The Grand Mariner series is one of Harris FloteBote’s upscale pontoon lines. Not only are they extra comfortable, but the options list is long enough to allow you to customize this 'toon to your specific uses. There are differences between the standard, SL and SEL versions. SELs are sterndrive, while the standard and SLs are outboard powered. You won’t lose room on deck by switching to the outboard version. The seating that lies above and around the sterndrive’s engine box over the center pontoon will still be there, but raising the former engine hatch will expose storage underneath in the outboard SL version. For today’s test, we were assigned the 250 SL powered by a Mercury 225 Verado 4-stroke. But first, more on the boat.
For starters, Harris FloteBote makes sure you can store whatever you need to bring aboard, and they do it with the “a-place-for-everything-and-everything-in-its-place” mentality. And in the optional entertainment center, Harris FloteBote also created “smart storage” where you have dividers to insert in various places to create storage sections depending on what you have to store, be it paper towels, wine glasses or two-liter soda bottles.
The 250 Grand Mariner SL is also easy to clean. The textures and design of the seats are such that no moisture will collect in corners or low spots and the material is Torino vinyl with Prefixx built in to ease removal of marks and stains. Typically, when a cleaner such as 409 is used on vinyl, it strips the protectant off and then every wet bathing suit leaves a color stain. Prefixx allows you to use even nail polish remover without doing harm to the seats, and even accidently writing on the seat with a Sharpie is no problem. A 25-qt (23.7 L) transom cooler is standard, as well as the LED docking lights, courtesy lighting, a Sony Gold stereo, and Bimini just to name a few. The side fences are built ¼” (6.35 mm) off the deck, so you won’t get beach sand collecting in the corners and rain or washdown water will run right overboard.
Pontoon boats are made with plywood decks, and wood rots... right? Not so fast: Harris FloteBote adds a few touches to their build process to fend off that problem. Four touches to be exact: First, they add protective tape to the aluminum cross members, so the wood is not resting right on top. Next, the plywood is joined by tongue and groove joints. This prevents water seepage into the joints and vulnerable end-grain. But water is tricky, and maybe some will still sneak past the joints. So Harris FloteBote adds sealant to the joints to completely protect them. Finally, they add sealant to the tops and bottoms of the seams. Now it’s watertight and when combined with the marine-grade pressure-treated wood itself, the result is a deck with a limited lifetime warranty. The pontoons are constructed in-house with baffles to create separate chambers in each tube. All welds are pressure tested for integrity. In effect, you could hole a pontoon and the boat will still float due to the separate chambers. One continuous "M-bracket" is welded to the top, to mount the deck onto, and this distributes the load through the length of the tube to eliminate flexing when hitting waves.
Accommodations for safety are evident everywhere. The gates all have full length stops that can hold 400 lbs of pressure, so falling into a gate from a boat wake will not mean falling through. The re-boarding ladder is custom built, not off the shelf. It’s 20” (51 cm) wide with 2.5” (6.4 cm) foot treads, and made of heavy-duty stainless steel. You typically see these ladders with three steps that are difficult to step onto. This ladder has five steps and it’s angled out so it’s easier to find underwater with your foot. Decks run past the ends of the tubes, non-skid is everywhere you would step (even on top of the nav lights)… the list goes on and on.
Having options means you can fine tune your 'toon to suit your needs and desires. This is much better than having a “one size fits all” boat, and at Harris FloteBote the options are diverse and varied. The most important questions are… how far do you want your luxury to go and how much do you want to spend? While it’s nice to have the standard Bimini, hydraulically operated is easier. Deck extensions are available in 1’ and 2’ lengths. Tired of dock lines lying around the boat? Retractable lines are an option for you. Since we’re partying onboard we’ll need the entertainment center with fridge. If you’re not a fan of carpet you can add vinyl flooring with snap-in Berber carpet or opt for the beautiful teak deck on the swim platform. Of course there are individual seating choices for the bow and helm positions. It’s all a matter of taste and whatever yours is, Harris FloteBote has you covered.
We tested the 250 Grand Mariner XTR on a gusty 15-20 mph day with solid chop on the river. Not ideal conditions for testing a tri-toon, but it is days like this that show the sins. For starters, when heading into the chop, we discovered that the water hitting the performance center-toon showed none of the common effects of pushing against the boat making you feel as if you're pumping the brakes in your car and lurching you forward with every wave. We seemed to just drive right through the waves, throwing water off to the sides. Simply put: tri-toons are better in rough water. The side-toons threw water off via the spray rails, and the spray seemed to stay low enough to avoid getting blown back into the boat. In beam and following seas the tubes were long enough to stretch across the chop and we got a smooth ride. The need for trimming the 250 SL was evident from the spray coming off the tubes in cruise. Adding up-trim brought the bow up and the tubes planed much better. Stopping the boat had the wind catching the fences immediately and turning us beam to. Not uncomfortable, but it did show that if you have any plans of drift fishing across the lake, then this is your boat. You’ll be able to utilize the full length as you drift. All-in-all, it was a positive test as we got a good feel for how the boat would react in rough conditions.
The 250 had a solid feel that belied its relatively light weight. Acceleration was crisp and you felt yourself moving forward with the boat, rather than being thrown back as the boat drove forward. Hard turns were met with no prop ventilation, so there's no need to slow down before turning hard, other than your guests' comfort level. High points for the XTR tubes as normally hard turns cause ventilation in 'toons. The best word I can use to describe the feel is "solid".
Crankin' and Bankin'
XTR stands for Extreme Turning Radius. However, when you break that down, it means that this boat had better turn well. I got up to max speed and then wrangled the helm hard over to see what would happen. As it turned out, we rolled into a 5-degree bank and cranked around. The 250 SL bled off a lot of speed in the turn, but that's normal even for a V-hull, let alone a 'toon. I was able to control the amount of speed that would bleed off by lightening the turn. Then I could keep up whatever speed I chose. Once you get the hang of this speed management, you can really get into performance turns, and there's no way any kid on a tube is going to be able to hang on if you want him/her tossed into the water.
When docking, I used the old V-hull trick of approaching just off the dock and letting the hull’s momentum slide me into the dock… wrong! Don’t try this with a tri-toon... there is no slide. When you dock this boat, drive it up to the dock, slowly, coming close enough to step off and tie the lines. If you think it’ll keep drifting over when you reverse to slow, all you’ll get is slowing or stopping right where you are. The wind or tide may move you, but momentum will not because tri-toons carry very little way at slow speeds.Backing had a different feel too. Instead of the stern backing one way and the bow swinging off the other, I found the bow to slide in the same direction that I was steering the stern. These two observations make docking simple. Just drive the boat over to the dock, whether forward or reverse, and the rest of the boat will arrive there too. Simple enough.
Our test boat was powered by an optional 225-hp Mercury Verado 4-stroke. Top speed was 37.1 mph at 5700 rpm. At that speed we were burning 22.9 gph and getting 1.62 mpg for a range of 73 miles. Pulled back to a more sedate 3000 rpm we were cruising at 16.1 mph and burning only 5.6 gallons an hour. That meant that we were getting 2.87 mpg for a range of 129 miles. However...
Fly by Feel
I tend to go by feel and find a comfortable speed without looking at the gauges until after that speed is set. Therefore, my hand settled the throttle at around 4000 rpm for a decent comfort level and a speed of around 22.5 mph. That will also yield a speed that your guests will find comfortable as well, and it won't break your wallet either. At that speed I had an 8.3 gph fuel burn and was getting 2.72 mpg for a range of 122 miles. That's only a 7 mile penalty for going faster. Being a tri-toon, there is very little bow rise when accelerating, so she had a short time to plane of only 3.2 seconds. Time to 30 mph was 8.8 seconds.
There are few boats on the market that foot-for-foot, dollar-for-dollar provide as many watersports opportunities and entertaining pleasure as does a tri-toon. You can waterski behind it, go tubing, swimming, scuba diving or snorkeling, cruising, camping out, and of course, entertain. Be sure to match the boat with the body of water you plan to use it on. And make sure that you customize the boat to take care of the needs of every member of your family.The cost of entry into this business is low. For that reason, there are many tri-toons on the market and most of them are made by local builders selling only near the factory. Because these regional builders generally sell for slightly less, it is easy for a consumer to make a mistake. All tri-toons are not the same, and all 'toon builders are not the same. Smart boat buyers want a boat made of the best materials so that it will still look new when going to sell it down the road. Low-priced, locally made units are less likely to keep their new look, hold up, and be in business if you need warranty work or parts later. If you have seen old weathered 'toons with delaminating decks in a boatyard or behind someone's summer cottage, you know what I mean.Harris FloteBote is one of the premier companies making pontoon boats. It is owned by the Brunswick Corporation which means the company has the infrastructure, corporate governance and customer service culture to both build good boats and keep its customers happy. Enough said.
Test Result Highlights
- Top speed for the Harris FloteBote 250 Grand Mariner SL (2011-) is 37.1 mph (59.7 kph), burning 22.9 gallons per hour (gph) or 86.68 liters per hour (lph).
- Best cruise for the Harris FloteBote 250 Grand Mariner SL (2011-) is 16.1 mph (25.9 kph), and the boat gets 2.87 miles per gallon (mpg) or 1.22 kilometers per liter (kpl), giving the boat a cruising range of 129 miles (207.61 kilometers).
- Tested power is 1 x 225-hp Mercury Verado.
Standard and Optional Features
Structural lifetime warranty