What is a Jon Boat? [2022 Update]


Updated on September 16, 2022 by

A jon boat is an aluminum boat of less than 18 feet with a flat hull primarily used for fishing.

Kayak fishing is wildly popular in many parts of the world, but there has long been a way of fishing out of a small vessel that has allowed anglers to have many of the same advantages for decades. We are, of course, referring to the aluminum jon boat. 

If you’re unfamiliar with these handy, functional little boats, we’ve compiled this article to explain some of the following questions:

  • What is a jon boat?
  • What advantages does a jon boat have?
  • Differences in a jon boat vs other boats

What is a Jon Boat? 

A jon boat is a term used to refer to an aluminum boat that usually has a flat, or nearly flat hull and bottom. Nobody really knows why these boats were given the name “Jon” yet there is ample evidence that they were first pioneered toward the end of the 19th century by a man named Bill Barnes. A native of Galena, Missouri, Barnes was an avid outdoorsman and was very much at home on the famous James River, upon which the town of Galena was situated. 

According to a newspaper clipping from 1904, the term “Jon boat” is first mentioned and credited to Barnes, who was known to spend quite a bit of time floating and guiding on the James River. With the James River being what Barnes would have considered home to Barnes, the name “Jon” could, perhaps, be a Biblical reference to James and John, two brothers who were fisherman and later left life on the water to follow after Christ. However, this is mere speculation. 

A Jon boat is typically a smaller vessel that’s often less than 18’ in length and is fully made of aluminum. This aluminum material makes the boat nearly indestructible and virtually eliminates the common concerns most boaters have when it comes to a boat’s hull being in a river where there are countless dangers that might punch a hole in the vessel. 

The following are some of the most common characteristics of a Jon boat with an explanation about why these points separate this aluminum vessel from almost every other kind of boat. 

jon boat
An example of a Jon Boat, Source: LoweBoats

Flat Bottom 

In most cases, a Jon boat will have a flat bottom, or one that is very close to being flat with a low V-shaped hull design. This is meant to help these boats pass over logs, rocks, and shallow sections of waterways where they are used. 

In lakes and rivers throughout North America, there are seemingly endless dangers lurking just beneath the water’s surface, waiting to permanently damage the hull of any boat that ventures too far into rugged sections of such waterways. 

Anyone with a bass boat would likely not consider taking their boat on most major rivers where the water is unpredictably shallow and filled with debris as there are many obstacles that can severely damage their hull. However, a Jon boat can confidently allow anglers to travel over any water they choose without risk of sustaining damage thanks to the durable aluminum hull and it’s flat design, which is capable of ‘skipping’ over such debris. 

Squared Transom and Bow Shape 

Another hallmark of a Jon boat is the squared transom and bow instead of other boats which usually have a pointed bow. The squared transom stern makes it possible to mount your choice of gas or electric powered motor on the rear portion to power the boat along. For most anglers, myself included, I choose to have a gas-powered outboard motor attached to the transom along with the gas tank and battery in the stern tank well. 

There are some job boats that have a squared bow that comes with a small ‘shelf’ on the bow. This is made so that users can easily step on and off the Jon boat’s bow without having to position the boat at a certain angle. It also makes it extremely easy to hop out of the boat when you run into significantly shallow water, grab hold of the center of the bow and drag the boat over the shallow section of water until you once again reach a suitable depth where you can re-enter the boat by stepping on the squared bow. 

For anglers like myself who commonly use their Jon boat to fish large lakes and reservoirs, I have a Jon boat that has a V-shaped bow and hull design. This subtle, but noticeable difference helps the boat cut through the water when it’s powered by a gas-engine outboard motor. With these type of Jon boats, it’s often important to have a casting deck on the bow to offset the heavy weight of the engine, gas tank and battery in the stern section. Read more about how to outfit a jon boat for bass fishing here

Lightweight and Tough

The two most important aspects of a Jon boat are that they are always going to be lightweight and tougher than the average “bass boat” you might find other anglers using on large lakes and reservoirs. The more expensive bass boats that are used by the professional anglers are extremely heavy and have very little durability when it comes to their hulls and what might happen if you run into logs, rocks or other debris. 

Jon boats can be used for a wide variety of different purposes, not just fishing. In times of emergency, it’s common to see everyone from fishermen, emergency response teams and even the National Guard using aluminum Jon boats to navigate flooded areas and rescue those who might be trapped in dangerous areas. 

The great thing about the Jon boat’s lightweight build is that a few users can very easily carry it until they find a suitable launch point. It’s this reason why I find a short, lightweight Jon boat to be the perfect vessel to fish in most rivers. I have a 14’ Jon boat that’s not outfitted with any type of motor—only paddles and an anchor—which I use to fish along the rivers around the southeast. These rivers are areas where a bass boat simply can’t traverse, but a lightweight Jon boat is right at home and makes it possible to find those hard-to-reach spots where nobody else fishes. 

Customizable 

Another thing that makes Jon boats so popular among anglers is the ability to customize these boats so that they have just the right gear and equipment that you need. There are several ways you can outfit a Jon boat for bass fishing or for targeting any other type of species and it’s extremely easy to do so. Jon boats feature bench seating which can be used as a platform to place a wooden casting deck upon, or to rig a high-backed seat onto for more comfortable fishing. 

You can also choose to place an electric or gas-powered motor on your Jon boat to fish in freshwater or saltwater environments. There is virtually no limit of things you can do with an aluminum Jon boat and it’s just as customizable as any kayak while also allowing you more room to move around as well. 

Disadvantages of a Jon Boat

While it is true that a Jon boat allows you to have plenty of advantages on rivers and small lakes, there are some obvious drawbacks to these vessels that should be taken into account. The flat hull design and shape is not very conducive to navigating through choppy waters such as you might find in coastal areas or on large lakes. In fact, a Jon boat might be more at risk of capsizing in these conditions, especially when loaded-down with gear. 

A Jon boat’s aluminum design is also much louder than other materials that bass boats are made out of. This means a small tool, such as a pair of fishing pliers, hitting the deck of a Jon boat will certainly make a loud sound and will alert any nearby fish to your presence and position. 

The larger, more wide hull of a bass boat is also going to offer much greater stability than any Jon boat could have. Even if you customize your Jon boat so that it has evenly-dispersed weight and a casting deck, it won’t quite be as stable as a quality bass boat. 

Conclusion

In summary, if you’re an angler who mostly fishes around large lakes and reservoirs where there is little chance of running over debris or shallow water, it’s probably better to have a bass boat. However, if you want to have a more lightweight, versatile option that will allow you to fish nearly anywhere, it’s truly hard to find a more suitable option than a Jon boat. 


Photo of author

Donny Karr

Donny Karr is a Tournament Angler and writer whose work has been featured in magazines for nearly a decade. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He enjoys bass and crappie fishing in the lakes around the south-eastern United States, as well as trout fishing in the streams and rivers of the Appalachian mountains. He enjoys keeping up with the latest news and gear items in the fishing industry and is always looking forward to his next outdoor adventure. Donny has written for Georgia Outdoor News, The Outdoor Trip, Man Can Outdoors, Global Fishing Reports, and Bassmaster.