The Differences Between Pontoons, Outriggers, and Sponsons

If you’re a fishing enthusiast or just love to scale the water, there is a ton of equipment out there that can assist you in making the most of your time. But when it comes to nautical terms, there is ongoing confusion and comparisons based on misunderstandings regarding a pontoon vs. sponson or a sponson vs. outrigger.

People who do not completely understand the differences between the three can get the wrong thing that will just lay there unused. It is important to understand that all three of them are watercraft stabilizers that will keep your vessel buoyant and stabilize its movement in the water.

All three offer specific benefits over the others; where a pontoon keeps a vessel buoyant, it does so at the expense of handling and speed. A sponson, on the other hand, adds some much-needed traction when cornering and improves the overall handling of the watercraft while also providing a space to mount other equipment. The downside to a sponson is the lack of support for larger hull sizes.

An outrigger addition to your boat helps with buoyancy and adds stability to the boat, reducing the chances of capsizing. This is great if you stand a lot in your boat and helps in activities such as sight fishing. On the downside, an outrigger will decrease the speed of your vessel and can also interfere with the paddle strokes.

This article aims to explain the differences between a pontoon, outrigger, and a sponson so you can decide what is best for you and make the right decision.

What is the Difference Between a Pontoon and a Sponson?

A pontoon supports the deck above it and keeps it buoyant. The purpose of a pontoon is buoyancy as it comprises hollow tubings that remain buoyant when immersed. A sponson is anything that is mounted onto the hull of the watercraft that will help it in maintaining buoyancy and stability.

A sponson can be used to mount other equipment, whereas a pontoon cannot serve this purpose and is only meant to keep the watercraft floating.

Pontoon or Float

A pontoon is any type of floating device that adds buoyancy to a boat. These devices, usually in the form of a tube, are airtight and hollow. Since pontoons are sealed, they are water-resistant and remain afloat. It is common to call a boat equipped with a pontoon as a pontoon boat or just a pontoon.



Any protrusion that extends from the hull or any other part of the boat that helps the vessel maintain its stability while floating is a sponson. A sponson can also serve the purpose of securing equipment to the boat and can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

A pontoon and a sponson both serve the purpose of keeping the vessel stable but use very different techniques to pull it off. In the pontoon vs. sponson debate, a pontoon mechanism is used for boats that have a huge deck size, whereas sponsons are used for boats of all sizes.

A pontoon lies under the deck and makes the boat virtually unsinkable as the deck and the physical boat lay on top of it. On the other hand, a sponson is fixed to the sides of the hull to keep it buoyant.

Meanwhile, in the pontoon vs. sponson discussion, a disadvantage of the sponson is that a pontoon-equipped boat cannot capsize whereas a sponson-equipped one can. Moreover, turning it back upright can be extremely difficult owing to the stability of buoyancy offered by the tool. With the advancement in technology and the introduction of new and improved designs, pontoons have now improved and offer better travel speeds and even better stability than before. However, due to the huge size of the deck, a pontoon design is still less steerable compared to an outrigger and a sponson.


What is the Difference Between a Sponson and an Outrigger?

An outrigger extends towards the sides of the boat and provides stability to the vessel as it has a float on the other end. A sponson sticks to the side of the vessel and provides the same function but in a sleeker and more streamlined manner. The extended outward nature of the outrigger can take a toll on the speed of the boat.

A sponson may solve speed problems and adds superior control and maneuverability even at high speeds.


An outrigger is a projection that has a float at its open end that prevents a canoe or boat from capsizing. Technically serving the same function as a pontoon, an outrigger on canoe is usually compact and sleek as compared to a pontoon. The main point of difference between the two is the way the floating device is mounted to the hull.


Any protrusion that extends from the hull or any other part of the boat that helps the vessel maintain its stability while floating is a sponson. A sponson can also serve the purpose of securing equipment to the boat and can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

In the outrigger vs. sponson debate, there are some key factors that set the two apart. An outrigger generally sits a bit farther away from the hull as compared to a sponson, which is mounted right onto the hull and rests next to it. As both provide stability, both can be used simultaneously on a boat. An outrigger provides more buoyancy as compared to sponsons that are more about stability than buoyancy.

Decently designed outriggers can extend to either side of the vessel/canoes/boats and can make the whole vessel unsinkable and super stable, making the need for a sponson non-existent. On the other hand, a sponson sits next to the hull and helps with balance, especially when water strikes the vessel from the sides.

Closing Thoughts

Now you know everything there is to know about the pontoon vs. sponson and sponson vs. outrigger debate. Where a pontoon allows for a larger deck size that is fit to host parties or to carry a whole team for fishing, a sponson can allow for a speedy boat that is steerable and highly responsive. An outrigger design will add some much-needed stability.

So what is the best tool for you? It all comes down to the way you intend to use your vessel. If the vessel is expected to travel slowly in calm waters, then a pontoon design will be the best choice. On the other hand, a sponson is better for stability and some degree of buoyancy but brings the added benefit of increased speed.

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