Jon boats come in 2 basic types and are constructed from a variety of different materials from wood to fiberglass though the most common is aluminum. Here we will take a look at the two different Jon boat types and the most popular types of materials used for building them.
Jon boats come in two types; flat-bottomed or modified-v. They were originally made from sawn boards of ‘Jack’ pine but today are usually constructed from fiberglass or more commonly, aluminum. Aluminum Jons come in two types; sections that are welded to form a solid structure or just riveted together.
- Jon boat types
- Construction materials used for Jon boats
- Jon boat sizes
- Specific-purpose Jon boats
- Jon boat manufacturers
- How to build a Jon boat
Jon boat types
Jon boats are the workhorses of the water. They are very popular lightweight utility boats used by thousands of fishermen, hunters, utility workers and leisure seekers in waterways all across the world. They are relatively inexpensive due to their simple design and easy construction. Jon boats are easy to produce commercially or as home projects.
In very basic terms, a Jon boat consists of a hull section that is stiffened with one or more bench seats across the beam and a sturdy transom to house an outboard motor. These basic parts are common to all Jon boats however the materials used to build them vary from marine plywood to fiberglass to aluminum and the hull design can differ.
Although there are many small variations between Jon boats made by different manufacturers there are only two basic types.
A Jon boat comes in 2 basic types:
- Flat bottomed Jon boats.
- Modified v-hull (also known as modified-v or semi-v) Jon boats.
A traditional Jon boat, and arguably the most popular type, has a flat-bottomed hull that is built with minimal components.
A flat bottom Jon boat is ideal for calm shallow inland waterways.
The flat bottom hull design means this type of boat is exceptionally stable in calm water. What’s more the very shallow draft of the boat means it can easily access extremely shallow waters of just a few inches in depth.
This makes a flat bottom Jon boat ideal for use in calm inland waters where very shallow areas would prevent other boats access. Duck hunters usually prefer flat-bottomed Jon boats as this type of boat allows them to get deep into the marshes and very close to river banks without the fear of snagging the bottom of the boat.
Of course this design does not come without its disadvantages.
Although a flat bottom Jon boat is incredibly stable in calm water it is the opposite in rough water. Jon boats and choppy waters do not mix well.
The shallow draft that makes a flat bottom Jon boat so stable and versatile in calm shallow waters is its downfall in choppy waters.
The aforementioned advantages come at the expense of stability in challenging weather conditions. It is for this reason that the modified v-hull Jon boat was made.
Modified-v Jon boats
Like its flat-bottomed brother the modified-v Jon boat is very popular among inland waterway users. It is used by anglers, duck hunters, utility workers and recreational users throughout the USA and the world.
The mod-v Jon boat was born due to the limitations of the flat bottom hull design. Many boaters, who loved the versatility of the Jon boat but needed something that could handle rougher water, wanted a similar boat that they could use in more challenging conditions. This was especially needed for boaters who, although they boated on shallow inland waters, encountered much more challenging water conditions.
Hence was born the modified-v Jon boat.
Modified-V Jon boats are also known as modified V-hull and Semi-V Jon boats.
A modified-v Jon takes the basic design of the Jon boat but gives it a more angular bottom for better stability in challenging water and a sharper bow for cutting through waves.
When a standard Jon boat encounters very choppy rough water and waves, it tends to become unstable due to its flat-bottom hull and very shallow draft. However, because of its deeper semi-v type bottom a modified v-hull Jon boat remains much more stable and is thus able to handle much more challenging waters.
This ability to better handle choppy waters does come at a price though. The semi-v bottom that offers that added stability in choppy water detracts from the stability in calm water (though not by much).
The real disadvantage of using a modified-v Jon boat is that you will no longer have access to extremely shallow areas. Where a flat bottom Jon boat has such a shallow draft that it can access areas with mere inches of water, a modified-v Jon boat is much more restricted because it has a deeper draft.
Which type of Jon boat is best for you?
The choice between the two types of Jon boat is largely dependent of the environment in which you intend to use it.
If you boat in calm shallow waters then a flat bottom Jon boat is your best choice.
If you regularly encounter choppy or challenging waters then a modified-v Jon boat is probably your best choice.
If you also intend to take your Jon boat into the ocean regularly you will be much safer in a modified-v boat. However, be sure that you are fully acquainted with the drawbacks and dangers associated with using a Jon boat in the ocean as I outlined in this article.
Construction materials used for Jon boats
So now that you know which types of hull design Jon boats have what about the construction materials used?
The various types of material used in Jon boat construction are:
- Wood (mostly seen in home builds).
- Wood wrapped in fiberglass.
Choosing which Jon boat to use is determined by its intended use but ultimately, cost is usually also a deciding factor. Whether your Jon boat is used for fishing or leisurely rowing, construction materials can have an impact on the cost of the boat.
However, materials used for Jon boat construction also have their own advantages and disadvantages so let’s look at these in more detail.
Wood is the traditional Jon boat building material that remains popular to date. Some say that the ‘Jon’ name was conceived from Jack pine, the original material used in Jon Boat construction.
Modern marine ply is regarded as the building material of choice these days though as it is not only very versatile but it is also relatively inexpensive and can be bought at a local store.
Traditional Jon boats are renowned for their simple construction design. Their simple flat bottom, straight sides and overall small size means building one from plywood is possibly one of the easiest ways to produce one.
A self-build Jon boat can be constructed in a short time with most common tools and without the need for any great knowledge of boat building. In fact, building Jon boats using wood is fairly straightforward and building this type of boat is a good place to start when learning the rudiments of watercraft construction. I wrote a post showing you how to build a flat bottom Jon boat.
However, there are disadvantages when using wood as a Jon boat’s main construction material. Even if the boat is taken good care of and well preserved, the wood will absorb moisture and rot over time. Wooden boats require much more maintenance than other types and costs are also incurred in maintaining the boat with paint and varnish.
Advantages of using wood
- Readily available material.
- Easy to construct.
- Cheap to build and repair.
- Easy to work with for a home build project.
Disadvantages of using wood
- Absorbs moisture and rots over time.
- Ongoing maintenance required.
- Not as robust as fiberglass or aluminum.
Fiberglass is a modern material made from woven fiber sheets that, when used in conjunction with resins, bond to become a composite material. This composite material is very strong and light and can be molded to produce many different complex shapes.
Fiberglass is also referred to as Glass reinforced plastic (GRP) or Fiber reinforced plastic (FRP). These refer to the same materials and in industrial terms are rarely used in high performance applications but are generally excellent materials for swimming pool lining, shower cubicles and panels etc. and of course, for building Jon boats.
A Gelcoat finish is added to the exterior of the fiberglass hull and offers protection from water penetrating the fiberglass layers. The Gelcoat also contains the color and enhances the look of the boat when polished to a smooth shiny surface.
The quality of the GRP will be dependent on the type of glass fabric used in the construction and the type of ‘plastic’ used, as well as the resin that binds the fiberglass. Better quality GRP materials will add to the overall build cost and may also add weight to the boat.
Using fiberglass to construct a Jon boat creates a much sturdier craft that doesn’t encounter the inherent problems associated with wood, providing it’s taken care of. However, many people will still use wood but cover it with a layer of fiberglass. Adding a fiberglass finish to a homemade plywood boat is not that difficult to do and and gives the boat extra protection against damage and the elements.
Building a Jon boat using fiberglass is more expensive than building a plywood boat due to the materials used, the specialist equipment needed and the skilled tradespeople required to build it. There are also a lot less available in the marketplace compared to the more popular aluminum.
Advantages of using fiberglass
- Can be easily molded, even into complex shapes.
- Robust and fairly lightweight.
- No painting required.
- Minimum maintenance.
- Easily repaired (unless it is corroded).
Disadvantages of using fiberglass
- Expensive materials.
- Limited lifespan.
- Fibreglass can become delaminated if damaged.
- Damaged hulls may require expensive professional repairs.
One of the best materials for building a Jon boat is marine grade aluminum. It’s light, durable and very strong.
Specialist metal-working skills are required for building a Jon boat from aluminum which ramps up the construction costs compared to wood and fiberglass alternatives. However, because aluminum Jon boats are built in bulk this tends to drive down the production cost and thus reduces the purchase cost.
Sheet aluminum can be easily formed and welded or riveted to form a basic Jon boat, though more complex hull shapes may require specialist skills and tools.
Marine aluminum needs little to no maintenance as it is highly resistant to corrosion when used in freshwater environments. Paint in this case is used on aluminum Jon boats purely for aesthetic reasons.
Aluminum is corrosive in salt water conditions and therefore hulls must have a protective coat, such as a paint finish, to guard against corrosion. Although Jon boats are not designed to be used in rough water many people still use them in the ocean (which should be done only under very specific conditions).
If you intend to take your Jon boat into a slat water environment then you must take steps to protect your aluminum Jon boat from salt water as outlined in this article.
Advantages of using aluminum
- Strong, lightweight, durable.
- Little to no maintenance required.
- No corrosion in freshwater environments.
- Long lasting.
Disadvantages of using aluminum
- Protection from salt water environments required.
- May need professionals to carry out repairs.
- Heavier with more water displacement.
Jon boat sizes
The most common sizes for Jon boats are between 10 to 21 feet in length.
Smaller 8 foot Jon boats are less common as are larger 21+ foot boats.
Your choice of size of boat will usually be dictated by what the boat will ultimately be used for and the the type of passenger and weight capacity you need. I covered the common weight capacities of Jon boats in this article.
Several factors need to be considered before selecting the correct Jon boat size.
Firstly, decide exactly what the boat is to be used for i.e. fishing, duck hunting or general utility use.
Secondly, consider the type of waterway it’s likely to be used in.
It might be unwise to use a small 8 foot Jon boat in a large lake for example where the chance of sizable waves and choppy waters can easily cause the boat to become overwhelmed and take on water.
On the other hand, a large 21 foot Jon boat my become difficult to handle in narrow waterways and may be too cumbersome to maneuver in tight spots near the water’s edge.
Obviously the larger the boat the more difficult it will be to handle when moving the boat from land to the water and vice versa. Larger vessels will need to be towed by a trailer and may need more than one person to assist with launching.
Larger Jon boats will also require larger motors which will add considerably to the cost of owning and running the boat as well as adding to the boat’s weight. However, there are advantages to using a larger boat that you may need to consider before deciding on which boat type best suits your needs.
Smaller range Jon boat characteristics
- Easy to handle.
- Well suited to small bodies of water.
- Can be transported easily on the roof of a car or in the bed of a truck.
- Easy to handle in and out of the water.
- Cheaper to buy and maintain than larger counterparts.
- Can be constructed quite easily and cheaply as a home project.
- Smaller 8 foot boats are unsuitable for large open bodies of water where there may be a danger of choppy waters.
- Limited deck space.
- Can only handle small engines and are therefore slower.
- Not great for traveling long distances for example between hunting or fishing grounds.
Larger range Jon boat characteristics
- Can handle larger bodies of water and be more stable in choppy waters.
- Can accommodate much larger motors.
- Offers more deck space and storage.
- Allows for higher number of crew members.
- Not well suited to very narrow bodies of water.
- Generally, more expensive especially when constructed from aluminum.
- Requires more storage space when out of the water.
Overall the size of Jon boat you need is very dependent on the intended use so think carefully about your individual needs and remember, there is no ‘best boat’ but rather the best boat for you.
Specific-purpose Jon boats
There are lots of Jon boat manufacturers offering a wide range of different sized boats. But size isn’t the only thing to think about.
Some manufactures sell Jon boats that have been tricked-out for specific purposes from simple fishing vessels with inbuilt rod holders and fish-finders (though it’s often cheaper to install a fish finder yourself as I demonstrated here) to camouflaged hunter boats (though you can complete your own camo job easily)and even Jons with shooting decks for bowfishing.
Below are a list of the top Jon boat manufacturers with links to their websites.
Jon boat manufacturers
Below is a list of Jon boat manufacturers based on construction material. Costs vary but you can get a run-down of the typical costs associated with buying a Jon boat here.
Before you buy a Jon boat be sure to read our Jon boat buyer’s guide so you get the best possible boat for you. This guide is essential reading if you intend to purchase a used boat!
Aluminum Jon boat manufacturers
Fiberglass Jon boat manufacturers
It is much easier to find fiberglass flat-bottom skiffs.
- Kencraft. Their Bay Rider range are marketed as skiffs but the design is more like a Jon boat such as their 1660 Duck Rider Edition.
- River Hawk. Great range of flat bottom skiffs. Their duck boats are semi-v Jons.
- Carolina Skiff
- Jones Brothers. Make great bateau boats. To learn more about this unique boat type read this.
If you want a wooden Jon boat you will most likely have to make it yourself.
How to build a Jon boat
If you’re keen on DIY and home projects and have always wanted to build your very own Jon boat then a good place to start is to refer to ready made plans.
I wrote an entire post here outlining a detailed plan for constructing a plywood flat-bottomed Jon boat. The post even shows you how to make your own outboard motor from an inexpensive weed wacker.
If you intend to use a Jon boat building plan instead make sure you use a reliable source like this one. Using tried and tested plans takes the worry out of trying to solve construction problems and a good build plan will offer easy to follow instructions as well as a detailed inventory of the tools and materials needed.
Construction plans provide straight forward, concise instructions that include layouts for cutting out the individual components, fastening and fixing techniques, materials list and of course, provide an overall step-by-step guide for building the boat.
To help keep costs to a minimum when building your own Jon boat, a good boat plan will incorporate the use of readily-available stock-sized materials which will eliminate the need to excessive cutting and greatly reduce waste.
One of the main advantages of building your own boat is that modifications can be built into the design to suit you and your use for the boat.
As I already outlined above, plans like these are available for building Jon boats of different sizes and from various materials such as marine plywood, fiberglass or aluminum. You can also follow my detailed Jon boat build guide in the post how to build a flat bottom boat.
It may take time to construct but with a little care and attention, it is immensely rewarding to build your own boat and create a unique specially crafted boat that fits your exact needs.