How to Convert a Jon Boat to a Bass Boat


Jon boat to bass boat conversion

The humble Jon boat is legendary for its simplicity, versatility and ease of use. It is just the thing for long easy days idling around your favorite fishing spots or for hunting in the shallows. Not only are Jon boats an affordable and accessible watercraft but their simple, uniform structure lends itself to a whole host of customization and upgrade projects. So it is no wonder that a popular goal for the experienced angling aficionado or boat hobbyist is to convert a cheaper Jon boat into, what is usually a much more expensive, bass boat.

What is a bass boat?

Taking its name from one of America’s most popular game fish, the bass boat is a performance powerboat built exclusively for the joys of angling.

Seen as a huge step-up from a Jon boat, the bass boat can be fabricated from fiberglass or, more commonly, aluminum and comes equipped with many fishing conveniences. It is a boat that is built for practicality but with extra comfort and the high speed capability for taking on a variety of waterways.

Key characteristics of a bass boat are:

  • V-hull.
  • Outboard motor.
  • Secondary trolling motor.
  • Casting deck.
  • Fish wells.
  • high-back seating .
  • Optional swivel seating usually at the front of the boat.
  • High spec electronics like ultrasound, fish tracking and lighting.

Key differences between Jon boats and bass boats

Both of these small boats are a great choice for anglers, but you need to be aware of the features that make them different.

  1. Jon boats are flat-bottomed or semi-v while bass boats have a full V-hull.
  2. Jon boats have a shallower draft. (See the difference between shallow draft and deep draft here)
  3. Jon boats are extremely well suited for use in very shallow waters due to their flat bottom shallow draft hull.
  4. Jon boats have open decking.
  5. Bass boats tend to be heavier than Jon boats of equivalent length.
  6. Bass boats can handle more powerful outboard motors than Jon boats.
  7. Bass boats have better performance in deeper and rougher waters due to the deeper draft hull design and better engine caliber.
  8. Bass boats have a casting deck.
  9. Bass boats have enclosed storage.
  10. Bass boats have a higher price point than Jon boats.

If you are looking at your Jon boat, and imagining a bad boy bass boat, then you need to get to work on key conversion projects that will achieve the bass boat upgrade your little Jon deserves!

In this article we will focus on the key projects that will truly bring out the inner bass boat in your standard Jon boat. By implementing these upgrades you should enjoy improved performance and functionality and even increase the value of your Jon boat.

Why convert a Jon into a bass boat instead of buying one?

Although each Jon boat owner will have their own personal reasons for wanting to convert their utility boat into a kick ass bass fishing boat the main reason most people undertake this modification is due to cost.

It is cheaper to convert a Jon boat to a bass boat than it is to buy a new bass boat.

You can pick up a good, reliable and durable Jon boat for as little as $400 (as shown in our article how much does a Jon boat cost) while a bass boat will cost you anywhere from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

The only thing you will be unable to convert is the bottom of the boat. For this reason it may be better to convert a semi-v Jon rather than a flat-bottomed one.

Challenging your humble Jon boat to match a bass boat performance

Below are the top conversions you need to make to your Jon to turn it into a bass boat.

You can’t just stick a bass boat motor on a Jon boat

If you are looking for a bit more oomph on the water, addressing your Jon boat’s outboard motor is a great place to start. Why crawl when you can fly? With an appropriately sized and optimized outboard engine your Jon can match, or at least get close to, the type of performance and speed that a store-bought bass boat can.

As previously mentioned a bass boat can handle a bigger engine than a Jon boat so you can’t just look at the specs of a similarly sized bass boat and then stick an identical outboard motor on your Jon. Your Jon boat won’t be able to handle it.

Here are some guidelines to help you get the most out of your your Jon’s motor so it can match that of a bass boat.

Take it to the max

Bass boats have more powerful engines than Jon boats so in order to match a bass boat you will need to be able to squeeze the very most out of a smaller motor.

To begin, follow the capacity plate on your boat and take it to the maximum.

US Coastguard approved capacity plates will tell you the maximum horsepower your vessel can handle safely. Take advantage of this by getting the maximum sized engine that will fit your boat.

Suitable shaft

Ensure your outboard motor has a suitable shaft length sized to the small transom of your Jon boat.

Electric start

Ensure the motor has an electrical start to cut down on weight and so you will get started quickly.

An electric start will also give you mastery of conditions when you need to get moving fast.

Modify your trolling motor controls

Trolling motors are a standard bass boat and Jon boat power accessory that will allow you to quickly and discreetly navigate your favorite fishing spot.

Mount a trimmable trolling motor at the bow or stern of your Jon boat. You can get high powered trolling motors that can be easily dismounted and trimmed.

Be sure to hard wire in a foot pedal control for convenience while you fish.

Adding remote steering

The trolling motor on a Jon boat is steered by a tiller action. Obviously this is impractical on a bass boat. You must therefore add remote steering to the outboard.

Luckily this is a fairly easy task to complete and does not even require you to buy a new motor.

Follow the instructions in the video below to easily and quickly fit a steering mechanism to an existing motor.

How to add remote steering to your Jon boat to bass boat conversion (video)

Getting the prop right

Always get an outboard motor that offers power assisted tilt and trim so that you can enjoy superior maneuverability when in shallow or obstacle-ridden waters.

Ditch the old

An old bottom-battered propeller will hold your new new bass boat back. Don’t skimp on the prop.

Opt for teflon-coated steel, altering diameter and changing pitch to give a marked boost in performance. You will instantly notice the difference between this type of prop and the one you probably have on your Jon boat currently.

The more blades the better

Make sure your prop is capable of propelling the extra load from your bass boat conversion add-ons by attaching one with an increased number of blades.

A cheap prop just won’t cut it.

Full deck conversion walk-through

Obviously a big difference between a bass boat and a Jon boat is the decking.

A jon boat has an open deck while a bass boat has a solid deck.

Casting deck conversion

Bass boats accommodate the angler with decked areas from which one or two anglers can cast off while standing up without overturning the boat. Obviously a Jon boat differs greatly from this with its open deck area.

The good news is that the flat open deck on a Jon boat lends itself well to the installation of level decked spaces. This deck area can also be carpeted for added comfort, a better look and additional grip underfoot.

Jon boat to bass boat framing projects allow you to create plywood decked areas that are supported within the hull of the boat by a metal or wooden frame.

You will need to carefully consider the distribution of weight in the boat to ensure you will retain stability on the water. Too much weight can dangerously affect your draft and increase the risk of being swamped or even capsizing.

Unfortunately not every Jon boat is suitable for decking. Some smaller Jons are just too narrow, and those with flat sides can find these to be a disadvantage during the conversion process.

Installing a casting deck (video)

Adding storage

Jon boat framing projects can also be used to create bespoke storage that can enhance the utility of your space.

A well planned design can incorporate spaces to stow your gear, hide your battery and create live fish wells. Adding these type of storage upgrades will truly transform your Jon boat into a fully functional bass boat.

Adding storage to your new boat (video)

Adding a tackle storage system to Jon to bass boat conversion (video)

Seating

The great thing about the flat hull of a Jon boat is that it provides pretty level seating for one, two or even three anglers. But, the hard basic molded bench seating cannot compare to the comfort and luxury of high-back bass boat seating.

What you will lose in seat capacity from your conversion you will gain in comfort and functionality.

Most Jon boat owners will automatically want to remove the standard bench type seating in their Jon boat to make way for high-back bass boat seating. We do not advise this!

Instead of removing the bench seats in the Jon boat use them as support for your new decking and as mounting points for your new high-back seats.

Superior high-back bass boat seating options, like these, can be picked up for about 60 bucks and can be easily clamped or mounted to the Jon boat’s existing integrated bench.

Installing bass boat seating (video)

Installing lights

Bass boats, unlike most Jon boats, bask in the light.

All boats used at night should be carrying the legally required navigation lights for safety (even small kayaks must adhere to this law), but some additional creative lighting can boost the appearance and utility of your boat.

If you love to go night fishing or idle on the water after dusk, creative lighting options will mean you can keep visible and move about safely on the deck of your boat.

LED lighting is low energy and easy to install meaning that you can create a range of custom lighting effects with ease.

We have a full guide to choosing appropriate Jon boat lighting and installing it and you will find that this buying guide will also help you choose the correct lights for you new hybrid Jon/bass boat.

There are 3 basic types of light installations you will need to consider adding to your Bass boat conversion.

They are:

  • Deck strip lighting.
  • Navigational lights.
  • Night light.

Jon boat to bass boat deck strip lighting installation (video)

In the video below you will see how easy it is to install hidden deck lighting on your Jon boat to match the look and functionality of a more expensive bass boat.

Jon boat to bass boat navigational light installation (video)

Navigational lights are required by law on all boats used at night or in reduced visibility.

This simple fact is: you need to install nav lights on your converted boat.

The video below will walk you through the process of adding legally required navigational lights to your Jon boat/bass boat.

Jon boat to bass boat large night deck light installation (video)

Being seen at night is not the only reason to install lights on your boat. You also need to be able to see.

Just as navigational lights are installed at the back of your boat so others can see you, night lights or search lights should be placed at the front of your boat so you can see where you are going and what is in front of you.

Additional accessories

Once you have finished installing your boat lights you may want to consider adding some extras such as additional electronic equipment. There are a host of different accessories, like these, that can turn your Jon conversion into the ultimate killer bass boat.

As a bass boat is a fishing vessel installing a high grade fishfinder (as we showed how to do here) at the least is advised.

A quick note on weight

Seeing all the options open to, you once you’ve made the decision to modify your Jon boat and convert it into a bass boat, can leave you wanting them all. If you are skilled at DIY projects and have done work on your boat before then you will probably already have all the skills you need to make all of the above conversions and turn your Jon into a kick-ass bass fishing vessel.

However, you will need to consider the impact of your bass boat style modifications on the weight capacity of your Jon boat.

Not only will additional weight from seating and decking eat into your maximum gross load but it will also affect the speed and performance of your boat on the water.

Always check your Jon boat maximum weight capacity before venturing into massive conversion projects.

In conclusion

The above Jon boat to bass boat conversion projects demonstrate the versatility of these little boats. For many Jon boat owners making these upgrades is a favored pastime and even leads to larger boat building projects (like building your own boat from scratch).

Before you begin your conversion research widely and check out Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube for some great ideas. You may come across things that you want to incorporate into your own conversion.

Start small and take your time if this is the first time you have attempted this type of conversion work. Before you know it you will be enjoying serious ramp credibility.

Be sure to send us your before and after pictures when you embark on your own conversion projects.

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