What is a Jon Boat?
When it comes to relatively small aluminum fishing boats, none are as prolific and popular as the jon boat. But, what exactly makes a boat a jon boat?
Here are the basic traits of a jon boat:
- Jon boats have a flat or nearly flat bottom.
- They have squared-off bows rather than coming to a point at the front.
- Most jon boats are made of aluminum, though there are also a handful of fiberglass and roto-molded polyethylene models on the market.
- Jon boats are very simple and utilitarian, often with little more than bench seats built-in.
- Jon boats tend to be small and light.
- Of all the different types of boats on the market, jon boats are among the least expensive.
Advantages of a Jon Boat
The number-one advantage of a jon boat, and one of the main reasons they’re extraordinarily popular, is their low cost. You can find small jon boats with a price tag in the hundreds, not thousands, of dollars.
- Many can be transported in the bed of a pick-up truck or on a roof-rack, and even the larger models are light enough to tow with the smallest of tow vehicles.
- In some cases all you’ll need to power them is a pair of oars or an inexpensive battery-powered electric trolling motor. And if a gasoline outboard is in order, thanks to their flat bottoms and light weight it doesn’t take much horsepower to get them on plane.
Put all these factors together, and it’s easy to see that Jon boats are not only inexpensive to buy, things like fuel and storage bills that can add to the cost of ownership are also very low.
Thanks to their simplicity jon boats are also essentially maintenance-free. In most cases they have few or no moving parts so there aren’t any accessories to break. And as far as clean-up goes, just blast off a jon boat with the hose, maybe take a few swipes with a scrub brush, and the boat will look as good as new.
The small, light nature of a jon boat also makes it a natural choice for those who fish in shallow water. Whether you’re a freshwater fishing fanatic or saltwater fishing is more your style, you can gain an advantage over many other boat designs because jon boats have minimal draft.
Drawbacks of a Jon Boat
As with all genres of boats, of course, there are also some downsides to jon boats. The biggest one many people would point to is a lack of creature comforts. Remember, in its most basic form a jon boat is essentially just a hull with ribs and bench seats. A long day out on the water can lead to an aching back, and the exposed ribs are tripping points that can also make it tough to neatly stow large gear like coolers and tackleboxes. Many people address this issue by customizing their jon boat to some degree, often over time to spread out the cost, adding things like swivel seats, fishing rod holders, cup holders, and carpeting or even decking.
Another disadvantage of jon boats relates to that flat hull. Sure, it gives the boat a shallow draft, maximizes stability, and doesn’t need much power to plane. However, a flat bottom often equates to a bumpy, wet ride when there are waves.
Although that flat bottom does optimize stability for a boat’s size and weight, the inherently light nature of a jon boat can also mean its stability is a shortcoming. On larger models this usually isn’t an issue, but on very small jons of 10 or 12 feet, standing up and walking from the bow to the stern can be difficult, at best.
If you’ll be leaving the boat in the water at a dock for extended periods of time, there are some additional factors to consider. Remember that the vast majority of jon boats don’t “self bail” (shed water that falls onto the deck by draining out through gravity-fed scuppers), so leaving one in the water requires installing a bilge pump and/or constant tending. And all aluminum boats can react to certain antifouling paints with galvanic corrosion (which can destroy the boat’s metal hull), so you need to be very careful about using the proper bottom paints on a Jon boat.
There are also a few characteristics to jon boats that anglers, in particular, will want to keep in mind.
- The light weight and flat bottom means they get blown across the surface of the water very easily, which can be problematic when you’re trying to control your drift or keep the boat on a hotspot.
- Also remember that a bare aluminum hull projects sounds through the water very effectively and dropping something in the bottom of the boat or dragging a tacklebox over a rib can spook near-by fish; many anglers mitigate this issue by decking or carpeting the bottom of the boat.
Is a Jon Boat Right for You?
For many people looking to find a simple rig for fishing, row their way to the other side of the lake, or get an inexpensive starter boat, a jon boat will be the perfect choice. That said, different boats are best for different needs and desires, so be sure to read Small Boats: What Are My Options? to learn about some other types of boats you may want to consider.
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