Larson Boat debuts a pontoon with style

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 25, 2014 - 4:37 PM

A new, sleek craft offers uncharacteristic speed, fuel efficiency and a hard-sided port-a-potty that appears at the touch of a button.

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The new Escape is designed to look, and perform, more like a sports car on the water, but the retractable port-a-potty (inset, top) may be its most desirable feature.

Photo: Larson Boat Group,

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There’s no shortage of hyperbole in auto or boating showrooms, but a new pontoon by Larson Boat Group that will make an appearance at the Minneapolis Boat Show has retailers and consumers more than a little curious.

Yes, a pontoon.

“It’s a crossover between a runabout and a pontoon,” said Ron Sahr, director of engineering at Larson.

With fiberglass panels instead of a vertical fence and LED strip docking lights, the new Escape is a sleek head-turning marvel worthy of Larson’s 100th anniversary.

Considered a leader in fiberglass boats, Larson wanted to emphasize efficiency and style with its new signature. The company is known mostly for runabouts (a fiberglass pleasure boat with less room and more performance than a pontoon) and cruisers (larger, pricier versions of runabouts, often with an enclosed bow and a small sleeping area).

But Larson knew it needed to be unique if it wanted to compete in pontoons, Sahr said. “It’s a saturated marketplace.”

Looking like no standard pontoon, the styling, inspired by the automotive industry, has a flow to it. The LED strip docking lights give off a blue glow to almost resemble headlights.

The new model comes at a time when sales for runabouts and larger cruisers have been flat. Boat manufacturers and retailers are hoping the new pontoon will bring in a flood of potential buyers.

Larson introduced a prototype to dealers in late August, and the final version went into production in November. That version debuts in Minnesota at the Minneapolis Boat Show (www.minneapolisboatshow.com), which runs Thursday through Feb. 2 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

But the feature on the Escape that is expected to attract old and young is not mini towers or comfortable captain’s chairs. It’s the port-a-potty that rises at the touch of a button in about 20 seconds.

Not just some flimsy flipout canvas model, Sahr said, it is roomy and hard-sided with granite-like flooring, double-door design, a mirror, light, and exhaust fan. When retracted, it’s a galley top for drinks or snacks. “It’s been a very popular option so far,” he said. More than a third of his customers are ordering it.

Although the sleek look will attract some buyers, it’s the good-quality head (port-a-potty) that customers see first, said Dick Peifer, owner of Boomerang Marine and Powersports in Alexandria. “Pontoons are so family-friendly. Kids always have to use the bathroom. It’s a strong selling feature.”

The Escape is seen as the bridge to the next generation. In the recent past, too many boat owners saw no need to trade up when they went to the showroom. “People had no need to trade in because the new product looked too much like their old one,” Sahr said.

Pontoons, often the boat of choice for young families and baby boomers with grandkids, have always been as utilitarian as a minivan, but customers like Jesse Osborne of Ham Lake describe the Escape more like a sports car.

“It’s got a wild factor to it,” he said.

Osborne, along with his dad and the rest of the family, found their Centurion Wakeboard too small for family outings and ill-equipped when nature called. “When I saw the Cabana rising from a fiberglass table, it blew my mind,” said the 30-year-old custom car builder.

But the Escape’s fit and finish clinched it for Osborne. “This looks like a Bennington [luxury pontoon] on steroids. It’s got an aggressive look to it.”

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