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What is a Jon Boat? – Fundamentals and Important Insight

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

what is a jon boat

The aluminum Jon boat is a popular type of watercraft, and even a new boater may have heard of its name. But what is a Jon boat and what makes it so well-regarded? How can you tell this vessel apart from others?

Jon boats have a flat bottom hull and are usually 18 feet in size or less, making them well-suited for traversing shallow depths. They are very popular as fishing vessels, but there’s more to them than this.

Fishing Jon Boat and More


Jon boat definition refers to smaller flat-bottomed boats popular for hunting and cruising on the water. Setting your eyes on one makes it apparent that jon boats are almost bare, but this also makes them instantly recognizable. The absence of most or any accessories is seemingly a facet of their identity.

When buying a Jon boat, most manufacturers market them as hardcore fishing vessels with duck hunting a probable second use. However, it is worth noting that this is a versatile craft that can handle all sorts of tasks on shallow water.

Where Did Jon Boats Come From?

There are three theories for how these vessels came about, but none is considered definitive. Unfortunately, there is no reliable account of the first Jon boat and its creation.

One account says the first Jon boat came from Scandinavia, with a strong history and culture of building sea-faring crafts. Jon boats are said to have been created by people in the region to travel between larger fishing vessels.

The second origin states that Jon boats came about in the Ozark region of the US, where many shallow bodies of water, such as rivers and streams, exist. This makes it possible that Jon boats were made to cater to the needs of people living near these areas.

The last potential origin of the vessel is a well-known boatbuilder from the 19th century, Charlie Barnes. He is said to have given boat tours to a large number of people, and while Barnes was talking to a reporter, a misunderstanding supposedly gave rise to the name Jon boat.

Boat Characteristics


What does a Jon boat look like? It is easy to recognize Jon boats because they are simple in design. Look at pictures of Jon boats, and you’ll notice that this recognizable appearance is due to their main characteristics:

  • A flat-bottom hull
  • Squared off ends, front, and back
  • A minimalist interior
  • Very low draft and side profile

However, different types of Jon boats also exist, and they may also sport hulls that are not entirely flat. Some may have a V-hull that shifts to a flat mold toward the back.

The characteristics of a V-hull Jon boat are as you would expect, becoming more capable of cutting through choppy water but less stable in calm and shallow areas.

The typical Jon boat sizes range from 10 to 18 feet, although there may be larger ones reaching up to 24 feet in length. Regardless of size, these vessels are narrow, and having more than two persons on board will make the space feel crowded.

Common Jon boat weight goes for as low as 100 lbs for small ones, while those at 20ft can weigh up to 1200 lbs. To further illustrate the simplicity of the Jon boat design, let’s look at its parts.

  • Hull
  • Built-in seats
  • Ribs
  • Motor

Engines are usually either outboards or trolling motors. The seats are built into the hull, while the ribs run along the interior to reinforce the hull structure. Assembly of these boats usually involves riveting or welding.

In terms of design, metal Jon boats are not the only types available, as there are alternative materials for hulls as well. Both polyethylene and fiberglass Jon boats exist, though they are less common. Wood can also be used, but this reduces the ease of maintenance significantly due to the material’s low water resistance.

A Jon boat used for fishing is also an all-purpose utility vessel. Uses include the following:

  • Racing
  • Hunting
  • Work platform
  • Transport vessel

Meaning Behind the Name

The name Jon boat is simple and easy to remember, but it also has an impression of mystery because there doesn’t seem to be any obvious meaning. It is believed to be tied to the three possible origins of the vessel.

For both the Scandinavian and the Charlie Barnes origins, the boats were named after someone called John, and it is said that this is what stuck. The Ozark origin deviates from the other two because the name supposedly comes from something else.

The Ozark Jon boats were said to have been made from jack pine wood, leading to them being known as Jack boats. John and Jack are said to have been popular and interchangeable names in the past, and the boat eventually came to be called Jon boats instead.

Advantages and Disadvantages


Like any other type of boat, Jon boats have their own advantages and disadvantages. We’ll go over some of their best qualities that make them excellent utility crafts, as well as what makes them less attractive to some buyers.

  • Unparalleled access to shallow waters
  • Very stable and easy to handle
  • Among boats with the lowest price, at below a thousand dollars
  • Easy to propel manually or with low-power motors
  • Simple to clean and maintain
  • Lack most convenience features
  • Prone to getting off-balanced by water movements or wind
  • It can be difficult to stand on a little Jon boat around 12 ft or less
  • Cannot be left at the dock due to the absence of any self-bailing mechanism

Frequently Asked Questions


What makes a boat a Jon boat?

Simplicity is one of its most recognizable characteristics; it is compact and lightweight due to its basic flat-hull design, resulting in affordable pricing. Its versatility and utility are other essential points for this vessel. Extremely adaptable while also being simple is something very few boats can claim to be.

What is considered a Jon boat?

A flat-bottom hull coupled with a square bow and an aluminum build is often associated with this type of vessel. However, other Jon boat designs may also use a pointed bow with a V-shaped front half, although such types are less common.

Do you need a motor for a Jon boat?

No, this vessel does not need to be used with motor; a paddle should suffice. However, the versatility Jon boats possess is probably their biggest asset, and it is wise to have some sort of reliable means of propulsion aside from an oar as a backup.

Simply put, a motor is useful in lessening the work to move the boat, especially if you have a bigger vessel.


What is a Jon boat? Now you know what to expect from such a vessel; this includes its characteristics and what uses to get out of them. You should be able to make the most out of such a craft should you get the chance to use one.

Have you tried using a Jon boat? Are they as great as most people make them out to be? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.

Remember to boat safely.

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