How Do Flat Bottom Boats Handle?


Superior handling on a flat bottom boat

Flat bottom boats are an excellent choice for inland waterway use due to their shallow draft. A flat bottom boat gives the boater the ability to navigate extreme shallows that other boats types simply cannot gain access to. This makes these boats invaluable to inland boat anglers, water-based hunters and river runners but how do flat bottom boats handle?

Flat bottom boats offer superior handling in both shallow and still waters. They are designed to be used mostly on inland waterways. The flat bottom hull design means they offer much better handling on calm inland waters than boats with deeper draft bottoms. They can be used in deeper waters, like open lakes, as long as the water is reasonably calm because they do not handle well in choppy water or in the ocean.

When flat bottom boats have superior handling

Flat bottom boats come in many different varieties and types, from the well-known Jon boat to the iconic river-running drift boat, or the lesser known sled boat all the way to the exotic gondola!

Although there are exceptions, most flat bottom boats are deigned to be used on inland waterways. Using them in other marine environments greatly affects how they handle.

The flat bottom and low freeboard, gives these style of boat a very shallow draft that allows them to be used in very shallow waters where other boat types could not navigate.

In the type of shallows where a flat bottom boat can be easily used, (such a Jon boat in just a few inches of water), a v-hull boat would run aground. This makes these boats indispensable to inland waterway users as most inland bodies of water have areas of extreme shallows or they are simply not deep enough overall to make a v-hull boat practical. But this is not the only advantage of the flat bottom.

Flat bottom boats also offer superior handling.

Due to how water is displaced by the flat hull flat bottom boats are extremely stable and incredibly comfortable to ride in on calm and still water.  When it comes to water displacement a flat bottom boat works very much the same way as a raft (as we explain in the article why do rafts float).

The bottom of the boat offers a large surface area that displaces enough water to keep the boat buoyant due to the principle of flotation. This principle states that when an object displaces the same amount of weight in water than the weight of the object itself, the object will float. But it also offers incredible stability.

Because the bottom of a flat bottom boat is … well, flat … it also offers a stable platform that “sits on” the water rather than “sitting in” the water. This makes the boat extremely stable.

But, as the boat has a flat hull wouldn’t that mean moving through the water is more difficult? … Where a v-hull boat would cut, or slice, through the water, the flat bottom hull of a flat bottom boat would surely encounter more resistance. Right?

Well, that would probably be the case, and indeed is when it comes to flat bottom rowboats such as drift boats or Jon boats fitted with oars, but for flat bottom boats that are motorized something magical happens when you hit the throttle.

Flat bottom boats are very easy to get on plane (as we demonstrated in our article how to get a Jon boat on plane). When the boat gets on plane it rides above the water rather than in it which makes the entire process of riding on the boat feel like gliding on ice. It also makes the boat extremely easy to maneuver thus making the overall handling of a flat bottom boat very easy, enjoyably and comfortable.

Not only such a vessel easy to handle when it is used in the correct marine environment but it is also very easy to learn how to drive a flat bottom.

As long as you use a flat bottom boat in fairly calm water it will handle better than any other boat you have ever operated.

However, when you use a flat bottom boat in a marine environment for which it was not designed, you get a very different story!

How a flat bottom boat handles in calm water (video)

You can see in the above video that the flat bottom Jon boat gets on plane quickly and is incredible smooth on the water.

When flat bottom boats have inferior handling

As I have already mentioned, flat bottom boats are designed mostly for use on inland waterways because those waterways are fairly calm and have large shallow areas. The shallow draft, flat bottom hull gives a flat bottom boat much more stability and far superior handling in calm waters than other boats but it also makes it inferior in both regards when it is used in rough waters.

Although some people will take their skiffs, canoes, kayaks, lake boats and Jon boats on the ocean or into rough water, flat bottom boats are not designed to handle the type of chop and swell that open bodies of water see regularly. Many people sink their flat bottom boats when they take risks like that.

Driving a flat bottom boat in choppy water is also very uncomfortable as the flat hull will continually slap against the waves. What’s more the boat will likely start to take on water and if the swell is bad enough the boat will almost certainly sink.

As you will see from the videos below a flat bottom boat is not deigned for rough water use.

How a flat bottom boat handles in open water (video)

As you can see in the video above in the beginning the boat handle well and offers a smooth ride in calm water but this quickly changes as the boat goes further out into rougher water. You can see the Jon boat slap against the water all the while the guy operating the outboard motor has to continually maneuver his boat to avoid waves hitting it at the side or straight on.

Although it is never in danger, this boat is not deigned to be used in such an environment.

How a flat bottom boat handles in rough water (video)

As you can see from the above video the flat bottom Jon boat is extremely uncomfortable to be in, in rough water. The boat is slapping so hard against the water that the camera can’t get a straight shot.

If the conditions were to worsen even slightly and this boat were to stay out on the water it would definitely take on water and would likely sink.

Improving how a flat bottom boat handles

Although a flat bottom boat has superior handling when it is used in the type of marine environment for which it was designed, there are ways to improve the handling if you plan to use your flat bottom boat in more challenging conditions.

By far the main thing that affects the handling of any flat bottom boat is its stability on the water. Therefore the best way to improve a flat bottom boat’s handling is to improve its stability.  There are a number of ways to do this though they are mostly dependent of the type boat you want to customize.

For example, you can add outriggers to a canoe and a Jon boat, but a Jon boat can also be stabilized with several additional methods. I am a firm believer, however, that if you need to taker steps to stabilize your flat bottom boat, you should probably not be using a flat bottom boat in the fist place.

At the end of the day a flat bottom boat will give you better handling than any other type of boat on the water when it is used in the correct environment for the purposes for which it was designed.

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