What is a Jon Boat? (& What Are They Used For?)

what is a jon boat

Beauty is in the simplicity of the boat owner. The question, "What is a jon boat?" has been posed several times throughout the years. In this guide, we'll walk you through the essentials and interesting bits of information concerning jon boats. Consider this your Jon Boat 101 class, and if you are ready to attend, keep reading!

What are the Main Characteristics of a Jon Boat?

Here is a quick list of characteristics to identify a jon boat:

  • Flat bottom/hull
  • Square-ended design
  • Aluminum, fiberglass, or wooden base material
  • Affordable pricing
  • Small size and narrow dimensions
  • Limited seating capacity

What is a Jon Boat Used for?

Here are the most common uses:

  • Fishing
  • Lake or river boating
  • Traveling from dock to dock across peaceful waters
  • Back-up, emergency, or secondary mode of water-based transportation

Why is a Jon Boat Called a Jon Boat?

Interestingly enough, there are several theories surrounding the origin of the jon boat's name. Let us discuss a few of the most commonly cited origin stories:

Jack Boats to Jon Boats

Towards the end of the 19th century, flat-bottomed boats were very common methods of transportation to get across Ozark areas (such as certain regions of Arkansas and the waters in and around Missouri and Missouri Valley).

Back then, these flat-bottomed vessels were constructed with readily available natural materials such as lumber and pine, and more specifically, jack pine.

As it had not developed a name yet, these flat-bottom boats were coined as jack boats, in direct reference to one of its key materials.

For one reason or another, the term "jack" was dropped and was replaced with "jon" which has now brought us to what we now know today as a jon boat.

John the Creator

People from Northern Europe (Sweden, Denmark, and Norway) were committed fishermen who relied on lightweight boating techniques in lakes with minimal waves and shallow water portions to obtain the necessary catch to provide food to their communities as an alternative to land-based hunting.

Because marine hunting was such a fruitful endeavor with several advantages over land-based hunting, many people from Scandinavian fishermen took advantage of the calm waters and serene lakes by designing a flat-hull, flat-bottomed boat that could carry one or two fishermen within close range of land or the shore.

According to the theory, one of the most notable fishermen who took advantage of this light weight vessel named his boat after himself (john boat or jon boat), and the name just stuck ever since.

This is John's Boat

Another prominent theory transpired in the 19th to 20th century, where a man named Charlie Barnes was credited with creating hundreds of flat-bottom boats that were used for float fishing. According to some accounts, the stability, design, and optional equipment have proven Barnes' contraptions to be tough enough to ride the waves of rivers, lakes, and rugged shallow waters.

From a national standpoint, Charlie Barnes' boats were a hit. Purchases went through the roof, with a clientele ranging from middle-class industry workers to business owners and celebrities.

The fame of Charlie and his flat-hull, flat-bottom vessels landed him in several interviews with media personalities. In one of his interviews, however, he mistook a question regarding his boat for a question asking who owned the boat that was on display, which led to his response, "... John's boat" which, in turn, led to the identification of his creations as john boats.

Who Invented the First Jon Boat?

There is no definitive account of who built the very first jon boat, as the similarities in construction of flat boats across the globe can attest.

However, if we were to attribute it to a single individual, we would have to give the credit to Charlie Barnes as there were actual accounts pointing to his production of square-ended boats.

What are Jon Boats Made of?

Jon boats were originally made of pine wood, but these days, they can be made with any (or a combination of) the following materials:

  • Aluminum
  • Fiberglass
  • High-quality Wood

How Big are Jon Boats?

In terms of size, jon boats are relatively small compared to other vessels. A jon boat would typically fall within the 8 feet - 16 feet range, with some models going to as long as 24 feet to accommodate a longer bench, more seats, thicker support ribs, or better transom modifications and add-ons.

How Much Do Jon Boats Weigh?

Jon boats are fairly heavy, despite the size of most models offered today. A basic jon boat typically weighs in at around 350 to 500 pounds, including the necessary equipment, seats, and stability mechanisms.

However, larger jon boats can match the size of an average boat, reaching up to 900 pounds. Heavier jon boats usually offer more stability, have high-quality bench upholstery, support ribs, materials, can accommodate many people, and a whole list of unique advantages. But the larger ones don't exactly come cheap, which leads us to the next section.

How Much Do Jon Boats Cost?

what is a jon boat used for

Jon boats are identified as entry-level boats for fishing, hunting, and casual boating across shallow waters. Jon boats, especially the modern-day versions, are made with premium materials such as aluminum and fiberglass, so the market pricing, both for the used market and the brand new market, have adjusted accordingly.

For a small, brand new jon boat (8 feet- 12 feet or 96 inches - 144 inches), expect to shell out around $800. For those that are at least 14 feet, expect to pay anywhere from $1,500 - $4,000.

Most high-end jon boats include premium wood finishes, more accessories, better seating capacity, sturdier design and sleek design with aluminum and fiberglass builds, and much better utility and engine power.

Benefits of Jon Boats

Modifications and Accessories

Part of the fun of purchasing a rather basic, cheap, or simple-looking jon boat is on the surface it may look like nothing special. However, you can treat the deck, hull, motor as blank canvasses just waiting for more add-ons and accessories. You'll then realize that in terms of a simple boat, jon boats can look like and be exactly like a custom-built fishing boat that can provide you with everything you need and want, at a significantly lower price point.

For frequenting calm, shallow water, then perhaps equipping your jon boat with a light weight bimini would be beneficial. If your deck is constantly wet by water that splashes onto you during turns and acceleration, you could definitely find rubber matting to be placed around the stepping areas of the flat-bottom deck to avoid accidents. If you want a relatively cheap way to add more horsepower to your boat, then you may want to look into an auxiliary or secondary outboard motor engine to provide more power despite the added weight.

The jon boat is powered by your own water-based needs and requirements, so you should definitely consider this if you are looking for a personalized vessel.

Weight and Mobility (Lightweight)

The construction and design of a jon boat may not rival the pricier, more sophisticated boats out in the water, but it is in its simplicity and efficiency that makes it a great lightweight option for first-timers or entry-level fishing enthusiasts.

In most jon boats, the water draft is better than average. This is why coasting along shallow water is never going to be a problem, regardless of the type of outboard motor attached.

The fiberglass and aluminum construction materials utilized also make the boat more mobile and efficient with fuel, making a jon boat one of the very few fishing boats that would not hurt your bank account, even in the long run.

Personal Fishing Experience

If you want to get intimate with the shallow water and deep water regions in your locale, then a flat-bottom, flat-hull jon boat is definitely something you should go for.

When it comes to personal or solo fishing, there is nothing better than this boat. Jon boats are designed for limited capacity, with most boats only being capable of carrying the weight of two average-sized individuals.

You may get away with seating capacity if your boat is powered with a stronger outboard motor, but when it comes to solo trips out into the water to go bass fishing, the jon boat is one of the most ideal vessels, if not the most ideal.


The construction base of a modern-day jon boat can be one of three premium materials: wood, fiberglass, or aluminum. Regardless of your preference, the aluminum, fiberglass, and wood jon boats are built to last.

The hull is reinforced with support beams (or ribs) and the shallow capability is due to its effective water draft (or draft) which allows the vessel to navigate shallow waters without touching the surface of the body of water.

If you were to press us for a suggestion, however, we would ultimately recommend getting a wood jon boat, if you could. We just find it more ideal when we go out to fish for bass and other common fish species.


You are essentially paying for the build and integrity of the hull, the length of the jon boat as a whole, and the flat-bottom design that allows it to be very buoyant and effective in most lake and river-based fishing conditions.

If your fishing expeditions involve only a minor trip away from the docks, then the sweet price point of a jon boat should not be refused. However, if you find yourself straying quite a distance away from the shore or docks for bigger and better fish, then you may want to look into more powerful motor options.


Basic maintenance of a jon boat does not involve hours of work. A simple washdown of seats, equipment, and the motor would do after a basic fish trip.

Even for the most particular boat owners and boat passengers, a jon boat really does not take much. As long as you use the appropriate cleaning solution (such as a salt-removing cleaning solution for saltwater trips), then you shouldn't encounter any problems down the line.

Trailer and Storage Pricing and Length

Compared to its larger boat counterparts, a jon boat is really the most ideal option if you don't have an abundance of space and extra budget for trailering and storing your boat. A trailer for an 8-foot on boat should not cost much. Even for a jon boat that is 24 feet in length, the trailers available would still be competitively priced and there would be no need for custom-built boat trailers under most circumstances.

Drawbacks of Jon Boats

Size and Capacity

If you are planning to have your family or friends along for a fishing trip, then a jon boat would definitely not be able to accommodate the entire group.

Outboard Motor Power and Motor Noise

The noise generated from a full-throttle outboard motor can dissuade a few boat buyers from finalizing the purchase. Keep this in mind and if possible, test it out to hear for yourself.


The jon boats are very niche insofar as its purpose and capabilities are concerned. If you need a more versatile boat option, then you should probably remove this type of boat from your list.

Jon Boat Propulsion Types

Most jon boats rely on engine power, but here are some alternatives to the typical outboard motor:

  • Oars, poles, and paddles (manual)
  • Mud motors
  • Trolling motors

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do they call it a jon boat?

There are several theories surrounding this question and the most prominent similarity is the theory that the boat was named after someone named Jon.

What is a jon boat good for?

A jon boat is good for 1-man fishing trips or outings along a peaceful lake or shallow river.

What makes a boat a jon boat?

A jon boat is considered to be such when it has a flat bottom and hull, is relatively smaller than other boats, and comes at a very attractive entry-level price point.

Are jon boats safe?

Jon boats are definitely safe to use as long as the weight capacity recommendations are followed, along with only using this vessel in peaceful water and weather conditions.


"What is a jon boat?" is a question that you should now be more than capable of answering, having read our comprehensive guide. There truly is utility and fun out of this type of boat despite its limited capabilities. With that being said, if you are only in the market for entry-level vessels, then this should be on top of your list. With that, class is now dismissed!

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