US pontoon boat brand Manitou has just unveiled its first model for Australian boaties: the spacious Manitou Explore 22 Switchback.

Manitou Boats recently unveiled its first model for Australian boaties at a launch on Queensland’s Gold Coast. The

Manitou Explore 22 Switchback is another outstanding model from Manitou, a US-based manufacturer of pontoon boats designed for family and leisure boating. The company has been around on US soil (or water) since 1985 and is part of the BRP family. BRP is the parent company of Quintrex, Stacer and Yellowfin boats. BRP also manufactures the incredibly popular Sea-Doo range of PWCs. So, it’s fair to say Manitou Boats belongs to an established market leader of boats.

Pontoons 101

What is a pontoon boat? That’s not an unusual question in Australia. Pontoon boats are reasonably new Down Under. Until about a decade ago, the only pontoon boats available locally were those BBQ rental boats you see in popular tourist areas like the Gold Coast and Sydney Harbour.

In the US, pontoons became one of the fastest growing segments of boats. And of course, it didn’t take long before they arrived on our shores. Pontoons are multihull platforms. They’re typically ‘day boats’, meaning they don’t have cabins. Being a multihull design, they’re rectangular in shape and very spacious. They usually have lounges and can accommodate more passengers than your average boat. They’re very stable and easy to drive. For the most part, pontoons are known as a leisure boat, however, I have seen some very effective fishing pontoons in the US with electric motors fitted to the bow and high powered engines on the transom.

The Manitou Explore 22 Switchback

The Explore 22 Switchback is the Australian debut from Manitou and features a tri-hull pontoon design. It features an aluminium construction and, according to BRP, an innovative process of manufacturing the exterior. Manitou’s Garrett Koschak says this has typically only been seen in luxury automotives and involves an exclusive pressed aluminium process, different than stretch forming that you would normally see on other aluminium boats such as Stacer and Quintrex. One of the benefits, besides the sleek look, is the ease of maintenance. It creates a clean and flat surface and is easy to maintain compared to traditional pontoon boats. Another interesting feature is individual panels can be removed and replaced. So, if you happen to scratch or damage part of the boat it’s far easier to repair. Under the floors, there are cross members every 16 inches for strength and Manitou has gone from a marine grade timber flooring to a full composite floor, effectively eliminating any plywood timber in the boat. On top of that is a vinyl pad. It stays cooler than carpet and is soft under foot. Meanwhile, all of the wiring is run above the waterline behind the exterior wall. This makes it more resilient and resistant to corrosion compared with other pontoon boats. Given many of these boats will be used on salt water in Australia, it’s a very clever feature.

What’s onboard?

At the helm, the dash comes standard with a 9-inch Garmin. Manitou is partnered with Garmin, although also offers Lowrance products in Australia. In addition, there are 13 USB chargers for devices, plus an optional wireless charging pad for your phone. There’s a FUSION stereo with NMEA 2000 for integration via an app on the Garmin sounder screen. Garmin also offers other integration, even the option to control your boat through a Garmin smartwatch. And it goes without saying, there is no shortage of speakers.

This boat is built well for entertaining. When things heat up, as they often do during a hot Australian summer, there’s a sturdy bimini top. This is easy to set up, and at 12 foot long, provides ample shade and rain protection. It’s a very solid bimini and is rated to 88kph, the highest speed rating of any pontoon bimini. That’s a great option for leaving up all day regardless of the speed you’re travelling. We erected it and left it up throughout the boat test. There are over 12 cup holders and these are capable of holding the large Yeti style cups. In my opinion, you can never have enough cup holders in a boat!

The Manitou Explore 22 Switchback
Interior configuration

Starting at the transom, there’s a standard, removable ski pole. The large and flat back deck area sits over the Rotax S engine. This is one of the advantages of the Rotax engine, which sits partially submerged under the water. Unlike a traditional outboard that takes up space at the back, or an inboard that takes up valuable deck space at the transom, the Rotax is literally hidden away under the transom in the water. This creates an enormous space at the rear of the boat. It’s coated with a non-slip decking and makes a fantastic platform for lounging around when anchored. You can trim the engine during driving and not alter the level of the boat.

However, if you decide to fully trim the engine out on the water, this back transom deck will raise and become unusable at the time. The back deck is a unique benefit of this engine configuration and style. Manitou has mounted a cooler on the back via its LinQ System. It’s easily accessible at rest, but keeps it clear of your floor space inside the main section of the boat. The same LinQ system is also used on BRP’s Sea-Doos and allows for accessories to be easily mounted. There’s also a wet storage box forward of the cooler that includes an oil filling port and flushing hose connection. Very convenient.

Battery storage is on the starboard side under the seats. On that note, the seat configurations are flexible and cleverly designed. The starboard side bench seat has a unique feature called a Trifold Bench. You can have it set up like a typical bench cushioned seat, or there’s a fold-out table, or by pulling a metal lever it converts back to a full-size bench. Plus, some of the other seating inside the boat offers conversions to different positions. That makes six seating positions altogether, customisable depending on your preference. I really liked the small table that pops out. It’s simple to change, is a handy place to have some lunch and it is easy to fold away once you’re underway. Further forward there’s a walk-through door to the bow area. A small platform on the bow allows passengers to enter and exit the boat on beaches or when dropping the anchor. Overall, it has a clean and very spacious deck layout. There’s ample storage under the seats, lounges and under the floor. With such a spacious layout, it would make a perfect boat for large families or entertaining a larger group of friends.

Performance and power

As mentioned above, the Explore 22 Switchback is powered by BRP’s Rotax S 150hp engine. The Rotax engine was previously revealed onboard Quintrex’s Freestyler X, and served a similar purpose. The partially submerged engine allows for special extra space and provides an economical and reliable power source.

BRP says the Rotax S offers 20 per cent more fuel efficiency than a comparable outboards. They’re quiet, smooth and easy to operate. On that note, the Explore 22 Switchback is incredibly easy to drive. The boat is ideally set up for cruising around calm water with family and friends. Being such a stable platform, there’s very little lean while turning and the Rotax S doesn’t have any sudden and unexpected acceleration. It’s a safe, economical and easy boat to drive. For the same reason, it would also make a great first boat for anyone new to boating.

Where to use?

In the US, pontoon boats are popular on their many lakes and are also gaining popularity in the salt water in Florida. In Australia, places such as the Gold Coast and Sydney Harbour would be ideal. They’re not an offshore boat, although boat wash and wind chop is no problem. They’re a boat for entertaining and cruising and this type of location is perfect.

Manitou in Australia is also expecting these pontoons to be used on our freshwater lakes. While we don’t have the giant lakes like America, we do have a surprising number of inland impoundments where these boats would be ideal. Some of the larger lakes in Victoria such as Dartmouth and Lake Eildon would be suitable. Likewise, Glenbawn, Windamere and Wyangala in NSW would make great locations for the Manitou, not to mention a long list of Queensland dams up and down the state. This boat, while large, can be trailered. Although, check your state’s regulations to confirm any oversize requirements.

A great option

Without a doubt, boats such as the Manitou Explore 22 Switchback have a place for Australian boaters. If I was looking for a spacious boat capable of carrying an above average number of passengers for cruising around our beautiful waterways, this Manitou would be high on the list.

Not everyone needs to stay overnight and many cabin boats with beds are simply wasted space. A pontoon boat such as this still has plenty of shade and shelter from the elements, yet it really maximises its full space so you get the most value from your boat. It also looks great in the water and has plenty of innovative features and clever deck layout configurations.


Words by Scott Thomas

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