Jon Boat vs Skiff. How To Know Which Is Better For You

skiff vs Jon boat

Both the Jon boat and the skiff have a lot to offer especially to the avid inland waterway angler. Although these boats will often be seen in similar waters they have very different designs and perform differently in similar environments.

If you don’t know which type of boat is best for you then read on as we are about to have a battle of the shallow water boats with the Jon boat vs the Skiff.

The main differences between a Jon boat and a skiff

The skiff is primarily used for fishing while the Jon boat is much more versatile vessel being used for fishing, hunting and transportation.

Skiffs refer to a range of boats while a Jon boat comes in only 2 types.

Skiffs are usually console controlled.

A Jon boat is usually tiller controlled via a trolling or outboard motor.

Jon boats are flat bottomed, shallow draft vessels.

Although shallow draft, not all skiffs have flat bottoms.

It is not uncommon to see a skiff and a Jon boat in the same waters and being used for the same activities.

Both the skiff and the Jon boat are shallow draft vessels that excel in shallow water environments.

However, these boats are very different.

Both boats have their own have strengths and weakness and both will perform better in certain marine environments.

Jon boat basics – what this boat is and what it’s used for

A Jon boat is a true American tradition on the water.

These boats date back to pioneer times when they were used for a range of activities from transportation and fishing to hunting and exploration.

They are still used this way today.

14 foot Jon boat with 15hp mounted outboard motor
A 14ft Jon boat

A Jon boat is a flat bottom vessel that has a low freeboard and very shallow draft.

Jon boats can access water that is only a few inches deep.

They can be rowed, punted (poled), paddled or fitted with a trolling or outboard motor and are usually tiller controlled.

Although there are console controlled Jon boats they are much less common and much more expensive.

Jon boats are easy to get on plane, offer an exceptionally smooth ride on calm water and are pretty cheap compared to other boat types, including most skiffs.

Although Jon boats are a very stable flat bottom boat on inland waters they are also versatile enough to be open to many different customizations.

They can also stabilized for use in rougher waters and for ocean use.

There are two basic types of Jon boat and although they are very similar they perform slightly differently under specific conditions.

The flat bottom & low freeboard make it a perfect shallow water vessel but dangerous in choppy water

A flat bottom Jon boat is the standard type of Jon boat that was the first to be used.

This boat performs exceptionally well on inland waters and offers amazing stability on calm water.

The stability of a Jon boat means it is popular for hunting and fishing and is even used for bow fishing.

Bowfishing Jon boat

The only problem with a flat bottom Jon boat is that does not handle rough water very well.

The low freeboard means the sides of the boat sit very close to the water.

Obviously in chop and turbulent water this leaves the boat open to the possibility of taking on water and sinking.

This is one reason why using a Jon boat in the ocean must be done with great care.

Its square bow is not designed to deflect waves and its completely flat bottom means it is unstable in very choppy water.

Due to these restrictions some hull modifications were made to the Jon boat to create the Mod-V Jon boat which is much better able to deal with challenging conditions.

The mod-V hull at the bow makes a Jon boat perfect for hunting

A mod-v Jon boat, also called a semi-v Jon boat, has a more pointed bow than its flat bottom bother and is more curved upward at the front.

The bottom of a Mod-V Jon boat is flat but the front part of it rises up out of the water and has a “v” shape.

This, along with the pointed bow, allows the boat to cut through chop much better than a standard Jon.

It is generally accepted that a Mod-V Jon boat is superior to a flat bottom Jon boat because it can do all the same things but also has the capability of being used in choppy water.

Both boats are amazing fishing and hunting vessels.

If you are unsure which type of Jon boat is best suited to your needs read our article flat bottom vs Mod-V Jon boat.

For links to the most popular Jon boat manufactures see this.

For the costs of Jon boats read this.

Jon boats offer speed and comfort especially in the shallows

The unique shallow draft design of a Jon boat means it’s easy to get the boat on plane.

Once on plane a Jon boat offers an exceptionally smooth ride at speed.

Jon boats can use both a motor and manual propulsion

Jon boats are not just powered by trolling motors.

Due to their lightweight nature it is easy to paddle a Jon boat or punt it with a pole.

The design of a Jon boat offers itself easily to modifications.

This includes adding oars and oarlocks so you can row the boat.

Manual propulsion is needed when you take a Jon boat into the extreme shallows that would damage the prop.

A Jon boat can travel fast in very shallow water (video)

Skiff basics – what this boat is and what it’s used for

The problem with describing the hull characteristics of a skiff is that the definition “skiff” refers to a variety of different boats.

“Skiff” is a term that is used quite loosely to describe a much broader range of vessels than the term Jon boat is (except in Acadiana).

Although skiffs can come in small sizes most of the ones you will see on the water are fairly large vessels, at least when compared to a Jon boat.

Skiffs are also very stable on calm water and make excellent fishing boats.

When it comes to common skiffs most are console controlled from the center of the boat.

They have wide open decks with plenty of space for gear, passengers and permanent or removable livewells.

Skiffs usually have much more powerful motors than Jon boats and are generally bigger vessels.

They can easily traverse shallow waterways though using a pole for propulsion but cannot access the same type of extreme shallows that a Jon boat can.

Skiffs are not suitable for rowing or paddling, unlike a Jon boat which can be propelled by either in addition to a pole and motor.

The flat bottom gives a skiff a shallow draft

Flat bottom skiffs are exactly what they sound like they are.

They are flat bottom boats designed to be used in shallow water.

flat bottom skiff
A flat bottom skiff

Flat bottom skiffs excel on inland waterways from rivers and lakes to inlets.

When the water gets too shallow for an outboard the motor is trimmed, the prop is lifted out of the water and a long pole is used to punt the boat.

Not all skiffs are flat bottomed.

I will assume that you are mostly interested in a flat bottom skiff as you want to compare it to a Jon boat, which always has a flat bottom.

However, you should be aware that there are semi-v skiffs that perform a similar function to a mod-v Jon boat except they are much better at it.

Just remember that a skiff cannot access the same type of extremely shallow water that a Jon boat can.

The semi-v hull & higher freeboard makes skiffs more stable in choppy water but less capable in the shallows

Semi-v skiffs can be used in most marine environments and handle choppy water very well.

They have a much higher freeboard, their sides are well above the waterline, than a Jon boat.

The overall hull design makes them much more stable in challenging water conditions.

Obviously this comes at a cost.

A skiff cannot access the same type of extreme shallows that a Jon boat can.

A flat bottom Jon boat sitting in calm shallow water
A Jon boat sitting in shallow water

And, it is more difficult to move the boat using manual propulsion methods, such as a pole.

Unfortunately though though due to their deeper draft they are not very good in the shallows.

Most semi-v skiffs will be found in deep lakes and deep rivers and in bays and off coastal areas.

Skiffs are usually a lot more expensive than a Jon boat but offer the angler a lot more for his money though they are a much less versatile boat.

Carolina skiff is a very popular manufacturer of skiffs.

Skiffs can access shallow water but not as shallow as a Jon boat

Most skiffs are not capable of the same type of shallow water access as a Jon boat.

What’s more, they aren’t as easy to move with manual propulsion.

Where a Jon boat can be moved with a paddle, oars or a pole, only a pole can be used on a skiff.

Punting a skiff with a pole (video)

In the video below you can see how easy it is to punt a skiff in shallow water.

Punting is more commonly known as poling in America.

Summary: Difference between a skiff and a Jon boat

Jon Boat Basics:

  • A Jon boat is an excellent shallow water vessel.
  • It can be used for just about any water activity that takes place on inland waters (with the exception of partying usually reserved for pontoon boats).
  • They are flat bottomed, shallow draft watercraft that can access extreme shallows, be manually propelled or motor-powered.
  • They make great fishing and hunting boats.
  • Jon boats are much cheaper than skiffs and will usually be tiller controlled.
  • Jon boast are much more versatile than skiffs and can be easily customized for many different purposes.
  • AA Jon boat can even be converted into a bass boat, that’s how versatile these vessels are.

Skiff Basics:

  • Skiffs come in a variety of different types.
  • Larger skiffs will usually be console controlled.
  • They are excellent fishing vessels.
  • Flat bottom skiffs are shallow draft boats that can be punted/poled in the shallows.
  • However, they cannot access the same type of extreme shallows that a Jon boat can access.
  • Semi-v skiffs are best suited to deeper waters and have similar onboard features to their flat bottom brothers.
  • Skiffs are usually much more expensive than Jon boats but offer more deck space and are better setup for anglers.

Which one is best for you?

Well, only you can answer that. But here are a few questions you can answer to help you make a decision.

Do you need a versatile vessel that you can use for different purposes in different environments?

Do you require superior stability on calm inland waters?

Is budget a concern? If you answered “yes” to these questions then a Jon boat may be the right choice for you.

Or, do you require a boat that is better suited to the angler or hunter?

Do you need a shallow draft boat but one that can be used in much rougher conditions?

Do you want better control from a central console?

Do you require more speed or the capacity for manual propulsion?

How shallow does your boat need to go?

When you ask yourself those questions and seek the answers (answers are in this article) you will quickly identify which type of boat is better suited to your specific needs.

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