Best Jon Boats 2022 – Our Top 10 Picks
Crestliner 1860 Retriever (Best Overall)
Lund Jon Boat series (Best Jon Boat for the Money)
F-4 Pro Hull 1754 (Best Jon Boat for Duck Hunting)
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If you’ve been to the Everglades, the Ozarks, or around the bayou, you’re probably already familiar with Jon boats. They’re no doubt the most popular watercraft you’ll see in the South, and with good reason.
Not all waterways are suited to fancy, luxury, high-tech crafts. Some places call for light vessels that can comfortably skim the top of shallow waters. Jon boats are essentially utility boats whose hulls have a special flat-bottomed design that you typically won’t find on any other boat type.
This allows them to sit on top of the water, rather than cruising through it. So, if you plan to go fishing, hunting, collecting lumber – basically any activity that would require you to cruise over skinny waters that have lots of muck, mud, or obstacles in it, like in mudflats, swamps, and other similar areas – a Jon boat is the vessel you need for the job.
The best thing about them is how low-cost they are. This guide explores the 10 best Jon boats, as well as the critical factors you need to consider when buying one.
How to Choose the Best Jon Boats – Buyer’s Guide
If this is your first Jon boat rodeo, you’re probably confused about which brand and model you should go with. While these are certainly important factors to consider, your choice will ultimately boil down to how you intend to use the boat and the environment in which you’ll use it.
Before we get into what you need to look for in the best Jon boats in the market, here are three questions you need to ask before you make that all-important purchase decision.
1. What Will I Use My Jon Boat For
The purpose of the boat determines the type of craft you’ll need. This is an important question that new boaters, as well as their experienced counterparts, need to ask before they decide on the vessel they should buy.
If your boating activities require you to carry loads of stuff – “stuff” here refers to both individuals and gear – then you’re going to need a bigger boat.
2. Where Will I Use It
The next thing you’ll need to consider is the boating environment you’ll be in. It’s not enough to simply pick any flat-bottomed boat you come across. You need to pick the most optimal design for the waters you intend to navigate. This will generally come down to choosing between a shallow draft and a deep draft vessel.
Jon boats with a flat-bottomed hull and a shallow draft are ideal for navigating calm inland waterways such as those in rivers, canals, creeks, lakes, etc. They offer exceptional stability, which is what you want when navigating these tranquil waters.
Their flat-bottomed shallow-draft design, particularly when used under manual propulsion – such as a pole or paddle – makes them quite effective when navigating extremely shallow waters. So, you can comfortably cruise through water bodies that are only a few inches deep.
Keep in mind, however, that not all inland waters are calm. You might come across waterways with choppier waters. In such environments, the flat-bottomed hull design of Jon boats may not work in your favor. You also can’t use deep-draft vessels like those with V-hulls, as these would not be ideal for navigating shallow inland waterways.
So, what is a boater to do in such circumstances? Well, you would need to get a vessel that’s a cross between the two. That’s precisely why modified semi-V Jon boats exist. They offer the stability of their flat-bottomed cousins, but with the ability to sit deeper in the water.
The tradeoff is that they can’t navigate extremely shallow waters. So, your decision to buy one over the other largely depends on the location you intend to use the boat, rather than its specific purpose.
3. How Much Stuff Will I Have Onboard
Finally, you need to think about the number of passengers you intend to ferry and the gear you have to stow. Every Jon boat has a maximum weight capacity that determines the combined weight limit of what it can carry.
This limit is usually higher as the boats go up in size. So, as you would expect, a large boat will have a larger weight capacity than a smaller one. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but this is generally the case.
It is important to keep in mind that bigger doesn’t always equate to better. Larger boats have their own unique set of challenges that gives their smaller counterparts a slight edge over them.
For instance, larger Jon boats often have trouble accessing smaller sloughs or maneuvering tight bends. They are, however, better equipped to ride choppier waters since their larger surface area gives them a higher degree of stability compared to smaller vessels.
So, the best size boat to pick will largely depend on how much stuff you’ll have in your craft and the nature of the waterways you intend to navigate.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Jon Boat
Once you’re clear on the answers to the three questions detailed in the previous section, you’re now ready to pick a boat. The good news is that most Jon boats have the same basic design.
There usually aren’t a lot of variations between the makes and models. Even the customizations are all typically the same. So, making a purchase decision isn’t a mind-boggling task.
Nonetheless, there are still some important considerations to keep in mind when choosing the best Jon boats to buy. Here are the top ones.
There’s a reason this is number one on our list. Size is by far the most important consideration when buying a Jon boat. As stated in the previous section, the size of the vessel you get will largely be determined by your intended purpose for the boat.
If you plan to go for solo fishing expeditions on tranquil inland waterways, then an 8-10 ft. Jon will suffice. These could either be used with a paddle or pole. If you’re all about getting to your destination fast, you can get a Jon boat with a small trolling motor.
If, on the other hand, you plan to go boat camping with your family, you’ll likely need a bigger boat to stow all your camping gear and family members. You may even need to carry along your dogs. If that’s the case, you might want to get a 14-18 ft. boat with a fairly large motor. If you plan to go hunting, you’re going to need an even bigger boat.
Check the boat’s carrying capacity to make sure that you get the right one for your needs.
Spoiler-alert! The majority of Jon boats from the biggest brands only offer Aluminum models. If you look hard enough, you might come across some made from wood or fiberglass. Wooden Jon boats are often handmade. So, if you do come across them, they are likely the result of a home DIY project.
Fiberglass boats, on the other hand, are more expensive, which beats the purpose of getting a Jon boat in the first place. They are supposed to be a cheaper low-cost alternative to all the other types of boats you’ll come across. But, if you feel like splurging, then, by all means, go right ahead.
Aluminum tends to be the most common construction material for Jon boats, given how lightweight and durable they are. The fact that they are also pretty cheap is a definite bonus.
Keep in mind that aluminum boats aren’t durable when used in saltwater lakes or on ocean shorelines. Salty water corrodes aluminum quite fast. In such circumstances, you’re better off using fiberglass Jon boats or take preventative measures to protect the aluminum against corrosion.
The other thing you need to consider is the method used in the construction of the boat. Ideally, you want one with welded joints as opposed to rivets. The latter tend to corrode quicker over time, which will inevitably cause leaks.
Most Jon boats you’ll come across all have the same basic seating configuration – bench seats. However, most manufacturers allow you to “Build-a-Boat” and customize it according to your needs and preferences. So, if you would much rather have low-back, padded, or pedestal seating configurations, they can do that for you.
Most Jon boats don’t come with an outboard motor. So, if this is something you want to incorporate into your boat, you should be prepared to meet the additional costs that come with purchasing and installing it.
The type of motor you need all depends on the horsepower required to propel the boat at fairly high speeds, even when it’s at its maximum weight capacity.
This is fairly self-explanatory. Nonetheless, it’s important to mention that sticking to your budget might mean making a tradeoff between the size of the boat you want to get and the customizations you intend to make to it.
Be sure to also factor in the cost of the outboard motor if you plan to install one, as well as the cost of any storage units you might require.
Keep It Simple
The best Jon boats should be practical, affordable, and have a pretty basic design. Unless you want to add custom modifications to it like incorporating a semi-V hull to navigate choppier waters or add a bowfishing platform, a basic Jon boat with a paddle and trolling motor is good enough to meet your basic needs.
Any of the 10 brands detailed in this guide would be a great starting point. In the meantime, if you’re in the market for a new bay boat, check out our comprehensive review on the best bay boats.