends cruising along the waterway.
As mentioned there’s also a second sun lounge across the back of the lounge under which is a toilet compartment. When you use the chemical toilet you raise a privacy curtain to give you full headroom. Otherwise you wouldn’t know this compartment existed and it doesn’t block your vision.
Having the bow, stern and side gates certainly makes it easy to get your guests on and off the craft. It means you can dock the Runaway 220FX anyway you wish and still are able to get people on and off. There is also a side access ladder so you can get them off the beach as well.
With its roomy deck and shallow draft the Runaway Bay Pontoon would be an ideal craft to explore our beautiful coastal waterways. The spacious decks can easily be converted to an over-night camper especially once you’ve added optional zip-up clears and galley.
Whether it’s fishing, towing the kids on their air tubes, or swimming and relaxing it’s a great pleasure machine. Indeed, it may be the best yet all-round recreational craft we’ve tested to date.
Readers might also like to note that these pontoon boats are all available in kit form so you can save money by putting one together yourself.