How Safe are Jon Boats?


How safe are Jon boats

If you trawl the forums you will see that many new boaters have misconceptions about the safety of Jon boats. Some think Jon boats are not as safe as they actually are, while others think you can use them safely in marine environments in which you cannot.

How safe are Jon boats? A Jon boat is a very safe utility and recreational vessel when it’s used in the correct marine environments. A Jon boat has a flat bottom that makes it exceptionally stable and safe in calm water. The flat bottom gives the boat a shallow draft which allows it to safely navigate waters only a few inches deep. But this shallow draft makes the boat unsafe to use in certain environments and under certain conditions.

Jon boats are versatile but also restrictive

A Jon boat is a very versatile watercraft but it does come with some drawbacks. We covered just how versatile this boat can be in a previous article but suffice it to say that a Jon boat is an excellent utility and recreational vessel for inland waterway use.

Jon are used for everything from fishing to duck hunting and water transportation.

Why are these boats so popular?

A Jon boat is very popular for the following reasons:

  • It’s very versatile and can be used for a multitude of water-based activities from fishing to utility work.
  • It’s cheap to buy and run.
  • It can be manually propelled or fitted with an outboard motor.
  • It lends itself well to customizations (see our excellent Jon boat customization ideas).
  • It’s very stable in calm waters.
  • It is very comfortable to ride in on calm waters even at high speed.
  • It can be used in extremely shallow waters.

These many benefits that a Jon boat offers actually cause some restrictions on a Jon boat’s use, as we will cover in more detail as we progress through this article.

Effects of weather conditions and water depth

As we have seen a Jon boat is a very versatile vessel that offers a lot of benefits. But the design characteristics of a Jon boat that create these benefits also creates restrictions on its use.

Jon boats are exceptionally stable vessels when they are used in the correct environments and under the correct conditions. To understand this we must look at the design characteristics of a Jon boat to see why it is perfect for some uses and extremely bad for others.

Let’s start with the stability of a Jon boat.

Why a Jon boat is so safe on calm water

A Jon boat has a shallow draft hull design based around its flat bottom. It is the flat bottom design of the boat that gives a Jon its very shallow draft and amazing stability.

When used on calm water a Jon boat is exceptionally safe because it is so stable. It is the flat bottom hull of a Jon boat that makes its so stable.

But a Jon boat is only stable when used in calm waters. When it is used in turbulent waters the boat becomes unstable and unsafe as we will see later.

But why is it only stable and safe to use on calm waters?

In simple terms we can say that a Jon boat “sits” on the water rather than sits in the water. To better understand this concept think of a short flat plank of wood.

Imagine you placed a short plank of wood in a bathtub full of water.

What will happen?

The plank will will float on top of the water. Its flat surface displaces enough water to make it very buoyant. This is what a Jon boat does. A Jon boat’s flat bottom offers a large flat area that basically floats on top of the water.

This is a very simplistic explanation but it does illustrate the point effectively.

This makes a Jon boat very stable on calm water, so sable that it is possible to stand on the boat and move around on it without it losing stability. Therefore a Jon boat is very safe to use on calm water.

Why a Jon boat is safe to use in very shallow waters

The flat bottom hull design of a Jon boat gives it a very shallow draft meaning that the boat doesn’t sit very deep in the water. This means a Jon boat can be used to easily and safely navigate very shallow water that is only a few inches deep.

The fact the bottom of the boat is flat also means that when it is used to navigate shallow water areas it is also less likely to hit any obstacles lying on the water bed. Where a v-hull boat, like a rowboat, with its deep draft and v-shaped bottomed would hit debris and obstacles in the water, a Jon boat, with its shallow draft and flat bottom, would either miss them entirely or simply glide over them.

This makes a Jon boat very safe to use in shallow waters.

If you need a more in-depth explanation of shallow draft and deep draft read this.

Jon boat stability issues in choppy water

Unfortunately, a Jon boat is not stable in all conditions.

A Jon boat’s flat bottom and shallow draft that creates amazing stability when used on calm water actually becomes a problem in choppy waters.

A Jon boat becomes much less stable and unsafe in choppy waters due to the same hull design that makes it so safe to use in calm waters.

Due to its shallow draft and low-freeboard a Jon boat will readily start to take on water when hit by large waves and when rocked by very choppy water.

Although most Jon boats will ride a certain degree of choppy water they will feel uncomfortable as they bounce about on top of the water. The more challenging the water becomes the less safe the boat becomes and the more likely it is to start taking on water.

The best advice for Jon boat users who start to encounter choppy water is to get off the water.

Does a Jon boat experience stability issues in deep water?

There is a misconception among many people new to Jon boats that they cannot be used in deep water.

A Jon boat can be used safely in very deep water as long as the conditions are right.

The reason why many people think a Jon cannot be used in deep water is because bodies of deep water tend to be more prone to changes in conditions due to strong winds and changing currents. As we’ve seen Jon boats don’t like choppy water. So, if a deep body of water starts developing waves due to a change in weather conditions it can become unsuitable for a Jon boat.

However, many areas of deep inland water are well protected from the wind and remain very calm most of the time, thus making them perfect for a Jon boat. As you will see later in this article problems only arise when the conditions change in a way that makes the deep water more turbulent and challenging.

Where can a Jon boat be used?

A Jon boat can be used in most inland waterways.

The reason Jon boats are best suited to inland waterways is because those waters tend to be calm. Being inland, rivers, creeks, ponds and lakes etc., are usually protected from strong winds and don’t usually have strong currents.

Of course not all inland bodies of water are calm. As mentioned previously in this article for more challenging waters a semi-v Jon boat is a better fit.

Jon boats are very safe watercraft when they are used in marine environments for which they were designed but become very dangerous when used in unsuitable environments.

Can a Jon boat be used in large bodies of water?

The misconception among some people that a Jon boat is unsuitable for large bodies of water is the same reason they think it can’t be used in deep water (as covered above).

A Jon boat can be used on any large body of water which is calm.

Misconceptions about the safety of using Jon boats on large bodies of water are caused because large bodies of water tend to be more open to the wind and water conditions can easily be affected by the weather.

When the wind picks-up near large bodies of water it has less obstacles to slow it down and thus can whip up the water more easily than it could on a creek or river protected by trees and other land obstructions. This results in waves forming on the water and a Jon boat is not very well suited to riding waves.

However, many large bodies of water are well protected from the wind and will remain calm most of the time. This means they are perfectly safe for using a Jon boat in.

Calm large bodies of water are perfect for Jon boats. They only become a problem if the water gets rough.

Can a Jon boat be used in rough water?

Although we have covered this subject in detail in the article The Truth About Jon Boats and Rough Water as a quick outline we would just say that a Jon boat is not suitable for rough water usage.

V-hull boats with their v-shaped bow and deep draft are the best choice for challenging waters as they can cut through waves easily and remain much more stable. Thus a v-hull boat is much less likely to capsize or sink in challenging waters.

A Jon boat is not suitable for rough water use though there are exceptions.

The exception to this rule is the semi-v Jon boat (as we will see later) which can handle rough water much better than a standard Jon boat/ However, a semi-v Jon still has some restrictions. Read more about a semi-v Jon boat here.

Can a Jon boat be used in the ocean?

It is not advisable to use a Jon boat in the ocean except under very specific conditions.

The ocean tends to have choppy water and large waves. As we have seen a Jon boat is not suited to rough water. The ocean tends to have rough water.

Because a Jon boat is designed to be used in calm waters the ocean presents an environment in which a Jon boat is not suited.

However, there are some times when it is possible to use a Jon in the ocean, for example close to the shoreline in very calm conditions. But be aware that ocean conditions can change very quickly and it is all too easy for a Jon boat owner to find himself/herself in calm ocean waters one minute and challenging waves a few minutes later.

We covered this subject in detail in this article where we point when it is okay to use a Jon boat in the ocean and when it is not. If you intend to use a Jon boat in the ocean, even very close to the shoreline in optimum weather conditions, we urge you to read that article.

The ideal environments for Jon boats

The following are the ideal marine environments for a Jon boat:

  • Rivers.
  • Creeks.
  • Calm lakes.
  • Ponds.
  • Marches.

Please bare in mind that the weather and water conditions tend to have bigger impact on a Jon boat than the actual place where you use it.

It is just that most inland waters have calm water and are protected from strong winds.

The worst environments for Jon boats

Of course a Jon boat is not suited to all types of waterways.

Here are a few marine environments not suitable for Jon boat use:

  • Whitewater rapids.
  • The open ocean.
  • Turbulent bodies of water.

In what weather conditions can a Jon boat be used?

A Jon boat is suitable for use in fine weather conditions.

Fine weather usually means calm water and as we have seen a Jon boat will flourish in calm water. The superior stability experienced in a Jon boat is only evident in calm water. So, you need calm weather to ensure the water stays calm.

Light rain, or even heavy rain, will not affect your boat’s stability. As long as the rain is not accompanied by strong winds a Jon boat should perform just fine.

Due to a Jon boats low-freeboard some people worry that heavy rain may sink the boat. Heavy rain is unlikely to fill your Jon boat up enough to sink it unless the rain is extremely heavy and sustained (raining for at least a full day) and your boat is left on the water unattended for a 24 hours or more.

If you are really worried about rain sitting in your boat invest in a cheap bilge pump like these.

The ideal conditions for Jon boats

The ideal conditions for using a Jon boat are:

  • Fine weather.
  • Low winds.
  • Calm water.

The worst conditions for Jon boats

The worst conditions you could use a Jon boat in are:

  • Strong winds.
  • Turbulent water.

A (slight) exception to the rules

There is a slight exception to the above rules which comes in the form of a specially designed type of Jon boat for use in more challenging conditions called a semi-v or modified v Jon boat.

As we have seen Jon boats are excellent inland waterway craft but because they are only really suited to calm waters they do not suit all bodies of water, even if they are inland.

Many large lakes and fast rivers with turbulent water are unsuitable environments for a flat-bottomed Jon boat. However, even though these inland bodies of water have challenging conditions that are too much for a Jon boat they still have large areas that are very shallow.

This posies a problem because the water is too turbulent for a shallow draft boat and is thus better suited to a deep draft boat, but the marine environment the water is in is unsuitable for a deep draft boat because it would hit obstacles or snag on the shallow water-bottom and thus sustain damage or even become grounded.

A solution to this problem was devised in the form of a semi-v Jon boat.

A semi-v Jon boat has a more curved bow that allows it to cut through choppy water better and many have a more curved bottom. This means a semi-v Jon boat can still navigate shallow water (though not as shallow as a standard Jon) but it can also ride choppy waves and handle more challenging conditions.

If you want to know more about the differences between a standard Jon boat and a semi-v Jon boat read our article about Jon boat types.

Quick view Jon boat safety charts

Below are quick view charts that outline when and where it is safe to use a Jon boat. The information in these charts is not set in stone and they should be viewed as general guidelines only.

Marine environments

 Shallow WaterOceanLarge BodiesDeep Water
Flat Bottom Jonyesnoyesyes
Semi-v Jonyesnoyesyes

Weather & water conditions

 CalmRainStrong WindsChoppy WaterRough Water
Flat Bottom Jonyesyesnonono
Semi-v Jonyesyesnoyesno

If you are unsure which type of Jon boat you need, semi-v or standard, and which size of Jon you need, then be sure to read our Jon boat buyer’s guide which will help you decide.

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