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Types of Small Boats

For many people, learning how to maneuver a small boat is part of their introduction to boating. There are so many different types of small boats available that you can find one for nearly any water activity. Even boaters who own a large boat often have a small boat to use for specific activities they enjoy. So how can you figure out what type of small boat is right for you? Here is a handy guide that includes everything from types of small sailing boats to types of small boats for lakes. 


Types of Small Boats

While there is no official definition of a small boat, most people agree that the term applies to vessels that are less than 30 feet long. The type of small boat that is right for you will depend on what activities you want to pursue and what bodies of water you are planning to visit. Here are the basic types of small boats you will find during your search. 


small motorboat


Jon boats

The common features of a jon boat include an aluminum hull shaped with a flat bottom and a squared-off bow, an outboard engine, and bench seats. The light and simple construction of these boats makes them easy to launch, load, and store, and they require very little maintenance. They are also one of the least expensive options available when buying a boat. 

Small jon boats



If you’re looking for a simple boat at a moderate price, then a skiff might be the choice for you. Skiff is a catch-all term used to describe boats with a simple hull, an outboard engine, and some seats. Learning how to maneuver a skiff is relatively easy when compared to other types of boats, and its maintenance needs are minimal. A skiff's small size also makes it easy to transport and launch in a wide variety of settings. 



Dinghy is another catch-all phrase that describes a wide variety of boats. Dinghies typically top out at about 10 feet long. They can have sails or a motor, or you can row them with paddles. They can be made of fiberglass, aluminum, or wood, and there are also some types that are inflatable. Dinghies can be used alone or as companions to larger boats to allow boaters to reach shallower water. 


Inflatable boats

There are two basic types of inflatable boats to choose from. The first type is completely inflatable and collapsible because it is soft all the way through. The second type has a rigid hull surrounded by an inflatable ring that rises to become the sides of the boat. Most inflatable boats are shorter than 22 feet, with some models as small as 6 feet long. 


inflatable boats


Aluminum fishing boats

Aluminum fishing boats are a practical choice for small boats. Their aluminum construction makes them lightweight, easy to transport, and simple to maintain. They also tend to cost less than other types of small fishing boats and are one of the most fuel-efficient boat options. Most aluminum fishing boats are 8 to 24 feet long.


Pontoon boats

Pontoon boats come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from mini fishing pontoons to performance pontoon boats for cruising. These small boats are generally between 15 and 30 feet long with a flat profile that creates plenty of open space for multiple passengers. Pontoon boats are one of the most affordable boat options. Being easy to trailer and easy to launch are features that only add to their appeal. 

pontoon boat moored



Canoes are a frequently chosen small boat option because they are easy to use, maintain, and transport. Boaters can use oars to row a canoe in just about any type of shallow water. Many small models are designed to accommodate several passengers. Canoes come in a variety of shapes, including some models that prioritize speed, others that prioritize coasting, and still others that are designed for fishing excursions.



Kayaks are another popular choice for many of the same reasons as canoes. However, instead of having room for several passengers, most kayaks are designed to hold only one or two people. Propulsion through the water is achieved with a double-bladed paddle, and the front is enclosed over the boater's legs instead of open like a canoe. Many boaters choose kayaks for their speed and maneuverability.




Jet boats

If you are looking for a fast small boat with a lot of features, then a jet boat may be the right type for you. Jet boats typically range from 14 to 24 feet long and are built for speed and maneuverability. A jet engine in the boat creates thrust by moving water at high pressure through a nozzle. The engines on jet boats can be inboard or outboard.


Personal watercraft

Personal watercraft are some of the smallest boats available on the market today. They are also some of the fastest, zipping along the surface of the water at speeds that can be difficult for a larger boat to achieve. They're designed to hold one or two people and are sometimes called water bikes and water scooters. You'll find them in both sit-down and stand-up versions. A wide variety of these types of small boats are available from various manufacturers.

two jetskis


Deck boats

Deck boats are some of the largest small boats on this list, with the smallest measuring about 25 feet in length. These boats have the most room for passengers and equipment because they are designed to provide a wide-open deck space with plenty of seating. These boats also come with high-powered engines for speed. Many boaters who want to take their family and friends on the water with them choose deck boats. 


Bowrider boats

Bowrider boats are another option for those looking for larger boats in the small-boat category. The longest of these boats is 28 feet, while smaller versions are as small as 16 feet in length. Their V-shaped hull cuts through the water. These versatile boats can be used on nearly any body of water and are good for a wide variety of water activities. 


Types of Small Motorboats

Many types of small motorboats are referred to with the catch-all terms cruisers and runabouts. These terms describe a variety of boats that are considered relatively small powerboats and can have inboard or outboard motors. Cruisers and runabouts include bowriders, deck boats, jet boats, and just about any other type of small boat outfitted with a motor. 


small boats


Types of Small Sailing Boats

If a boat is less than 25 feet long and equipped with a mast, rudder, and sail, it is considered to be a small sailboat. In addition to sailing dinghies, types of small sailing boats include the larger daysailers, also known as dayboats; small sloops with a single-mast rig; and small catamarans that have two hulls for a wide and stable base.

More information: What are the Different Types of Sailboats?


Types of Small Fishing Boats

Just about any small boat can be used as a small fishing boat, but some types of small boats are better suited for anglers than others. The most popular types of small fishing boats are aluminum fishing boats and jon boats because they can be used in many different types of water where fish are plentiful, including narrow inlets, bays, flats, and shallow shorelines. These types of boats can also come with features specific to fishermen. 

More information: Best Fishing Boat Brands


Types of Small Boats for Lakes

The best types of small boats for lakes are ones that let you travel around the lake with ease. Depending on the size of the lake, this could mean a small, manually powered boat like a canoe or kayak or a larger powerboat like a deck boat. The size of the waves on the lake will also play a role, with larger, heavier boats able to handle larger waves than smaller inflatable crafts or paddleboats. Of course, there is always the option of choosing a mid-range small boat so that you can feel confident on both large and small lakes. 

More information: The Most Popular Types of Lake Boats


lake boat


Types of Small River Boats

One of the most important things to remember about boating on a river is that it will continuously be pushing you downstream. Unless you are only planning to travel downstream, in which case a canoe or kayak would be sufficient, you are going to need a boat with a motor to return to your point of origin. Fortunately, many small boats can be outfitted with a motor, making them suitable as types of small river boats. The most popular small river boats include jon boats, pontoon boats, deck boats, and jet boats. 


The wide variety of types of small boats available can make choosing the best boat a confusing process. At Rightboat, we have a large selection of small boats for all types of boating activities. Browse our collection of new and preowned boats today to see what we have to offer.


Related article: Small sailboat types



Written By: Toi Williams

Toi grew up in coastal New England, Her parents had a second home on Newfound Lake, in New Hampshire. Because of this, Toi was able to enjoy boating at sea as well as in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Today, she regularly wakeboards and waterskis on her Malibu wake surfing boat. She also sailed at sea in Maine, and taken many trips to the Isles of Shoals.

More from: Toi Williams

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