Float On: Lessons from a Pontoon

“Ummmmm… are you having a midlife crisis?!” That was the first thing that came out of my mouth that evening back in March when my husband first casually suggested that we buy a pontoon this year.

We’re already an outdoorsy family, you see, with a garage and a basement storage room bursting at the seams: multiple kayaks, a canoe, a johnboat, life jackets, paddles, and oars, multiple totes of camping gear, plus tackle boxes and fishing rods for days. Suffice it to say we’re no strangers to outdoor fun and the assorted apparatus it requires.

But a pontoon? No way.

This felt like a step too far. A financial drain. A terrible idea. Perhaps you’ve heard the adage: ‘B.O.A.T. simply stands for ‘Break Out Another Thousand.’ We were “small boat” people, and the pontoons I was vaguely familiar with were not small at all.

Float On: Lessons from a PontoonArmed with talking points based in fact, my husband carefully laid out his pro-pontoon argument:

  • We already like being outdoors and on the water. (This is true.)
  • Our parents are getting older, and pontooning is a low-key, nature-based activity that we could do with them. (Also true.)
  • We had at the time three installments of federal stimulus money in our bank account. (Can confirm.)
  • He saw the smile on my face when I sank into a cushy pontoon seat at an outdoor show a couple of weeks prior in Cedar Falls. (Alright, OK. We did attend an outdoor show – you know, the big ones showcasing the latest campers, ATVs, and RVs with slide-out floorplans and entertainment bars. I did climb aboard a sparkly new pontoon that day, and I guess it’s true that I let myself escape for just a moment, if only in my mind, daydreaming of carefree days on the water.)

“I’m not suggesting we get a brand-new pontoon,” my husband said. “I’m suggesting we find a pre-owned one that’s in ‘good enough’ shape and just enjoy it for the summer. We can resell it when we’re done with it. Just think about it.”

I’m embarrassed to tell you how little time it took for me to cave.

Within a few days, he had researched a pontoon for sale in a small town just over the Wisconsin border. We showed up, looked it over, the men discussed things like horsepower and hulls and propellers, and we were towing it home within an hour. We had just taken the plunge on a mid-’90s, 24-foot, 14-passenger Sweetwater pontoon with turquoise carpet and mysteriously few cupholders. Adventure awaits!

Now a few months into pontoon ownership, I can confirm: the good stuff has far outweighed the bad. I’m learning (and sometimes re-learning) a few life lessons as we float along this journey.

Being intentional about investing in family time, friendships, and community is good for the soul.

Our goal this summer was to be out on the pontoon twice a week – one weeknight for a simple dinner cruise, and one afternoon/evening on the weekends. Each time, we’d invite a different family or small group of friends to join us. We have had deep conversations, made meaningful connections, and enjoyed sweet summer fun on each outing. And yes, our aging parents have been out with us, too. I don’t regret any of those things for a minute.

Putting on the swimsuit is sage advice. Women everywhere need this reminder. Including me.

Naming a boat is difficult!

We’ve had the entire summer to choose a clever name for this beast, and here we are in August, with an officially nameless vessel. Many options were bandied about: Large Marge the Party Barge, The Slow Loris, God’s Plan (our 7 year old’s suggestion – you’ll notice he’s a Drake fan), and countless others that I can’t even remember now. I usually refer to the pontoon as The Identity Crisis, reflecting the difficulty of what to call it. Oh well. Maybe we’ll have it sorted out by next summer.

It’s OK to find the off button on your workday.

In today’s always-connected society, it’s easy to be “on the clock” all the time, with every ding of our smartphones summoning us back to some work-related issue. There will always be more work to do. Having an excuse to truly unplug at the end of a workday and head to the lake isn’t all bad.

Our kids’ water confidence has skyrocketed.

After so much opportunity for swimming, diving, and general merriment in the water, their water skills have improved exponentially. And with all the ways we enjoy the outdoors, helping our kids become strong swimmers is an important life skill.

Nature is amazing.

I can’t tell you how many picture-perfect sunsets I’ve seen this summer, providing the perfect backdrop to a memorable day on the water. We’ve caught big fish, admired a stowaway treefrog, befriended a family of ducks (I think they just wanted our Cheez-Its), been alarmed at the aggressiveness of seagulls, and even saw a tenacious doe swim across the river channel and scale a rocky wall on the far bank. I mean, come on. That’s worth the price of admission right there. Being out in nature is our happy place.

So summer is nearly over, and we haven’t decided yet what will become of this pontoon. Are we keeping it for another season? Are we officially “large boat” people now? Or will we pass it along to the next family who will have their own kind of fun with it?

Whether it stays or goes, one thing is for sure: this pontoon is leaving a lot of cherished family memories in its wake.

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