Best Boats for Shallow Water


best shallow water boats

Whether it be creek fishing, pond pounding, river running or lazy days on the lake if you plan to boat on inland bodies of water, or near the shoreline, then you will need a boat that can navigate the shallows. We all know that not all boats are suited to shallow water but what you may not know is that not all shallow water boats are suited to every shallow water boating activity.

What boats are best for shallow water? The best boats for shallow water have flat-bottomed hulls and a shallow draft. Different shallow draft boats suit different marine environments and different activities. The best flat bottom boat for your needs will depend on the exact type of environment you intend to use the boat in and the specific activities you will use it for.

Shallow water boats by type

If you already know which type of boat you need and only want a run-down of the best boats for shallow water read this article. If you are unsure about which specific shallow water boat is best suited to you please read on.

The thing that makes a boat fit for use in shallow water is its shallow draft. A shallow draft boat sits very close to the surface of the water making them extremely stable in calm waters and giving them the capability of navigating waters that are extremely shallow – exactly opposite to the v-hull, deep draft boats that are used for turbulent waters and the ocean.

If you do not understand the difference between shallow draft and deep draft we would advise you to quickly read this short overview of draft so you can better understand what makes a good shallow water boat good.

Types of shallow water boats

Before we can narrow down exactly which boat is the best fit for you it is a good idea to look at the different types of shallow water boats available.

Although there are a large range of shallow water boats (see our list of flat bottomed boats), we will assume that you are interested in a personal utility or recreational vessel and therefore we will exclude watercraft such as large industrial barges, sailing dorys and gondolas etc.

The type of shallow water boat that will suit your personal use will fall into one of the following categories:

  • Jon boat
  • Canoe
  • Kayak
  • Flat-bottomed skiff
  • Canal boat
  • Airboat

This is a rather large list of boat types which can be intimidating to the new boater. So, let’s take a quick look at these boat types and see in which environments they perform best.

Jon boat

If you don’t know what a Jon boat is read our article outlining its unique and distinct design characteristics and the many benefits it offers people who regularly navigate inland bodies of water.

A Jon boat is a cheap, versatile, utility boat that is perfect for use in extremely shallow waters.

Jon boats are the most popular personal shallow boat in the US because they are so versatile and affordable. In fact, you can even build your own for a fraction of the cost of a new one.

Jon boats are very popular across the world and are a very common sight on American waters as they are used for utility work, fishing, hunting and transportation across shallow waterways.

Jon boats are the best choice for use in creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes. But be aware that they don’t handle rough water very well (see our article The Truth about Jon Boats and Rough Water). However, there are exceptions to this that come in the form of semi-v (also know as mod-v) Jon boats.

Semi-v Jon boats are more capable of handling more challenging waters than a standard Jon boat but they still have a shallow draft. If you want more information of the two types of Jon boat read our article about Jon boat types.

Be aware that if you plan to use your shallow draft Jon boat in saltwater you will need to take precautions to protect it as it will undoubtedly be made from aluminum.

Jon boats are lightweight and very easy to transport.

If, after reading this article, you feel that a Jon boat is the best type of shallow water vessel for your needs, be sure to read our Jon boat buyer’s guide so you get the right one at the right price for you.

Canoe

The canoe has been around for at least 10,000 years and it is no surprise. It is an excellent shallow watercraft for use on inland waterways and many canoes are even sea-worthy.

Canoes are usually larger and wider than Jon boats and offer more room to store more stuff. However, they are not as versatile and don’t lend themselves as well to the many customizations that Jon boats do.

Where a Jon boat looks like a utility vessel and is usually painted green, a canoe is usually made of stained or painted wood and just looks awesome.

If you want to paddle n style use a canoe!

Although most canoes will be propelled via simple one bladed paddles they can be easily fitted with an outboard trolling motor.

Canoes are not a easy to steer as Jon boats but that doesn’t mean they are difficult to maneuver. As they are usually big, bulky and heavy they can be more difficult to transport and move over land.

If you are unsure about whether a canoe or a Jon boat is a better fit for you read our article on that subject here. If you have already decided that a canoe is better for you then be sure to read our canoe buyer’s guide.

Kayak

A kayak is much smaller than a canoe and is better suited to solo or tandem use.

Kayaks, like Jon boats, are extremely versatile vessels, but for different reasons.

Although there are several different kayak designs (for sea use, calm water use, whitewater use etc.) there are only two basic kayak types:

  1. Sit-on-top kayaks
  2. Sit-in kayaks

Both sit-on-top and sit-in kayaks have a shallow draft meaning they can navigate shallow waters. However, there are key differences between these two vessels – you can read more about that in the article Sit-in vs sit-on kayak. A guide to picking the best one for you.

For simplicity sake will define the difference as: a sit-on-top kayak is best suited to fishing while a sit-in kayak is better for everything else.

Of course the above explanation is a huge over-simplification but it should give you a basic ideas of which kayak type is better for you.

Sit-in kayaks come in several different types from sea-worthy touring kayaks to whitewater and surfing kayaks. All sit-in kayaks have a shallow draft and can navigate shallow waters but not all kayaks are suited to rough water. Likewise, not kayaks are suited to calm water either.

For use in calm shallow inland waters a flat-bottomed kayak is probably the best choice (see our article why choose a flat bottom kayak). For touring in shallow shorelines a touring kayak would be a better choice.

To understand which kayak design is best suited for which environments and activities see this article.

Skiff

Not all skiffs are suited to shallow waters. For shallow water use you will need a flat-bottomed skiff.

A flat bottomed skiff is usually used for fishing in large lakes or along the ocean shoreline. Due to its v-shaped bow it can usually handle rougher waters better than other flat-bottomed boats.

A flat-bottomed skiff is an excellent fishing vessel especially used in large bodies of open water that have deep areas or that experience choppy conditions.

Canal boat

A canal boat in the UK and Ireland, and to a lesser degree in France and a few other European countries, differs greatly from a canal boat in the USA and the rest of the world.

A canal boat in Ireland and the UK is called a narrowboat and has a very distinctive shape, being very long and very narrow so it can fit onto the narrow canals of the British Isles. The narrowboat experience is very different from a trip on a canal boat in the USA.

Because canals in America are much wider, and usually deeper, canal boat here are usually much larger and faster.

Canal boats work well in large canals, rivers and on some lakes.

If you think a canal boat is the best fit for you or want to learn more about them read this article. If you are interested in taking a canal boat vacation on a narrowboat read this article.

Airboat

An airboat is the prefect shallow water boat for swamps, creeks and rivers.

Although not as common as the other types of shallow water boat on our list they are still popular across the world especially in southern areas of the USA and in Canada.

An airboat lends itself well to extreme shallow-water powered-boating. Airboats can be mechanically propelled at high speed in areas that even a Jon boat cannot access via a motor (though they can with a paddle or pole).

If you plan to navigate large areas of shallow water where the noise of an airplane propeller will not be a problem then an airboat may be your shallow water vessel of choice.

Still unsure about which boat is the best fit?

If you still don’t know which boat type best fits your needs then worry not because there is an easy way to find out.

How to identify which shallow boat type is right for you

Now that you know you need a shallow draft boat you need to find the exact type of shallow draft boat that is best suited to your specific individual needs.

You can see from the list of vessels above, and our brief rundown of their benefits and uses, that each boat type is suited to specific environments and activities. If, after reading that you still don’t know how to choose from them then follow the advice below.

Simply asking yourself three simple questions will help you determine which boat type and size is the best fit for you.

The three questions are:

  1. Where will you use the boat?
  2. What will you use the boat for?
  3. How many people will be on the boat?

Marine environment factors to consider

The marine environment in which you use your boat will have a huge impact on the type of boat you buy.

Obviously you already know that you need a shallow water boat but the specific shallow water marine environment you plan to use the boat in will affect both the type of shallow water boat you need and the size of it.

If you will only be navigating calm waters then any type of shallow draft boat will do you. However, if the areas you frequent encounter strong winds and choppy waters you will need a vessel that can ride choppy waves well. Areas with challenging waters would rule out a standard Jon boat but may be favorable to a semi-v Jon.

By understanding the type of marine environment you will boat in, and the typical weather you will encounter, it becomes easier to see which boat types are best suited to those conditions and which ones are ill-suited to them.

So, it’s obvious to see now why the environment and the conditions the boat will be used in impacts the type of boat you can use but you should also be aware that the marine environment will also impact your choice of boat size.

Some boats, that are otherwise perfect for your needs, may be too big to use.

For example, a large, long canoe will be difficult to maneuver in creeks and rivers with narrow, tight turns. A Large Jon boat or skiff may encounter similar problems.

Water-based activities will restrict your buying choices

Not all shallow water boats are suited to all shallow water boating activities.

For example, a skiff and kayak are not a good choices for hunting while a Jon boat would be a poor choice for ocean fishing even in the shallows near the shoreline.

So identify what you intend to use your shallow water boat for and then look above to see which boat is best suited to those activities.

Knowing the number of crew members is important

The size of your shallow water boat is not just dependent on the environment in which it will be used. Size will also depend largely on how many people will be onboard at any one time.

However, there are other considerations. For example, if you are a keen duck hunter or boat camper then you will need plenty of space for gear.

Identifying what you will do in your boat should also help you identify how many people you will be doing it with and what type of additional space you need in the boat for gear and equipment.

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