Pontoon boat design hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years, so I was curious what would stand out with the 2023 Manitou Explore Pontoon prototype.
Leaving Eau Gallie Causeway in Melbourne, Florida, I settled in for a few relaxing hours test-driving the Manitou Explore prototype. Cruising at a top speed of just under 30 mph, it was not an adrenaline rush like my previous 2 days test-riding a new touring Sea-Doo. That’s not what pontoon boats are for. Instead, if you want a leisurely ride with the family or the most comfortable way on earth to fish from a watercraft, you’re all set with the Manitou Explore.
We put in some tunes on the fusion RA-60 stereo and headed out on calm waters.
In short: The Manitou Explore was like bringing my living room out onto the water. I could recline and put my feet up, or pop out my laptop on the three-way functional table. With its sleek luxury-sedan-like design, the boat certainly commands attention. If you’re looking for heads to turn, they will. I did find myself wanting to go faster, especially when the water was flat and there was some distance to cover. Adding power is an available upgrade.
2023 Manitou Explore Pontoon: Switching Things Up
As soon as I came aboard, I wanted to try all the seating options, like Goldilocks. I was intrigued by the Switchback Seats. These adjustable backrests can be easily switched around to face forward from backward or vice versa. Especially nice when you’re cruising with minimal wake and want to face the water, but don’t want to give up your seat when the speed picks up.
Each seat has been modeled to fit each cockpit section. We were on the water for about 3 hours, and I found the seating relaxed and cozy. However, with the flat seatback design, I’m not convinced I’d think that after being out there all day. The navigator and captain’s seats do have more of a car seat shape for support, which I’ll talk a little more about below.
Made from high-quality Simtex vinyl, the seating was smooth, not sticky. I was wearing shorts and didn’t notice my skin glued to the material when I stood or shifted my position.
There is also a Trifold three-in-one functionality in one of the seating sections. You can either stow the table out of the way or bring it out for use.
Manitou 24′ Explore Quick Look
- Length overall (LOA): 23′ 8″
- LOA with Max Deck: 26′ 4″
- Dry weight with Max Deck: 4,002 lbs.
- Fuel capacity: 43 gal.
- Display: Garmin 9″ touchscreen digital display
- Vessel switching: Digital switching with preprogrammed buttons
- Stereo system: Fusion RA-210 w/4×6″ Fusion Speakers
- USB Charging ports: 10-12
- Formed aluminum walls
- High back helm chair
- Woven vinyl flooring
- LED navigation lights
- LED interior flooring lights
- Ski tow bar
- 12′ Sport bimini, gas assisted
- 100% composite decking
All Feet on Deck
The woven vinyl flooring, standard on all Manitou models, felt grippy and ready to stand up to pets, kids, or drunk people in heels. Its light coloring means the deck never gets too hot for bare feet. This single-piece composite deck is a sustainable, hard-wearing solution to conventional marine plywood and looks very attractive on this stylish boat.
Luxury Automotive-Inspired Styling
While most manufacturers struggle to create something unique, Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) has reinvented the pontoon platform. Taking cues from the auto industry, the Manitou has some specific detailing we see every day on the roads.
Exclusive to Manitou, the boat has a luxury sedan look, with black-bezel LED navigation and docking lights integrated flush with the aluminum machine-formed exterior walls. This comes standard on the Base build. The tubes are protected with a factory-applied black powder coating, which is optional on the Explore models.
Where traditional pontoons have one-inch aluminum tubing, making them look outdated, the Manitou is sleek and modern. Manitou uses an aluminum transformation process typically seen only in the luxury automotive industry.
As Manitou Media Relations Specialist Tim McKercher said, “[BRP] didn’t want it to look like a floating barge with a cage.”
Made in the Shade: Gas-Assist Sport Bimini
I was happy to see the 12-foot Sport Bimini — standard on all Explore models — covered a large section of the boat. Florida is hot. I could hop from seat to seat and stay fully out of the sun. Without a way to tilt the shade’s angle, however, driving into the sun leaves the boat fully exposed to heat.
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For low bridges, the bimini is easily lowered and tucks out of the way. Gas-powered shocks only need 5 pounds of pressure to open or close. The Sport Bimini is approved for up to 55 mph, the highest-rated bimini in the pontoon world. Most shades can only handle about 25 mph. The zippers are non-metal, and there are no wraps to contend with.
Max Deck Gives Another 4 Feet of Space
One of the coolest features on the Manitou Explore is the stern. Also exclusive to Manitou, the Max Deck gives 38 square feet of additional space at the rear. This adds 4 feet to the overall length of the boat. The Explore I tested was classified as 24’ + 4, meaning 24 feet without the Max Deck, and 28 with.
The Max Deck is available on all models powered by the Rotax S engine, which seamlessly tucks out of the way under the deck. When we stopped to fuel up, bystanders asked, “where’s the engine?” The Max Deck and hidden engine are unique attractions that make the Manitou so slick.
Instead of a traditional outboard engine sticking up, there is now room for easy access to water activities, or for storing wakeboards, floaty toys, and coolers. Your sightline is opened up for watching what’s happening behind the boat or just for seeing more of your surroundings.
All Manitou models come with the LinQ System for securing coolers, bags, and other items to the deck.
Hidden Rotax S Engine
BRP Rotax engines have advanced direct-injection technology. This means the engine has 20% better fuel savings when compared to competitor outboard engines.
Manitou states the Rotax is “the cleanest combustion outboard engine in its class, with a 12% reduction in reportable emissions, and a 98% reduction in carbon monoxide at idle compared to leading outboard engine brands.”
In order to accomplish the out-of-the-way look, the powerhead is tilted 90 degrees for a lower profile. The Explore I tested had 150 horsepower. Maxing out at 30 mph, it was no speed demon, but I was told the Manitou Explore is rated for up to 600 horsepower, so speed can be added.
The Rotax Outboard Engine allows for all the same advantages as a traditional outboard engine, like price, ease of maintenance, and performance, except it’s out of sight. I couldn’t find much in the way of an explanation for how BRP managed to build this engine, so I have included a YouTube link to show how it functions.
Hauling & Driving the Manitou Pontoon
On the water, I got behind the wheel and right away needed to adjust the navigator’s seat. I was able to go forward, but the final setting wasn’t ideal for my shorter height of 5’6″. I sat toward the edge of the chair, which meant my back wasn’t supported.
McKercher showed me how the seat could also move upward underneath the legs, so drivers can sit higher to look out farther — a nice feature. The navigator chairs are similar to driver and passenger seats in a car, making them more comfortable for the long haul, but they still felt oversized for smaller people.
The Manitou 24’ Explore is U.S. Coast Guard-rated for 15 passengers.
As mentioned, it was a clear day on smooth waters when we took the Manitou Explore out. I can’t vouch for how the boat feels on choppy water, but I asked about details.
The Manitou has three pontoons instead of the traditional two. Its patented V-Toon hull comes with a larger center tube that is mounted 5.25 inches lower than the outer tubes, which creates a V-hull shape. This hull technology is designed to provide a smooth and stable ride in rougher water by allowing the center tube to hit the water first to smooth out chop.
Manitou Explore Additional Features
A 9-inch Garmin digital dashboard comes with the Explore. This is the largest screen offered in the recreation segment by Manitou and is standard on the Explore pontoon boat.
There is nothing obscured behind the steering wheel, so everything is easy to see and use. A phone port to the left of the wheel held my iPhone, which could also be plugged in to charge. The boat comes with a minimum of 10 USB outlets, so there are plenty of ways to keep everyone and everything charged up.
A huge storage area sits in the center tube. Without any walls or sections, this area offers enough room to store longer items like wakeboards or SUPs out of sight without issue.
Entry and exit are at the front and back of the boat instead of on the sides, like traditional models. This allows for better use of overall space, which the Manitou is not shy on. No reason to feel crowded on this boat.
2023 Manitou Explore Pontoon: Pricing & Availability
The 2023 Manitou Explore looks to be the sleekest, most indulgent pontoon out there without it being a $300,000 boat. Production is ramping up, so we should see the 2023 designs coming to Manitou dealerships before the next boating season. Look for this relatively affordable luxury pontoon boat on display during the upcoming boat show season, kicking off in January.
The 2023 Manitou Explore comes in 22, 24, and 26-foot lengths and starts at $66,530. You can choose from three cockpit plans and three different option bundles to suit your needs.