Both kayaks and Jon boats are popular recreational watercraft used for a variety of different tasks. They are also used by anglers, hunters and water sports enthusiasts though in slightly different ways. Kayak vs. Jon Boat- which one should you buy?
Choosing between a kayak or a Jon boat is reasonably simple when you know 3 things; what you will use the boat for, where you will use it and how much money you are prepared to pay for it. Knowing these things will help you make the correct decision between the two boats.
- Three steps to a successful decision
- Differences between the two boats
- Making the final decision
- Closing thoughts
Three steps to a successful decision
When you are faced with the choice between buying a kayak or a Jon boat there are three simple questions that you must ask yourself. When you answer these questions you will be in a much better position to know which boat is better for you.
The 3 questions are:
- What will you use the boat for?
- Where will you use the boat?
- What is your budget?
Let’s have a look at these questions to see how answering them will affect your buying decision.
First Step – Identify the boat’s purpose
The first step in determining which type of boat is a better fit for you is to identify what you intend to use the boat for.
Although a Jon boat and a kayak are often used in similar waters and for similar purposes they do differ in a lot of ways. These differences mean that each boat is used in a slightly different manner. So, it is therefore important you know exactly what you intend to use your boat for before you decide on which one to buy.
Here are some example questions to ask yourself:
Will you use the boat for hunting?
Will you use it for fishing? If you plan to fish will it be in freshwater or out in the ocean?
Will you use the boat purey for leisurely days on the water or as a utility boat?
Will you be carrying a lot of gear?
Will you have passengers or will you always be alone on the boat? If you intend to have passengers on the boat how many will there be?
Knowing how you intend to use the boat is important because it will help you decide whether a kayak or a Jon boat is better to suited to your personal needs.
Second Step – Identify where the boat will be used
The environment in which you will use your boat should play a huge role in your buying decision.
Where do you plan to use the boat?
Do you intend to navigate very shallow calm inland waterways or go into the ocean?
Are the waterways that you plan to navigate calm or do they have rapids, weirs or rough water?
The waters in which you will use your boat will have a very big impact on the choice you make between a kayak and a Jon boat as you will see later.
When know what you intend to use your boat for and where you intend to use it, it will become obvious which vessel is better suited to your needs once you understand the key differences between the two boats, and their pros and cons.
Third Step – Set a budget
This is often the least important metric to consider for many people because at the lower and medium end of the price spectrum there is often little difference between the initial purchase cost of either boat.
However, depending on how you intend to use the boat, costs can quickly spiral up when you start adding extra features such as an outboard engine and rod holders etc. For example, we listed these 50 Jon boat accessories which includes quite a few items that every Jon boat owner should have, many of which are not suitable for a kayak.
When you get to the bigger boats there does tend to be a gap between the prices with Jon boats being significantly more expensive than kayaks. This is even more pronounced when you consider there are options to buy very cheap inflatable kayaks like this 3 person kayak that can be purchased for less than $250.
You will be lucky if you can get a Jon boat capable of carrying 3 people for less than a thousand dollars, though to be fair the Jon will be a superior boat in many different ways.
Though as I have already stated when it comes to similar quality of construction material and usability both boats will be similar in price and some kayaks may even be more expensive.
Differences between the two boats
Let’s take a quick look at the differences in design between a kayak and a Jon boat.
Jon boat design considerations
Jon boats have a fairly simple design and, although there are a few different design options (like a semi-v hull for example) they are basically flat-bottomed boats built for calm shallow waters.
Some owners do take their Jon boats onto the ocean but the smart ones never venture far from the shoreline and only go out in ideal weather conditions; a Jon boat is not considered seaworthy as it doesn’t handle rough water well.
If you need a better understanding of exactly what a Jon boat is and what it is best suited for, (along with what you should not use it for), read this article.
Kayak design considerations
Kayaks on the other hand have lots of different design options and there are many different types of kayak available, each one customised to be used in a specific environment.
For example, a flat bottom kayak is ideal for leisure activities in calm shallow inland waters but is a poor choice for open ocean use or on rapids. A touring or sea kayak is better for open water while a whitewater kayak is better for rapids.
Not all kayaks are designed for single-purpose use though and many will come with a mixture of different hull features. A fishing kayak with a hybrid design is often used for ocean fishing as it has the secondary stability of a touring kayak, to deal with waves, but is twinned with the primary stability of a flat bottom leisure kayak, so it is stable enough to fish from.
If you want to learn more about primary and secondary stability and how it affects a kayak’s performance read this article.
Regardless of which type of kakay you choose, while on, or in, a kayak you will be stationary and seated in one spot unable to move around on the boat – unlike the ample space provided by a Jon boat.
To see how close the two boats compare as far as performance is concerned review the video below, where two friends set up a challenge to see whether a kayak or a Jon boat is better for fishing. The result may surprise you.
Jon boat pros and cons
The Jon boat is the workhorse of calm shallow waters. Because it is used for inland waterway utility work, the transportation of goods and/or people and for fishing, hunting and leisure activities, a Jon is a great all-round boat.
Used mostly in rivers, lakes and ponds a Jon boat, with its flat bottom and shallow draft, can navigate waters only a few inches deep. It can be powered by an outboard motor or manually with a paddle or oars or even a push pole.
Jon boats can accommodate a lot of gear and give you room to move around. Unless you have a very small boat your Jon will also be able to carry at least one other passenger. The bigger the boat the more gear you can stow and the more passengers you can carry.
On the downside a Jon boat is not very well equipped for rough water usage. It’s true that some modified Jon boats can handle rough water better than others but the basic design of the boat makes it unsuitable for very choppy water.
However, you can take steps to better stabilize your Jon boat as I demonstrated here by doing some simple modifications to the boat.
The flat bottom design that gives a Jon boat so much stability in shallow waters actually becomes its Achilles heel in rough water. As I mentioned previously Jon boats are often used in the ocean but only when the weather is fine and the water is calm. A Jon boat cannot handle big waves.
A jon boat is also fairly heavy and will require a trailer for transportation. Although one person can successfully load and unload the average Jon boat on a trailer, some people may struggle doing this solo especially with the larger, heavier boats.
A Jon boat, although fairly easy to maneuver is not as easy to maneuver as a kayak and has a much larger turning radius.
Kayak pros and cons
Although a kayak also has a very shallow draft, making it ideal for shallow water usage, it is a very versatile boat that has many other uses. A kayak can be used in a wide variety of different watery environments and is not just limited to calm, shallow inland waters. Having said that, don’t expect to be able to take the same kayak into every environment.
There is no one-size-fits-all kayak. For different applications you need a different, and specifically designed, kayak.
A kayak is much lighter than a Jon boat and can usually be easily loaded and unloaded from a vehicle by one person. Most kayaks can also be transported via a rack on a vehicle’s roof thus requiring no trailer. However, larger more expensive and heavier craft do require a trailer.
Keep in mind that not every type of kayak can navigate every type of water body safely. Different kayaks suit different environments. As I have already mentioned there is no one-size-fits-all kayak.
For example, to navigate the ocean safely you need a different type of kayak from one used to leisurely paddle down a calm river. Likewise, you need a different type of kayak to ride the rapids than one designed to fish from.
A kayak is almost always manually powered through the use of a paddle. Some people do fit a small outboard motor to larger kayaks as shown in this video. and you can even make your own outboard motor, (for either a Jon boat or a kayak), as I demonstrated here. But, by and large kayaks are manually propelled and steered via a paddle.
A kayak is very easy to maneuver and can basically turn on a dime when you use the right technique.
Making the final decision
If you still are unsure about which boat is better for you I have included a few tables below to help you decide.
Based on your intended purpose and the environment in which you will use the boat you will see whether a Jon boat or a kayak is the best choice for you at a glance.
Quick view comparison tables
When reviewing the tables below please bear in mind that different types of kayak have different and distinct advantages. The pros associated with kayaks in the tables below are pros for different types of kayak and not for a kayak in general (because there are different kayak types designed for different purposes).
For example, one of the tables below indicates that a kayak is suitable for use in the ocean, but this does not mean that any kayak can be used safely in the ocean; it means that there is a kayak available that has been specifically designed for ocean use. A leisure kayak is not suited to ocean use for example; you will need a sea kayak for ocean kayaking.
|Boat||calm water||shallow water||ocean use||rough water|
Pros and cons
|Boat||space for gear||space for passengers||outboard motor||paddle||oars|
A brief view of the above tables would make you think that a Jon boat is the clear winner but this is not necessarily the case. Your specific needs may mean that a kayak is a better choice especially if you take to the water on your own.
However, if you need space on your boat for gear and passengers then a Jon boat wins hands down. But, it doesn’t come without its challenges. For example, transporting a Jon boat requires a trailer and you may struggle to load and unload the boat without assistance. It also has a large turning radius and is not the ideal choice for ocean use.
A Jon boat can easily accommodate a fairly large engine. Although a kayak can be fitted with an outboard engine it will be limited in power. Therefore a Jon boat is better at covering more ground than a kayak unless of course you love paddling over large distances (which can be fun but tiring).
If you are usually solo on the waters then a kayak may be the better option for you especially if you opt for one of the larger boats available as they are often considerably cheaper than their Jon boat counterparts.
Even if you hunt and fish modern kayaks can usually accommodate your gear, at least up to a point. Obviously a Jon boat has more room to stow equipment and if you hunt with dogs then a kayak just won’t cut it.
Having said that a kayak has its advantages as well. A kayak is very lightweight and can usually be transported on a rack on the roof of your vehicle. It is also much easier to load and unload than a Jon boat.
When it comes to size, bigger kayaks can often be purchased more cheaply than bigger Jon boats though when you compare them like-for-like (as far as construction material goes, for example) they are usually priced similarly. Sometimes a kayak is even more expensive like this two-seater Pro Angler kayak that retails for over six grand which is expensive when you compare it to a 4 seater Tracker Jon boat that retails for less than four grand – the difference being that the kayak is kitted out for ocean-use fishing and the Jon isn’t.
If you plan to fish in the ocean then I advise you get a sea fishing kayak as it will give you more opportunity to hit the water more often than a Jon boat which is limited to fair weather, low winds and must be used in close proximity of the shoreline to stay safe.