Being who we are at BoatTEST.com we tend to take a more forensic look at the boats we review beyond the basic layout. That means we have a vested interest in how these boats are built and whether they're going to be around for the long haul. In the case of the Sun Tracker Party Barge 254 XP3 it starts with triple logs, 26” (66.04 cm) in diameter each, and constructed from .100 gauge aluminum with multiple chambers. The multiple chambers is an important factor because a puncture due to a high-speed impact with a submerged object will only allow a single chamber to be compromised rather than the entire boat. When the logs are assembled they’re pressure tested for leaks before moving any further in the construction phase.
The XP3 designation means that this boat is built for extra performance with strakes attached to each of the three logs which add to performance. The back of the center log incorporates the engine pod. Because the transom is always in the water, it's constructed from 100% aluminum with box-beam reinforcing in place of pressure-treated plywood. The logs are secured to Z-bars under the deck and add enough buoyancy to allow Tracker to attach up to a 250-hp engine. The center log also contains the 35 gallon (132.5L) fuel tank. An additional benefit of the engine pod's buoyancy is a more level attitude when coming on plane and quicker planing times.
The deck is constructed of three-quarter inch pressure-treated 7-ply marine grade plywood that carries a limited lifetime warranty. It is covered with 28-oz carpet backed by solid rubber. The deck is attached to Z-bar cross members with butyl tape buffering the wood to metal bond. The specific spacing of the Z-bars runs between 6” (15.24cm) at the stern where the loads are highest to 24” (61 cm) moving towards the bow, with spacing dependent on their location and the loads that will be placed upon them. Those Z-bars are then attached to M-brackets which bonds the entire assembly to the logs. The plywood sheets themselves are joined together with silicone bedding at each joint.
While we haven't tested the Sun Tracker Party Barge 254 XP3 we have tested pontoon boats in class and can verify the benefits of having triple tubes and their ability to provide relatively high speeds. Many pontoon boats have a genetic design flaw. The cross members under the deck have a tendency to catch water being thrown up from the strakes and cause a surging effect. Some builders just accept it as a way of life, but Sun Tracker has no such intention. The underside of all of the deck rigging is completely skinned in aluminum providing a smooth surface, and therefore a much smoother ride. It’s certainly a bit more labor intensive to put in the skin, but the effort is worth it not only from a cost/benefit standpoint but a performance /comfort standpoint as well.
Comfort and Safety
Certainly one point that could be argued is which seat will be the best aboard the Sun Tracker Party Barge 254 XP3. Certainly, we would argue that it would be the helm. The entire station is on an elevated fiberglass platform with the captain's chair that not only swivels and slides, but it also reclines and includes self-leveling armrests that remain parallel to the deck. It is luxuriously padded, and its elevated position allows clear sightlines above the heads of any guest that may be sitting on the forward couches.
The Stern Seat and Pad
Others however, may have a valid argument for the rear facing lounge carrying the title of best-in-house. It allows occupants to sit back and relax, while not being reclined so far that there's little chance of enjoying the surroundings. As it is completely surrounded by fencing this seat can even be occupied while the Sun Tracker Party Barge 254 XP3 is underway, a rare ingredient indeed for any aft facing seat. Not only will it be a pleasure to watch the wake shrinking in the distance but it will be a front row seat for observing the action at the end of the towline. When it's time to convert from water sports to entertaining, an enclosed changing room is located right underneath.
Entertainment at its Finest
The forward facing couches create a convivial atmosphere "in the round" which is ideal for parties, sightseeing or just hanging out. The seats have ultra soft padding, a padded flip down armrest on the starboard one, pillow top backs with lumbar supports, and comfortable headrests. Under seat storage is lockable. The port hand seat even has storage for skis.
But the real beauty of this boat lies in its spacious layout that allows for filling her with passengers while still ensuring that everyone remains friends. A molded fiberglass refreshment center that includes a food prep area and sink with pullout sprayer plumbed to a 13.5 gallon (51 L) freshwater tank lies next to the oversized aft facing lounge.
Adults will feel comfortable bringing the kids onboard as all fences are constructed from 1 ¼” (3.2 cm) anodized aluminum rails for strength and durability and even include sound and vibration deadening insulation. All gates open inward, which reduces any concern about falling out should anyone fall into one. As an added safety backup, all gates are double latched as well. All Sun Tracker pontoons come with at least one gate that is wheelchair accessible. All cleats are the fold-down type to eliminate tripping hazards. Navigation lights are recessed into the forward fences and include forward-facing docking lights as standard.
We think that the Sun Tracker Party Barge 254 XP3 is among the top tier of pontoon boats in class. Because of Sun Tracker's refined construction techniques, high volume, low dealer margins, and Tracker's buying power, it is able to keep costs to a more manageable level. She has a national price of $43,995 (plus transportation and dealer make ready fees) with a 200-hp Mercury Verado outboard, and everything we have discussed in the article, short of the trailer, is standard equipment.
Test Result Highlights
- Top speed for the Sun Tracker Party Barge 254 XP3 (2013-) is 48.2 mph (77.6 kph), burning 29.30 gallons per hour (gph) or 110.9 liters per hour (lph).
- Best cruise for the Sun Tracker Party Barge 254 XP3 (2013-) is 14.7 mph (23.7 kph), and the boat gets 3.92 miles per gallon (mpg) or 1.67 kilometers per liter (kpl), giving the boat a cruising range of 123 miles (197.95 kilometers).
- Tested power is 1 x 300-hp Mercury Verado 300.
Standard and Optional Features
|Outlet: 12-Volt Acc||Standard|
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