By JIM PARKER

The Post and Courier

It may be a misconception, but the pontoon has been looked on as the outsized SUV of the water — large, lumbering, able to hold lots of people.

Think house boat on a lake.

Yet that’s not really the case, particularly with upscale pontoon makers. The models can pull wakeboarders and water skiers, just like their V-hulled brethren; employ engines that rival a midsize sedan; and offer versatility from fishing boats with rod holders and live wells to ocean-going vessels sporting drink holders and Bimini tops.

At the same time, pontoons and their cousin tri-toons have the advantage of being able to comfortably carry more than a few boaters.

“Since it’s just a big rectangle, the amount of space is 30-40 percent more” than a typical V-bottom boat, said Jim McClellan, general manager of Hall Marine Charleston on Daniel Island.

The dealership sells Elkhart, Ind.-based Bennington pontoons and tri-toons — which include a third flotation beam that affixes to the hull to further stabilize the boat.

Hall Marine added the pontoon line toward the middle of 2012 and is the only Bennington dealer in South Carolina. The company picked the brand because it’s considered one of the top line pontoon manufacturers, McClellan said.

The boat builder also carries a 7-year stem to stern warranty, one of the most comprehensive in the business. “Everything’s covered,” the dealership manager said. If there’s a needed repair under warranty, “everything goes back to Bennington” for service, he said.

Hall Marine Charleston carries three of the company’s four lines, the R,S, and G. The Q model was considered too pricey. Vessels range from 18 to 24 feet and are priced from $19,000 to $68,000. Engines go up to 300 hp.

Pontoons tend to be best known for use on lakes and other still bodies of water. Yet they’re sturdy, and can reach high enough speeds, to handle salt water and heavier waves such as Charleston Harbor.

Hall Marine Charleston has been testing Bennington pontoons in the harbor this week. The manufacturer offers Saltwater Anode and Rough Weather options packages and showcases solid keels and an under-deck wave shield.

“I think it’s new to the area,” McClellan said. But there are coastal markets where the brand’s boats are big sellers such as Wilmington, N.C., and “almost the whole state of Florida,” he said.

He believes the pontoons and tri-toons will be popular on the ocean.

“We were out yesterday; the tide was running out, the wind was running in with two-to-three foot swells. I’m in a 20-foot boat with four or five people.” Not sure what to think, McClellan came away impressed. “It was actually a great ride,” he said.

Customers have gradually shown interest in the Bennington models. Among nine sales this year, a half dozen were of the somewhat larger tri-toons and three were pontoons. Purchasers came from saltwater bastions such as Wild Dunes and tributaries such as the Wando River as well as spots nearer to Lake Moultrie.

“We’ve had a good mix,” McClellan said.

To find out more on the Bennington pontoon and tri-toon, visit Hall Marine Charleston at www.hallmarine.com or the manufacturer at www.benningtonmarine.com.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.