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What is a Jon Boat (sometimes called a John Boat)?

Best Jon Boats to Buy in 2021

Jon Boats are one of the most popular types of boats for anglers and hunters across the US and Canada. Their flat bottom makes them perfect for exploring shallow waters and lakes almost anywhere.

Some insist that Jon boats originated in the Ozark areas, famous for their shallow water and float trips. Others say that Jon boats began in Scandinavia as fishers loved using them to carry themselves and their gear to larger vessels.

Regardless of where they were born, Jon boats are famous for their lightweight, low sides, flat-bottoms, and bench seats. Jon Boats can be rigged with rod holders, trolling motors, and fish finders to make it a low-cost bass boat or used as a simple utility boat.

It's the boat's versatility that makes it so compelling and why Jon Boats have stood the test of time. Let us see what makes the Jon Boat so special.

What Makes a Jon Boat a Jon Boat?

Jon Boats are lightweight, flat-bottom boats typically 8 – 20 feet in length. they are typically light to dark green in color and often covered in camo. Jon Boats are typically made with aluminum construction but can be made with fiberglass as well. Jon Boats are most commonly used as a fishing boat, duck hunting boat, or bow hunting.

Due to the flat bottom hull design and smaller transom height, Jon Boats are primarily used in shallow and calm water. Flat bottom Jon boats are great utility boats as you can lay equipment easier on the bottom.

Even though they’re fundamental in their features and functionality, they are customizable and can be configured to assist with many things. Jon boat lovers use them for hunting, fishing, small range water transportation, shallow water operations, and recreational fun.

The Construction of Jon Boats

Jon boats are typically made with aluminum with a riveted design making them a more cost-effective alternative to other aluminum fishing boats. Aluminum Jon boats are not recommended for use in saltwater

In the past, Jon boats were constructed using wood. Over the last few decades, however, most commercial boat manufacturers have switched to fiberglass and aluminum.

Lowe Boats and Lund are two of the largest manufacturers of Jon Boats and use Aluminum for their freshwater boats.

Aluminum Jon boats are lightweight, but they possess incredible durability as aluminum is very strong. The durability of a Jon Boat will last up to 30 years or more without any significant degeneration or damage.

Aluminum Jon Boats can be made in many configurations. The small sizes (typically the 9 – 12 foot Jon boats) are built for a tiller mount motor. The larger-sized Jon boats can come in a side console or center console option.

Typically, aluminum Jon boats are the most preferred, mainly because they can move around in extraordinarily shallow and rocky waters. Likewise, waters containing obstructions like weeds, oyster bars, or corals are safe for Jon boats.

Jon Boat Versatility

From fishing to hunting, Jon boats are very versatile.


Fishing is arguably the most common reason for Jon boat use. Because of the variety of sizes and the flat-bottomed design, Jon boats are incredibly versatile in terms of the types of water they’re able to navigate.

Larger boats have more draft. The draft is the amount of distance between the deepest part of the boat’s hull and the waterline. Thus, bigger boats have a much harder time navigating and moving around in shallow water.

Jon boat draft typically ranges anywhere between a few inches to just under a foot. These boats can go almost anywhere, which makes them ideal for fishing—rivers, inlets, bayous, lakes – you name it. Jon boats really can navigate almost anywhere.

Shallow Water Transportation

If you need to transport people, either for recreational purposes or for your business, using a Jon boat is a great way to do it. Jon boats can not only transverse water quickly, but they can also carry anywhere from 2 to 8 people at a time.

Function over form typically takes precedence with respect to Jon boats, but there are some decked-out Jon boats that are the exception to the rule.


Jon boats are pretty flexible in terms of hunting. Not only are they quiet (when you turn off the engine), but they’re also fast. For someone hunting for ducks, for example, a lightweight Jon boat is the perfect tool.

They can help with many things related to hunting, like transporting hunters from point A to B or doubling as hunting blinds.


Some people use Jon boats for the sheer fact that their home sits near a river or lake. They’re excellent boats for relaxing, exploring, or taking your family out for a picnic boat dinner.

Jon boats are easy to transport too. You can use a trailer that attaches to your vehicle. Just make sure that before you invest in one, you double-check your car’s weight-pulling limitations.

SUVs and trucks are safer options for a trailer hitch.

When Would You Not Want a Jon Boat?

There are a few circumstances when Jon boats are not the best option.

Rough Water

If your lake is prone to rough water and bigger waves then you are better suited for a V-Hull boat. Jon Boats don't do well with big waves due to their low shallow draft.

While some larger Jon Boats may offer some improved stability, it's still not the right type of boat for the water.

Water Skiing

Even though their speed could handle water skiing requirements, the boats themselves aren’t configured to have ski ropes behind them in such proximity to the outboard motor. Because they don’t have V-shaped hulls, an unstable rocking of the boat is probable and could be dangerous for the skier and the boaters.

It’s not unheard of to use a Jon boat for rigorous recreational activities like water skiing, but it’s not something you’d want to do every day. A ski boat would do the job better and safer.

To Transport or Have Fun with a lot of People

While larger Jon boats can easily carry 8 people, they aren’t going to support a small party or a big group of friends in addition to coolers and equipment. Not only are they not big enough to support that much weight, but the engine wouldn’t be strong enough to move a heavy load.

Factors to Consider While Jon Boat Shopping

Before you go out and buy your Jon boat, take time to consider a few key factors that could influence your decision and help you better determine your needs. Be sure to review our guide on the best Jon boats to buy.

How Much Speed Do You Need?

It’s not uncommon for new boat owners to buy a smaller Jon boat and then load it up with a massive motor for increased speed. While it’s a fun idea, it’s not safe as it’ll make your boat unstable. It will reduce the boat’s buoyancy significantly.

Check the manufacturer’s maximum horsepower recommendation. If it’s the speed you’re after, buy a boat that won’t have any issues handling your desired horsepower. As a rule of thumb, the more speed you want, the bigger the boat you’ll have to get.

How Much Weight Do You Want It to Carry?

The more weight capacity you desire, the longer boat length you’ll need. The two go hand-in-hand, in fact, because the bigger boat you buy, the more weight it can handle.

What’s the purpose of your Jon boat? How many people do you plan on taking in it? Figuring out your main purpose for the purchase and how you see yourself using it on other occasions will help you figure out the necessary weight capacity.

If your plan is to enjoy fishing trips with a friend, you’d probably be fine with a boat between 10 and 16 feet. If you plan on transporting hunters, tourists, or any groups of people from place to place, you’ll need a boat that can handle the weight of more people and any equipment or belongings they have.

What’s Your Budget?

Jon Boat prices can vary depending on features. If you're only looking for a 12 foot Jon Boat with benches, then you can buy one for a few thousand dollars.

If you are looking for your Jon Boat to have bilge pumps, livewells, trolling motors, and fish finders, you're going to start pushing into the tens of thousands quickly.

Take your time to find something that’s in your price range, but don’t compromise in terms of what you plan to use it.

How to Drive a Jon Boat

Operating a Jon boat isn’t difficult, as it doesn’t require any special boating skills. Basic boating skills will be more than enough to get you started.

Because Jon boats are flat-bottomed, you won’t have any issues traveling along rocky shorelines, making it through weeds, or any other shallow-water obstacles.

Most flat-bottomed boats are steered and driven by an outboard motor, but you can also use paddles or oars, depending on their size. The flat hull means that Jon boats ride on water rather than slicing through it.

Just remember that they aren’t meant for adverse weather conditions. Jon boats perform best in calm water, rather than rough. When water is choppy, Jon boats can quickly become unstable and dangerous.

A Jon Boat Is Versatile and Easy to Use

Are you looking for a boat to use on your morning fishing adventures? Do you live by a lake and want to be able to picnic with your family in the evenings?

Are you looking for a quiet way to bird-watch along the river?

A Jon boat is an excellent and affordable option for many of your water needs. If you’re unsure about your first boat purchase or you don’t want to break the bank, there are plenty of used options available.

Chris Blackwell Boating
About Chris Blackwell

Chris is an avid angler and boating enthusiast. Raised on a small lake he spent most of his youth fishing in Jon Boats and water skiing behind Fiberglass boats. Chris enjoys taking his family out on the water so they can relive the fun he has always had.

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