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All Types of Small Boats Are Best

Small boats are the best boats, many boaters will say, and they make several strong points to support their argument. First, small boats provide the best bang for your buck, putting you out on the watery natural world at a low cost. Second, they have the best time-spent-boating to time-spent-on-upkeep ratio of any boat. Third, they are naturally lighter and more portable and easier to pull up on the beach, fit in a truck. and store in out-of-the-way places. Finally, they are the best teachers of boathandling skills; whether you’re a youth or adult, everything you learn in a small boat is applicable to handling a larger one.

And with all that going for them, the best thing about small boats is that there are dozens of different types of small boats available, so you can find one for nearly any water activity. Even boaters who own a large boat will often have a small one to put to work for specific activities and when it’s just too darn much trouble to get the big boat organized and underway. 

See our list of small boats for sale

So what type of small boat is right for you? We’ve organized the handy guide that follows into a dozen different categories, including everything from rowing dinghies sailing boats to kayaks and small powerboats.. 


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 (and some would say much shorter). The type of small boat that’s right for you will depend on what activities you want to pursue and where you are planning to launch your boat. 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. Depending on the price of the engine, they are also among the least expensive options available when buying a boat with an engine. 

Check out our guide on The Best Jon Boat Brands and our wide range of Jon boats for sale.


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 usually used to describe boats with a simple hull, an outboard engine, and some seats. While a Jon boat will sometimes be categorized as a skiff, the skiff is typically a more substantial boat, and in modern use may even be laid out with a center console helm station. 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. 

Skii boats for sale



Dinghy is another catch-all phrase that describes a wide variety of boats, including designated classes of sailboat racing classes. Dinghies typically top out at about 10 feet, but those with sails may be 15 feet long or more. Dinghies can be powered by sails, a motor, oars, or  paddles. They can be made of fiberglass, aluminum, or wood, and there are also some types that are inflatable that may be called RIBs (rigid inflatable boats). Dinghies can be used alone or as tenders for larger boats to allow boaters to reach shallow water and the shore. 

Dinghies for sale


Inflatable boats

There are two basic types of inflatable boats from which to choose. The first type is completely inflatable and collapsible because it is soft all the way through and can be rolled up and stored in the locker of a larger vessel. In the case of dinghy-type inflatables, these will often have wooden floorboards. The second type has a rigid hull, normally made of fiberglass, surrounded by an inflatable ring that rises to form the sides of the boat. Most inflatable boats range from 6 to 22 feet long, but there are a number of models upwards of 40 feet long that may serve as tenders to large vessels such as sailboat racing yachts. 

Inflatable boats for sale

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 among the most fuel-efficient types of small boats. Most aluminum fishing boats are 8 to 24 feet long; the shorter ones may also qualify as a Jon boat, while longer ones such as bass boats may be quite sophisticated and fast.

Aluminum fishing boats for sale


Pontoon boats

Pontoon boats come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from mini fishing pontoons to performance pontoon boats for longer-range day cruising. These small boats are generally between 15 and 30 feet long with a flat profile that provides plenty of open space for multiple passengers. Pontoon boats are one of the most affordable boat options. The fact that they are easy to trailer and easy to launch are features that only add to their appeal. See our articles on the best pontoon boat brands and comparisons between tritoon boats and deck boats.

Pontoon boats for sale


pontoon on a lake



Canoes are a traditional and frequently chosen small-boat option because they are easy to use, maintain, and transport. Boaters use paddles to power a canoe and can transit just about any type of shallow water. Even small models are typically designed to accommodate more than one passenger. 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 a popular modern choice of small boat 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 often enclosed over the boater's legs instead of being open like a canoe. A variation is the sit-on kayak, which has a molded area for sitting and paddling while keeping one’s legs clear of the water. Some kayaks are powered effectively by foot pedals and rotating fins below the waterline.


kayaks / canoes


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, maneuverability, and a thrilling ride. 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.

Jet boats for sale


Personal watercraft

Personal watercraft, sometimes called Jet Skis after one of the top brands,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.

Personal watercrafts for sale




Deck boats

Deck boats are some of the largest small boats on our list, ranging up to 26 feet in length. These boats have the most room for passengers and equipment because they are designed to provide a wide-open deck space forward and aft with plenty of seating. These boats often also come with high-powered engines for speed, and their molded hulls provide good maneuverability. Many boaters with large numbers of family and friends to take on the water will choose deck boats. 

Deck boats for sale


Bowrider boats

Bowrider boats are another option for those looking for larger boats in the small-boat category. The longest of these boats may be well over 30 feet in length and therefore not a small boat at all, but smaller versions often measure in at least than 20 feet.. A bowrider’s V-shaped hull typically cuts well through the waves and maneuvers neatly. These versatile boats can be used on nearly any body of water and are good for a wide variety of water activities. See our guide on the best bowrider boat brands.

Bowrider boats for sale


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. See our article on some of the Best Small Motor Boat Brands.


small boats on a marina


Types of Small Sailing Boats

If a boat is less than 25 feet long and equipped with a mast, rudder, and sail, it will likely be considered a small sailboat. In addition to sailing dinghies, types of small sailing boats include daysailers, also known as dayboats, small sloops and boats with “cat” rigs (one sail instead of two); and small multihulls with two or three hulls for stability. One commonality among many small sailing boats is that their crews may be in for a wet ride if the wind pipes up.

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, including narrow inlets, bays, flats, and shallow shorelines. Ranging from kayaks and aluminum fishing boats to jon boats and skiffs, these types of boats can also be delivered 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 boats you paddle. 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


small 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. 


Related article: Small sailboat types



John Burnham is a marine ​editor and writer with ​decades of journalism experience as ​Chief Editor of​ boats.com,​ Sailing World, Cruising World, and ​other boating websites. As a competitive sailor, he has led teams to world and national titles in the International One-Design, Shields, and other classes. Based in Newport, Rhode Island, John is a​ PCC leadership coach, a member of the ​America’s Cup Hall of Fame Selection Committee​, and a ​past board member of Sail America and US Sailing. For more, see johnsburnham.com.


Toi Williams 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: John Burnham / Toi Williams

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