Beginners Guide to Buying the Best Jon Boat


Beginner Jon Boat

Jon boats are extremely popular all over the world due to their low purchase cost, low running costs and exceptional versatility. These small boats can access extremely shallow areas of water while offering fantastic stability and handling. But, when you are new to this type of vessel how do you know which brand and model of boat to pick?

What is the best Jon boat for a beginner? Choosing the right Jon boat when you are a beginner will depend on your specific purpose for the boat, the marine environment in which it will be used and the amount of people and gear that will be onboard.

You only need to answer a few simple questions in order to identify which type of Jon boat is the best fit for you.

A versatile boat but not a one-size fits all solution

A jon boat is arguably the most versatile shallow water boat in existence. Hunters and freshwater anglers, (shoreline ocean anglers too), inland waterway utility workers and pleasure boaters already know the many benefits of using a Jon boat.

As we demonstrated in this article a Jon boat can be used for so many different purposes that it can be difficult to make a wrong choice when buying a new one.

For most people, even beginners, choosing a Jon boat is usually just about the size of the boat and the size of the buyer’s budget. However, be aware that there are different types of jon boats which have been designed for specific purposes and for specific waterways.

Although a standard Jon boat will no doubt be a good fit for your inland shallow waterway needs, you may will to consider your specific purpose for the boat before buying one so get the correct size of boat for your needs.

Some water activities, that require large amounts of equipment and gear, will often require a different size boat from other activities that require very little equipment and gear, especially if those activities will include additional passengers.

Activities such as duck hunting, fishing, utility work, boat camping and simple pleasure cruising may all require a different size of Jon boat.

However, there is more to choosing a Jon boat than just boat size!

Differences in Jon boats go beyond just the size of the vessel. For example, although most Jon boats are flat bottomed there are actually semi-v hull Jon boats available which are designed to be better suited to different types of waterways (more on that later).

Perfect for beginner boaters but not beginner boats

As we mention frequently, due to their simple and basic design, Jon boats are a great entry-level vessel; they are the perfect beginner boat.

However, although a Jon boat is perfect for beginners it is not beginner boat!

Jon boats are just as user-friendly to the novice boater as they are invaluable to the expert boater. But, just because they are easy to use doesn’t mean they are beginner boats.

You can grow in experience and expertise with your Jon boat never having the need to buy a new one.

These small boats can also be readily customized and upgraded if need be as your needs expand with your expanding experience.

You can read more about the types of Jon boats available in our article Jon Boat Types.

Why Jon boats are an excellent choice for beginners

The humble Jon boat stands out as an excellent choice for the beginner boater for many reasons.

Here are some key advantages of starting out with a Jon boat:

  • Stability. The distinctive flat bottom hull of a standard Jon boat provides one key advantage for the novice inland waterway boater – stability! Jons are some of the most stable shallow water boats on the planet. The flat bottom hull means you can stand up in and move about on the deck with confidence in the boat’s stability. In a calm marine environment, where a v-hull boat would rock and feel tippy, a Jon boat sits very stable on the water.
  • Shallow draft. A Jon boat has a very shallow draft. This means the boat can easily access areas where the water is only a few inches deep. Therefore you run much less risk of damaging the bottom of your boat if you stray into the type of very shallow areas of water where a v-hull boat would be in trouble. You can get a better understanding of boat draft in our article Shallow Draft vs Deep Draft.
  • Comfort. The flat bottom, shallow draft deign means you get a very comfortable ride on calm inland waters, even at speed.
  • Cost-effective. Jon boats are very affordable and have some of the most competitive pricing for small boats on the market.
  • Light and easy to haul. The majority of Jon boats in America are made from lightweight aluminium. There are also Jons which are made from fiberglass. Most homemade Jons are constructed from wood (we show you how to build one here). Because all these construction materials are lightweight this ensures the Jon boat is lightweight also. This means towing, launching and retrieval of your Jon boat is a breeze and makes on-water handling easy.
  • Great performance on inland waters. Most inland bodies of water are fairly calm and will have shallow areas. Such environments are where a Jon boat really excels. If you are keen on exploring inland waterways such as lakes, canals, rivers and creeks, or any other shallow water bodies, then a Jon boat is easily the best choice as it offers superior performance and handling in these environments.

3 important questions to ask before making a Jon boat purchase decision

There are a 3 main questions you should ask yourself before you consider which Jon boat to buy. Answering these questions will make your purchasing decision a no-brainer as it will help you to identify which size and design of Jon boat is the best fit for you.

Three questions to ask before you buy:

  1. What will be the main purpose of the boat?
  2. Where will you use the boat?
  3. How much gear and people will be onboard?

Once you answer these questions you will know which hull type and what size of Jon boat you need. When you know these things it is then just a matter of looking for a Jon boat with the correct profile that falls within your budget.

So, let’s now look at how the answers to the above questions will help you choose the correct Jon boat for your needs.

Purpose driven boating

Why do you need to know the purpose of the boat to determine what kind of Jon boat you will need as a beginner?

Well, one of the biggest concerns a new boater (and many times an experienced boater as well) will encounter when it comes to making a boat buying decision is what size of boat to get.

The size of the boat you will buy as a beginner will largely depend on the purpose of the boat and the amount of “stuff” that will be in it; “stuff” includes gear and people.

While keeping in mind that the environment also plays a role in your choice of Jon boat size, it is usually the purpose of the boat that will determine the size you need.

So, in this article we will delve into the best sizes of Jon boat for the most common activities that are associated with these particular vessels.

“Environmentally”-friendly

The Jon boat you pick must be the most optimal design for use in the waters in which you intend to navigate.

When we speak of the boat being environmentally-friendly we are not talking about carbon emissions or its impact on the planet …

You need a boat design that will be user-friendly in the marine environment in which you will be using it.

Let me explain…

Most Jon boats have a flat bottomed hull and a shallow draft. This makes them ideal for calm inland waters such as lakes, rivers, creeks and canals etc.

If you have skipped ahead to this section and do not fully understand the difference between shallow draft and deep draft then be sure to read this article for a full explanation as the following information may not make a lot of sense to you.

The flat bottom hull of a Jon boat offers exceptional stability and ease of handling in calm inland waters. Likewise, the shallow draft created by the flat bottom hull design means these type of Jon boats can access extremely shallow water areas.

A flat bottom Jon boat under manual propulsion, such as a paddle or pole, with its outboard motor trimmed (lifted out of the water), can easily and comfortably navigate waters with a depth of only a few inches!

However, not all inland waters are calm.

Some inland waterways have very challenging areas with choppy water and some many even have very challenging waves. In these types of environments the flat bottom hull of a Jon boat, which usually offers exceptional stability, can actually turn into a disadvantage. This loss of stability in challenging waters can be a real problem for many would-be Jon boaters, especially beginners.

A problem occurs when you need a boat that can access shallow waterways but must also deal with challenging choppy waters. In such circumstances you can’t use a v-hull boat with a deep draft (like a fishing boat) which would be ideal for dealing with the choppy waters because most inland waterways will have very shallow areas where the v-hull boat would get stuck or get damaged. Likewise, you can’t use a completely flat-bottomed boat because the shallow draft and flat bottom would be very unstable in the choppy waves.

So what is a boater to do?

Luckily, for those who intend to navigate challenging choppy waters, where a completely flat-bottomed boat isn’t a good fit but who still need a boat with a shallow draft, there is a great alternative to a standard flat-bottomed Jon boat; a modified semi-v Jon boat.

A semi-v Jon boat offers similar stability and ease of handling as a flat-bottomed Jon boat but has the ability to remain more stable in choppy waters.

This ability to traverse more challenging waterways does come at a cost though. Semi-v Jon boats sit deeper in the water, (have a deeper draft), than their flat-bottomed cousins and therefore cannot access the same type of extremely shallow waters.

This trade-off is well worth it if you intend to navigate bodies of water that have very deep areas with challenging waters or where there is a tendency for strong winds to cause the water to become choppy.

Your decision on whether to buy a flat-bottomed Jon boat or semi-v Jon boat will largely depend on the location in which you will use the boat rather than the specific purpose of the boat.

If you are unsure whether you need a flat-bottomed Jon boat or a semi-v one then a rule-of-thumb states that for most first-time buyers a flat-bottomed Jon boat will more than suffice. In truth you can’t really go wrong with either. The only exception to this rule is if you are a duck hunter who needs access to shallow banks or a shallow water angler – in both cases you should avoid a semi-v Jon boat.

Size is everything!

The size of your Jon boat will be largely determined by the purpose of your boat. In our Jon boat buyer’s guide we outline the best sizes of Jon boat for specific activities from duck hunting to bowfishing, so it is worth having a read over that article.

If you intend to use your Jon boat for boat camping then the size of your boat will depend on the number of passengers onboard and the amount of gear you will be stowing. This isn’t just a matter of how much space you need. Every boat has a weight capacity that determines how much it can hold. This is the combined weight of cargo and crew.

On a side note, if you do intend to go boat camping be sure to make a camping checklist and follow our boat camping guide so you stow only those camping essentials that you need for a successful fun trip and thus optimize properly for your boat’s weight capacity.

The weight capacity of a Jon boat will usually increase with an increase in boat size. So, a bigger boat can usually hold more than its smaller counterpart. Of course there are exceptions but as a rule-of-thumb think size equals more carrying capacity.

We have a full Jon boat weight capacity guide that you can review once you have identified the type of gear you will be loading on your boat and the amount of people you intend to have onboard. This guide will help you identify the best size boat for your needs.

While some large boat lengths lend themselves better to certain activities, mostly due to their larger weight capacities, they do come with their own challenges. For example a very large Jon boat may have trouble navigating tight bends or accessing some smaller sloughs.

Keep in mind that larger, and wider, Jon boats (even the flat bottomed variety) have the ability to ride choppy water much better than smaller ones though.

I covered the main characteristics of small and large Jon boats here and if you are still unsure about which size of boat you need after reading this article be sure to look over that article too.

What to look for in a beginner Jon boat

Whether you are entirely new to boating or just new to Jon boats it can feel like a daunting task to find that right vessel for your particular needs. Thankfully though, Jon boats have a very basic design with very little variations between makes, models and customizations.

The basic design of a Jon boat means there are not a ton of different variations to choose from nor are there a lot of customizations to make your head spin. So, making a purchase decision does not have to be a difficult task.

With a few careful considerations you can easily identify the ideal Jon boat for you and your specific needs.

Here are some key points to consider before making a purchase decision.

Size

By far the biggest concern when buying a Jon boat is the size of the vessel.

As I have pointed out previously in this article the size of your vessel will largely depend on your purpose for using it. For example, solo fishing expeditions in calm local inland waters would require only a small Jon boat with either a trolling motor or simple paddle and pole. An 8 foot or 10 foot Jon boat would be more than enough for solo use.

For most non-solo recreational pursuits, like cruising or exploring, you will probably only need a 12 foot or 14 foot Jon boat. Of course the size will largely depend on the number of people who will be in the boat.

Large camping expeditions with the family or group duck hunting forays will require a much bigger boat that has ample storage space for equipment and people (and maybe dogs as well). Bare in mind that a bigger boat will require a more powerful, and more expensive, motor.

If you plan to go boat camping then you will also need additional room for camping equipment, spare clothes and other miscellaneous items such as food and drink. You will also need enough space for your buddies or family members. For camping a 12 – 14 foot boat would probably suffice though bigger boats work well also.

For hunting you will likely need a fairly large boat with more storage room for your equipment, bait and catch. Although there are people who use small boats for just about every type of inland water activities, for comfortable and safe hunting a 16 foot, 18 foot or 21 foot Jon boat is preferable.

Upwards of 12 feet is probably realistic for fishing in groups. 12 foot is probably the minimum for three anglers with a bigger boat being needed if you are boating in a larger group or have a lot of gear with you.

Of course all the above information should be viewed as guidelines only as the size of your boat can be increased or decreased depending on the amount of people who will be onboard and the amount of equipment you need to stow onboard. For example, some people only need a rod and tackle to fish while others require all the modern mod fishing cons before they even consider hooking a fish.

Based on the understanding you have thus gained it is a good idea to quickly check our Jon boat weight capacity guide so you can instantly tell what size of vessel is appropriate for your specific needs.

Remember though that with Jon boats, like any boat, an increase in size also means an increase cost.

Material

This is really a no-brainer because although Jon boats are often made from aluminum, or wood or fibreglass the biggest brands of Jon boats only offer models made from aluminum. In fact, unless you source your boat locally it can be difficult to find a non-aluminum Jon boat, though you will occasionally come across a fiberglass or homemade wooden one.

Wooden Jon boats are almost always handmade vessels, having been constructing from plywood as a home project (like we show you how to do here).

Fibreglass tends to be the more expensive construction material. Because aluminium is light, and offers greater resilience, it is the more common construction used.

Be aware that aluminum and saltwater don’t mix well though! Saltwater corrodes aluminum quickly. If you intend to use your Jon boat for shoreline ocean use or in saltwater lakes you may be best avoiding an aluminum boat. Alternatively you should take steps to protect the aluminum.

Another aspect of Jon boat fabrication that is worth consideration is the method used for its construction – is the boat you are looking at welded or does it have rivets? Rivets can can corrode quicker and will eventually leak over time.

Seating

All Jon boats have integrated basic bench seating in their design. This is not the most optimum design for some users. Depending on your specific needs you may want a boat with pedestal seating, padded seating or low-backed seating for greater comfort and utility.

If you desire to have a seating arrangement and design that differs from the basic bench seating you will probably have to buy a used boat that has been previously customized or you can always do the customization yourself. Alternatively, a simple solution for seat customization is to buy some Jon boat seat covers.

Jon boat seat covers come in a variety of designs for different activities and have the added advantage of converting those uncomfortable hard seats into something that is a good deal more comfortable to sit on. Here is a selection of seats for converting your Jon boat.

Storage

Space can be a concern on any small boat. Think about what you will be doing while onboard the boat and consider just how much space you really need.

Once you know how many people will be onboard it is a matter of determining how much room you need for gear and how much of the boat’s weight capacity that gear will take up.

If is often a good idea to have an enclosed storage unit on your boat. The more you can stow in an enclosed storage unit, the more deck space you will free up on your boat. However, be aware of the boat’s weight restrictions as they will remain the same!

See the image below for a customized duck hunting Jon with with storage units added. If you don’t want to customize your vessel yourself then a good alternative would be a
Plano Sportsman’s Storage Trunk or similar.

Hunting and fishing gear can take up a lot of space an weight. Boat camping also requires deck space and sufficient weight capacity for the equipment you will need. However, you can free up a lot of space by using a bit of creativity with the gear you stow. For example, when boat camping simply using these neat inflatable solar lamps helps reduce weight – you stay with the camping theme but without the excess weight of a standard camping lamp.

Enclosed storage units on Jon boat
Enclosed storage units on customized Jon boat

Outboard motor

Unless you are buying a used boat it is unlikely your Jon boat purchase will come with an outboard motor. You should therefore be prepared for the additional costs that are involved with the purchase of a motor.

So, what type of motor will you need?

A jon boat will never have an inboard motor, unless someone heavily customizes their own boat and fits one.

For a Jon boat, an outboard trolling motor is the best choice. A trolling motor is lightweight and doesn’t take up much space on your boat while offering enough horsepower to propel the boat even at speed. A trolling motor can also be trimmed quickly when your boat enters very shallow water.

You need to think about the size/power output of your outboard motor. We have covered this subject before here and a quick read over that will show you how to easily identify the best engine size for your outboard motor.

An appropriate sized (horsepower) trolling motor will be capable of propelling your Jon boat at fairly high speeds on the water.

Budget

Buying within your budget is a fairly self-explanatory task. However, setting a realist budget will not only help you in your decision of what size of Jon boat you can afford but it will also help you to prioritise any additional features you may want added to the boat.

Sometimes you may need to make a trade-off between size and customizations so your boat falls within the restrictions of your budget but can still effectively fulfill the purpose you want it to.

Remember that your budget is not just for the boat. Be sure to include in your budget the cost of an outboard motor and any storage units you may need.

For the typical costs associated with buying a Jon boat read this short article.

Additional purchase considerations

Trailer

A trailer is an important investment and essential for getting your Jon boat to the water. It is also useful for getting the boat in and out of the water.

Ideally, you should buy a boat that comes with a trailer as a deal or purchase one from a dealer who will give you discount on a dual purchase of boat and trailer together. Buying both the Jon boat and the trailer from the same place, at the same time, can help you save money, otherwise buying a trailer separately can be a significant added expense.

Of course you may find a great deal on a trailer from a different dealer or may even be able to source a trailer online for a significantly lower cost. Do your homework before you buy your boat.

If you can tell your dealer where there is a better deal on a trailer if you buy your boat there he may match or even beat that price rather than lose the entire sale. So, always ask about a deal on a trailer before you complete the boat purchase. You may be surprised at just how much discount they offer you.

Should you buy new or used?

If warranty and a rigorous safety profile are important then buying your Jon boat new from a dealership is likely to be the preferable option.

However, a diligent search online, in local magazine and newspaper ads along with a few visits to local dealers may uncover some well-cared-for used Jon boats. Try online message boards, forums and classified ads as well as asking around at marinas to see if you can score a good deal.

If you do intend going down the used route then sure to read our tips for buying a used Jon boat so your are armed with the right knowledge to nab a deal.

Quick view Jon boat charts

Here are some quick view charts to help to see which size of Jon boat, and which hull type, is the best fit for your needs.

Please be aware that the information in these charts is not set in stone. The charts are for quick-view purposes only. Always be diligent in your research before making a buying decision.

Only use these charts after you’ve read this entire article!

Passenger carrying capacity based on activity

The chart below holds information that is for quick review only.

For the exact weight capacity and passenger capacity of a specific Jon boat you should consult a dealer or user manual.

You can also quickly calculate a rough estimate for weight and passenger capacity using this simple formula and by knowing the number of passengers your boat can carry. If you don’t know how many passengers your Jon boat can carry, and don’t have access to a user manual or specifications of your boat, then use this simple formula first.

These numbers are based on a Jon boat that is fully loaded with the relevant equipment for the activity.

Boat size in feetRecreationFishingHuntingCamping
8 - 101 - 2 persons1 person1 person1 person
10 - 122 - 3 persons2 persons 2 persons2 persons
14 - 184 persons2 - 3 persons2 - 3 persons2 - 3 persons
21+ 4 persons 4 persons3 persons plus dogs4 persons

Best hull design based on marine environment

As with the above information, the guidelines below are for quick reference only. Where we state a flat-bottomed Jon boat is perfect for a specific environment and a semi-v hull is not, you may find that you actually need a semi-v because the waters you intend to use the boat in are fairly choppy and challenging.

For example, a flat-bottomed Jon boat is perfect for duck hunting because you will probably want to get as close to your prey as possible and this will mean straying close to river banks where the water is only a few inches deep.

However, if you plan to duck hunt in waters that have areas with very choppy water and high winds then you would be better compromising by using a semi-v hull Jon boat. The semi-v will not be as capable of getting as close to prey but it will be better equipped to deal with the environment and still have a enough of a shallow draft to hunt successfully.

So use the following information as a guide rather than a set of solid rules.

Jon boat typeShallow river fishingDuck huntingCampingOcean shorelineChoppy waters
Flat-bottomed
Semi-v

In summary
For most first-time Jon boaters your Jon boat should be inexpensive and of practical, basic design. Unless you know specifically that you need a customized Jon boat with a semi-v hull or that has a bowfishing platform, or that requires oarlocks for rowing, or other modifications, then a basic Jon boat with an adequate trolling motor and a paddle should more than meet your needs.

As a beginner you will likely want to get used to being on the water and mastering the handling the boat competently before you start focusing on boat customizations. A small Jon boat will do this job well due to its size, low weight, stability and ease of handling.

Once you have mastered the basics you may want to start customizing your boat. The basic design and upgrade-friendliness of a Jon boat makes this easy.

Recap the main considerations before making a purchase decision.

Your main concerns before buying a Jon boat will be based on boat size and hull design.

The two most important considerations a beginner should give careful thought to are:

  1. The size of the boat.
  2. The hull design – do you need a flat-bottomed Jon boat or semi-v Jon boat?

Once you’ve finished this entire article you will know what size of Jon boat is best for your needs and will likewise understand which hull design will give you the most stability and safety on the waterways you intend to boat on. After that it is simply a matter of choosing a Jon boat that fits in with your budget from a seller that offers the best deal.

Remember to factor into your budget, an outboard motor, a trailer and any additional accessories you will need for the boat as they will almost certainly be sold separately. And don’t forget to buy a paddle!

Browse online and look at the latest models from leading manufacturers such as Lowes, Lund, Tracker, Alumacraft or Alutec boats, to get an idea of what you can get for your money. We have a comprehensive list of Jon boat manufacturers with links to their websites.

For typical costs associated with buying both new and used Jon boats read this article.

If you want more details about making a purchase decision on a Jon boat be sure to read our article Jon Boat Buyer’s Guide.

For some super cool Jon boat accessories read this.

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