Small Boats: What Are My Options?

small boats

Small boats are where many people discover a love for the water, and if you’ve been plugging through our Boat Finder Tool trying to find small boats that would be ideal for your needs, you’ve surely encountered lots of options. And it’s little wonder there are so many small boats to choose from. Small boats are less expensive to buy and operate than large boats, they’re easier to tow or load on a trailer, and they 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 doo-dads and gizmos 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 a bit easier, we can whittle down the field to the top 10 small boat contenders.

Types of Small Boats

  1. Jon Boats
  2. Skiffs
  3. Dinghies
  4. Inflatables
  5. Aluminum Fishing Boats
  6. Pontoon Boats
  7. Car-Toppers
  8. Canoes and Kayaks
  9. Jet Boats
  10. Personal Watercrafts (PWCs)

Explore Different Boat Types

types of small boats

Jon Boats

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 they’re 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 boat that’s relatively small and open, so there’s a very wide range of candidates.


Dinghies again come in many different 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 common), and are often used as tenders to transport people and gear from a boat to shore.


Inflatable boats come in two basic flavors: 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 essentially bounce off of anything they might hit, but RIB versions are also considered extremely seaworthy and are used in many commercial and search-and-rescue applications, as well as for recreational purposes.

small boat types


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 very expensive pontoon boats on the water, there are also plenty of small models 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 craft are amazingly popular, and even though the vast majority of them don’t have any form of mechanical propulsion, they’re still boats. In fact, there are some shockingly advanced models designed and built 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.

Jet Boats

While there are some large and rather complex jet boats in this world, there are also some small ones that can be quite thrilling to drive. Most have inboard jet engines that create thrust by blasting high-pressure water through a nozzle, rather than spinning a propeller. But there are outboard version 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 hair-pin turns.

So—have you made up your mind as to which small boat you’d like to own? With all these options to choose from, it’s no surprise if you’re still trying to choose which one would be the best. 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.

Read Next: Choosing the Right Boat Type for You

Looking for more information on narrowing down your boat options? Read...


Day Cruising