Few boats are as popular and plentiful as the Jon boat, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that at any given time there are oodles of Jon boats for sale on the market. So, just what makes a boat a Jon? The definition is simple yet broad and can encompass a range of other similar boat types, like skiffs and dinghies: Jon boats are relatively small, simple boats with a flat or nearly flat bottom, bows that are generally squared-off or rounded as opposed to coming to a point, and they have few if any accessories.
Photo credit: SeaArk Boats
Advantages of Jon Boats
The strongest advantage of a Jon boat is its simplicity. With few accessories or integrated systems there isn’t much that can fail or break. Another nice feature of such a simple boat is easy maintenance. Other than hosing off the boat at the end of the day, there isn’t much that needs to be done. And if you have a fiberglass Jon boat (most are constructed from aluminum but more on that topic later), while the hull may need some waxing, the interior will generally be unfinished and easy to clean.
Light weight is a strong suit of Jon boats that’s important to many people, too. Since these boats aren’t loaded down with goodies and gadgets they tend to weigh significantly less than other boats the same size, which means they can be towed by just about any type of vehicle, easily launched and retrieved, and in some cases even lifted into and transported in the bed of a pick-up truck. Plus, between the light weight and flat bottom, Jon boats tend to draft very little, and most will float in mere inches of water.
Finally, a huge advantage of buying a Jon boat is the low cost. Sure, most types of small boats will cost less than larger boats, but this also relates in some measure to the Jon boat’s simple nature. Manufacturers can more or less churn them out and stack them for easy transport to points of sale. So these are some of the least expensive boats you’ll find on the market.
Disadvantages of Jon Boats
The biggest disadvantage of a Jon boat is that very same trait that makes them so appealing in the first place, their simplicity. On a Jon boat, you’re likely to find bench seats that aren’t so much as cushioned. There’s probably no console or windshield to break the wind and rain, nor a T-top to protect you from the sun. Everything you want for a day on the water will have to be carried aboard, since there are few if any integrated features like drink coolers. And even the best Jon boats for fishing generally don’t have features like raw-water washdowns or fishing-tackle stations.
Then, there’s the light weight to consider. Yes, it’s an advantage in many ways, but this too serves up several disadvantages. In a stiff breeze, Jon boats get blown around a lot more than most other types of boats. And when that breeze has kicked up some waves, they can get tossed around quite a bit. Add in the flat-bottom hull design, and the ride can also be very bumpy in any sort of a chop.
Types of Jon Boats
As we touched on earlier, most Jon boats are made of aluminum but some are built with fiberglass, and there are also polyethylene (plastic) Jon boats in the mix.
Aluminum is the most common material used for Jon boats because it’s lighter and generally less expensive than fiberglass. It also dents rather than shattering on impact with rigid items like rocks or trees, which means that the best river Jon boats are almost always made from aluminum. Waterfowl hunters favor aluminum Jon boats, too, because their lighter weight makes them easier to shove around in a mucky marsh.
The second most common material to see Jon boats made of is fiberglass. Fiberglass Jons are usually a bit heavier than their aluminum counterparts, which increases draft but also gives them an edge when it comes to running through a chop without beating up you and your passengers. But don’t forget that fiberglass does take more maintenance than aluminum. On the flip side of that coin, however, many people feel that gel-coated fiberglass also looks a lot better than a drab aluminum finish.
There are only a handful of polyethylene Jon boats on the market, but you will come across them every now and again. Early models were plagued by UV damage and had limited lifespans, but newer models are much better at standing up to the sun. They’re heavier than aluminum and have the same advantages and disadvantages as fiberglass in that regard, but they don’t require waxing and like aluminum Jon boats are virtually maintenance-free. One advantage they hold over the other options is that both the hull and the interior of polyethylene Jon boats are molded, so manufacturers can integrate features like motor mounts, fishing rod holders, and beverage holders.
Photo credit: Lund
Who Makes the Best Jon Boats?
Ask who makes the best Jon boats and you’ll find plenty of room for debate. Different makes and models usually have their own specific advantages and disadvantages, and the judgment as to which is “best” will vary from one person to the next. That said, these top brands are all arguably best in one way or another.
Crestliner makes a wide range of aluminum Jon boats, including some of the best Jon boats for fishing with perks like casting decks, gravity-fed livewells in the bench seats, and mounts for electric trolling motors. The lineup starts at just 10 feet and goes up to an 18-foot model that can be powered with a 20 to 40hp outboard engine.
Excel focuses on building relatively large and complex Jon boats designed specifically for waterfowl hunting or mixed fishing/hunting use. They’re finished in camo patterns and sometimes are powered by air-cooled surface-drive motors, which can propel the boat through a mere skim of water. Most of their lineup is in the 16- to 18-foot range, and since these models are substantially more complex than the average Jon Boat they tend to cost more, too.
The Gator Tough line from G3 Boats ranges from 10 all the way to 20 feet and includes a huge variety of styles and levels of features and outfitting. You can buy a boat from this company that’s bare-bones, or you can get one in package form with a powerplant, trailer, and additional features already installed. G3 has a reputation for building some of the best aluminum Jon boats around, and they’re backed up with an unusually strong five-year bow-to-stern warranty plus a limited lifetime warranty on external weld seams.
Photo credit: G3 Boats
The Lowe Roughneck is an incredibly popular model line and is available in trimmed-out versions with consoles and seats as well as in simple, bare, tiller-steer models. Lowe also offers a number of tunnel hull models, which can be powered by jet-drive outboards to reduce draft. The range goes from 16 to 20 feet and all are available in camo pattern finishes for hunting.
Lund offers a series of no-frills aluminum Jon boats from 10 to 16 feet. These are classic Jons with bench seats, handles on the corners for lifting, and few other features beyond formed-in spray rails and oar locks.
There’s only one Jon boat offered by Pelican, but it’s one of the most popular polyethylene Jons around. Called the Intruder 12, it weighs in at 127 pounds and features motor mounts fore and aft, oar locks, and four integrated fishing rod holders.
Photo credit: Pelican
With a lineup from 10 to 14 feet, the Princecraft Jon boats are straightforward and simple with flat bottoms and no frills beyond bench seating. They do have a slightly unusual offering in the PR 1240, which has U-shaped bench seating aft providing some partially sheltered stowage space beneath.
As opposed to offering just a few limited models, SeaArk has a huge lineup including 29 different Jon boat models , some of which have tunnel hulls designed to run with jet outboards. What really sets SeaArk apart from the crowd, however, is how big they build them. At 26 feet long, their 2672 MV is just about the biggest aluminum Jon boat you’re likely to find on the recreational boat market.
If you’re looking for a fiberglass Jon boat then Supreme Boats will catch your eye. This lineup of long (20 feet) but relatively narrow boats is designed for fishing in lakes and rivers, and can be customized with additional options or features. Each boat is hand-laid and crafted one at a time, as opposed to more common mass-produced Jon boats.
Tracker is one of the biggest boatbuilders around when measured by volume, and up until the Covid crisis offered a full line of 10- to 20-foot, five-inch Jon boats. Currently, however, they have trimmed the lineup back and it currently goes from 16 feet and up, available in base or trimmed-out versions with and without power and trailers.
Photo credit: Tracker Boats
Which of these options will prove ideal for you? That depends on a slew of factors. Are you interested in finding the best Jon boats for fishing, or are you more interested in running the rapids in one of the best river Jon boats around? Will you be using a heavy-duty vehicle to haul the boat on a trailer, or do you want something you can lift up and shove into the bed of a pickup truck? These are questions that only you can answer. Answer them correctly, and you’re in for years of fun on your very own “best” Jon boat.
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