Small boats are where many people discover a love for the water, and if you’ve been browsing our Boat Finder Tool looking for small boats that would be ideal for your needs, you’ve surely encountered many options.
Small boats are less expensive to buy and operate than large ones, are easier to tow or load on a trailer, and can sneak into tiny waterways that bigger boats can’t access.
Small boats also have an esoteric value that’s difficult to pin down. There’s something special about being physically closer to the water, surrounded by nature without all the extra tools and features found on larger, more complex boats.
In fact, many boat lovers who own large boats also have a small boat or two that they love and enjoy just as much as their bigger craft. But which small boats would be best for you? To make the search easier, we'll review the top 10 small boat contenders.
Types of Small Boats
- Jon Boats
- Inflatable Boats
- Aluminum Fishing Boats
- Pontoon Boats
- Canoes and Kayaks
- Jet Boats
- Personal Watercrafts (PWCs)
Jon Boats are among the simplest and most popular boats around. Many consist of little more than an aluminum hull with a flat bottom and a squared-off bow, bench seats, and an outboard or electric outboard engine. They’re incredibly easy to launch, load, and store and are among the least expensive options for buying a boat.
Skiffs are another form of very simple, basic, all-purpose utility boats. What exactly makes a boat a skiff? This is a catch-all term often used to describe any relatively small and open boat. Due to this, there’s an extensive range of candidates.
Dinghies come in many shapes and sizes and in different versions that can be rowed, motored, or sailed. But they all share a few common traits: they’re usually very small (eight or 10 feet is standard) and are often used as tenders to transport people and gear from a boat to shore.
Inflatable boats come in two basic styles: those that are completely inflatable and those that have a rigid hull surrounded by an inflatable “collar” or ring (usually called a “RIB,” short for rigid inflatable boat).
Most inflatables are made of materials like Hypalon or PVC fabrics. Their main advantage is the ability to bounce off anything they might hit. Still, RIB versions are also considered seaworthy and used in many commercial and search-and-rescue applications and for recreational purposes.
Aluminum Fishing Boats
Aluminum fishing boats come in all shapes and sizes, the only common denominator being that they’re constructed of aluminum. Aluminum boats tend to be light, relatively inexpensive, and fuel-efficient.
Small Pontoon Boats
Although there are some very large and costly pontoon boats on the water, plenty of small models are available that are easy to trailer, easy to afford, and still get you a taste of luxury on the water. There are even different models and designs ranging from mini fishing pontoons to small performance pontoon boats.
Learn more in Buying a Pontoon or a Deck Boat?
This is another catch-all category of boat, with one common denominator: if a couple of people can lift it up and secure it to a roof rack on a car, the boat’s officially a car-topper. Usually, these are very small, simple boats, like Jon boats and dinghies.
Canoes and Kayaks
These small crafts are popular, and even though most don’t have any mechanical propulsion, they’re still boats. In fact, there are some shockingly advanced models designed for specific purposes (such as fishing or maximum speed). Many boaters develop their initial love for the water while paddling or pedaling on a canoe or kayak.
While there are some large and rather complex jet boats, some small ones can be pretty thrilling to drive. Most have inboard jet engines that create thrust by blasting high-pressure water through a nozzle rather than spinning a propeller. However, there are outboard versions of jet engines, too.
Personal Watercrafts (PWCs)
Many people think of personal watercraft (PWCs) more like motorcycles of the water, which has led some to refer to them as waterbikes, or boatercycles. But despite their small size and limited passenger capacity, these are still boats in every sense of the word. They’re also among the most exciting to drive, and many are capable of neck-snapping acceleration, hair-raising high speeds, and exhilarating hairpin turns.
So—have you made up your mind as to which small boat you’d like to own? With all these options, it’s no surprise if you’re still trying to determine which one is right for you.
No matter which ones you may be considering, however, one thing is a sure bet: whether it’s the only boat you have or it’s one of several in the family fleet, your love of the water is only going to grow when you spend time on your own small boat.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated in December 2022.