Sun Tracker has been making its line of Party Barge pontoon boats for a few years now. The Sun Tracker Party Barge 18 DLX is arguably the entry level model with some solid features.
What Is it
Sun Tracker didn’t pick the Party Barge name by accident. One of the biggest draws for pontoon boats going back decades now has been the large space and overall feel of a party boat. You can have a lot of people on deck and not feel like you’re cramped in a traditional boat. That’s what makes this Sun Tracker model a bit different than the average boat. It’s designed for having fun with a group of people. To that end you have space, seating and storage in abundance.
Sun Tracker actually makes a half dozen different Party barge models, but we’ll focus solely on the 18 DLX here and some of its standout features.
- 9’ Bimini top with courtesy lights, protective boot and an optional drop-down changing curtain.
- Quicklift Bimini top deployment system which allows once person to extend the canopy alone
- 5 Mercury outboard engine options including:
- 9.9 ELPT FourStroke Command Thrust ProKicker
- 20 ELPT FourStroke
- 25 ELPT FourStroke
- 60 ELPT FourStroke Command Thrust
- 75 ELPT FourStroke
- Sun Tracker’s 10+LIFE™ Limited Lifetime Warranty. That means 10-year bow to stern for factory workmanship and materials including live wells, electrical, plumbing, furniture, the whole deal. It also covers pontoon logs, motor pod and structural elements for the life of the boat.
- AM/FM Bluetooth stereo head unit with integrated low voltage & 2 upholstery speakers
- Heavy duty hinges and gate latches
- Extra wide wheelchair accessible port gate
- Full width swim platform
- Bow port couch with underseat storage & armrest with drink holder
- Large bow starboard couch that includes underseat storage
- Aft L-lounge with more underseat storage
- Adjustable helm bucket seat that swivels
- Aft port rear-facing double lounge with underseat storage & removable armrest
- Reboarding ladder
- Fire extinguisher
- Large playpen area
- 20’ overall length
- 8’2” beam
- Max 9 person capacity or 1,220 lbs
- Max total weight 1,750 lbs
- Dry weight 1,450 lbs
- Fuel capacity 32.1 gallons
- Max engine power 75 hp
- Tons of space and seating mean there’s going to be more than enough room for most people regardless of family size
- All the gates open inward for safety and also offer wheelchair accessibility which is something very few manufacturers will give you
- The swim platform is huge and the ladder is big and easy to access. It’s a great addition for those who are looking to engage in some swimming and having fun.
- Great option for those looking to spend quality time with family who are looking to get into pontoon boating at a manageable price point
- Clearly not designed for speed and even with 5 engine options, the most powerful is only 75 horsepower which will likely get you up to around 25 miles per hour, depending on the weight of the boat and conditions.
- Pontoons are 24” in diameter which is fine, but smaller than some and that translates to a bit lower buoyancy overall.
- Fencing and rails are a little shorter than you might see on competitor’s boats
- Structurally, Sun Tracker boats aren’t manufactured as soundly as something like Barletta or Bennington boats
- Maybe not as durable as some higher end boats. That isn’t a huge deal here and now but down the road after maybe a decade of use the boat might be a little worse for the wear than a higher end model.
What You Need to Know
The starting price for a Sun Tracker Party Barge 18 DLX is $27,995. That’s a really reasonable price point for what they’re offering and the result is a boat that has features that check a lot of boxes for most families.
You have some great features that allow you to enjoy time with friends and family – with three lounge seats and storage for safety equipment and gear at a vehicle price that drops them below a similar looking model from a higher end model. So what’s the difference? Sun Tracker is making boats that are accessible for the casual boater, so it’s not as luxurious and doesn’t feature all the super plush upholstery and stitching and extras, but that’s the point and that’s really a potential selling point. If you’re looking to get a boat without breaking the bank, a practical boat that meets your needs and is by no means poorly made or ugly, this is a great option. It’s the difference between buying a Toyota or buying a Lexus, right? Both come from the same place and do the same job, but which one do you need or want?
The Party Barge is designed for casual entertaining. It works as a solid fishing boat as well as a spot to hang out for an afternoon for a picnic and some swimming. The engine power isn’t there for water sports so don’t expect to be tearing up the coast line. Some dealers may try to talk about horsepower and speed but don’t fall for it. If you don’t expect speed, you shouldn’t be disappointed though. Make sure you pick the right sized engine for what you’re going to need, especially if you’re in a larger lake. The bare bones engine on a large lake with 9 people and all your gear on board may end up disappointing you. It’ll cost you more, but consider researching those engines and bump up to the 75 hp if need be.
What People Are Saying
For the price, Sun Tracker’s Party Barge is a great boat with some fun and useful features like the Quicklift Bimini top and that large swim platform in the back. You can’t complain about the room it has to offer and the overall sleek look of the boat.
Owners of Sun Tracker’s seem to offer up a mixed bag of ideas about long term ownership that you’re going to want to be aware of. Most owners are happy with their purchase even years later but there is a trend among those who have had issues, even though they are in the minority, of having trouble getting them resolved. Sun Tracker tends to defer to dealers first when it comes to repair or warranty issues and many owners who have had problems report that it can be a real hassle getting any follow up and fixes as a result. .
Sun Tracker is able to offer a pontoon that looks similar to competitors but you’ll find they have taken a few shortcuts here and there – the lower railings, the smaller brackets that attach to the pontoons, the limited features on the console, the thinner upholstery and so on. That’s what keeps the costs down for you as a buyer, so you should be aware of where those extra dollars are coming off. The boats are still functional and can serve you well, but you should be aware of what Sun Tracker is offering you so you know what you’re getting into.
Do We Recommend It?
The Sun Tracker Party Barge 18 DLX lives up to its name and offers fun at an affordable price for most families and that’s what’s great about this whole line. If you understand from jump that this is a boat for some leisure time fun on a pond or small lake, you’re going to be happy. Make sure you take care of it to keep it well maintained and it should last for many seasons to come and for that reason, I can recommend it fully to those looking for a casual family fun boat. I would also recommend you do some research into other similar boats as well. Check out the Princecraft Jazz, the Misty Harbor Explorer and so on. Make sure you compare ands contrast and if you know for sure that the Party Barge is the best option to meet your needs, you should be happy.
My biggest caveat here is, because Sun Tracker is going to put you in touch with your dealer if problems do arise, research your dealer as well. Make sure they’re knowledgeable, helpful and have a good reputation. Make sure you can get in touch with them easily and they are on the ball and willing to help with issues, including maybe helping you take the boat out on the water. Some dealers have less skilled staff and less knowledge or interest in helping you out, especially if things go wrong. If you can’t confidently say that you know this boat can handle what you need or the seller is going to rise to the occasion, maybe look elsewhere. But if you’re confident in your dealer and confident this boat meets your needs for price and function, the Sun Tracker Party Barge 18 DLX can be a good option. B