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How to Transport a Jon Boat Without a Trailer

Ian Fortey by Ian Fortey Updated on January 19, 2023. In Jon Boats

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It is possible in some circumstances to transport a jon boat without a trailer provided you have a vehicle of a size to accommodate the boat. That means a truck that’s big enough and a jon boat that’s small enough. But it can be done successfully and many jon boat owners frequently choose this method to transport their boat to and from the water. 

Using You Pick Up Truck Bed

If you want to get a jon boat to the lake but you aren’t able to use a trailer or just don’t want to invest in one, then a pick up truck is your best option. A large number of boaters are going to be using a truck to haul a trailer anyway, so the odds are in your favor that, if you’re looking to get this done, you have a truck handy to use.

If you don’t have a truck I wouldn’t recommend trying to transport a jon boat but I will still tell you how to potentially do it in a minute as well. But let’s start with the most effective and easiest method and that’s using a pickup truck.

Sizing Your Boat and Truck Bed

You can only transport a jon boat up to a certain length in the back of a pickup truck, that goes without saying. However, you may be surprised by what you can accomplish. A short bed truck with 5’6” truck bed can still accommodate a 12 foot jon boat with a little preparation and planning. Most truck beds are therefore able to handle a jon boat. The longer the truck beds, the longer the boat you can potentially transport. A bed extended can also aid in transporting longer boats. Keep in mind, however, the bigger a boat gets the heavier it gets and it becomes less an issue of whether you have room and more an issue of how you can manage the task at all. Always check local laws when it comes to transporting boats and what you need to do with you have an oversized load.

In general, you don’t want too much more than 4 feet of boat sticking out the end of your truck bed but I would say 6 feet is the maximum before it because it is unsafe to transport after that. Measure your boat and your truck bed to make sure length and width are all doable before proceeding. If the width doesn’t work there’s no way to get this done. 

How to Load Your Jon Boat Onto a Truck Bed

  • You’ll definitely want to make sure your boat is stripped of all of the gear before you try this. That includes battery, trolling motor and anything else. The boat alone is how you want to get this done. Everything can be loaded back in later.
  • Strip the bed of your truck of fishing gear and whatever may be in there as well. It’s best to ensure the bed is cleaned also, wiped down of any grit or grease that could make it harder to move the boat or damage the hull.
  • Preinstall some ratchet straps in the back of your truck attached to the D rings or, if you prefer a different kind of tie down, then feel free to use something you know and trust for this task. You can buy things like retractable transom tie down straps which are very much the same sort of thing as ratchet straps but obviously designed specifically for securing boats. I’d be hesitant to use generic bungee cords here as they may not be up to the task or could potentially cause damage to your boat or truck bed, especially if they come loose. 
  • Consider covering your jon boat with a fitted cover. You can store your gear inside of it this way and not risk losing it when you do so. But do that after you get it loaded, of course.
  • Once the boat is ready you can lift it up to the tailgate and start easing it into the truck. This part may take some finesse and depends on a few factors including the weight/size/material of your boat and your truck’s bed. If your jon boat only weighs around 100 to 200 pounds you should be able to handle this task on your own depending on your physical abilities. But you might need a hand to ensure you can get it up and into the boat otherwise, and that’s okay, too. Don’t hurt yourself to accomplish any of this.
  • I’d recommend attaching your ratchet strap or other tie down to the back of your boat after you lift it and rest if on the tailgate, sort of anchor it in place at that moment. Then, once it’s attached, you can head to the bow of your boat and lift while pushing forward. 
  • Make sure the boat is pushed in as far as it can go. For some boats and trucks this will be easy. For others you may get some friction and resistance so you’ll have to work it a bit. Also if it’s a tight squeeze you’ll need to be careful. Ideally you need this to sit perfectly flat on the truck bed to ensure a safe, smooth ride. If it’s not flat, the gear you store in it can shift too much and pull your tie downs loose. Likewise, the tight downs will have a harder time holding a boat if it’s on an angle or not perfectly level.
  • The battery and trolling motor, if you have one, are probably the heaviest items so place these in the boat towards the middle or a little towards the rear of the boat on the bed of the truck itself. This keeps the end of the boat hanging out of the bed from being weighed down and off balance.
  • Finish securing the ratchet straps or tie downs to the bow of the boat now and tighten everything so there’s good tension in a way that keeps it even on both sides of the boat. You want the boat to move as little as possible once it’s been secured so take your time and get it done in a way that you’re satisfied with.
  • Consider attaching a red flag or some other visible caution signal to the portion of the boat extending out of your truck bed at this point, just as a visual aid for other drivers.
  • Once you feel that your jon boat is as secure as you can get it, test things out before you commit to driving anywhere. That means just taking the truck for a short drive. Accelerate and brake to test just how secure the boat is in the bed. You don’t want any surprises on the road. If it seems to work then you’re good to go. If you hear or feel any shifting then undo the straps and start again with tying down the boat until you have it safe and secure. 
  • When it comes time to unload the boat, even if you did the loading yourself, you may want a hand for the unloading since there’s more of a chance of a slip and your boat might fall and hit the ground hard in a way that can damage it. Whether you’re unloading back home or in the water, a second pair of hands can make it go more smoothly. 

Why Use a Truck to Haul Jon Boats?

If you don’t absolutely need a trailer then there are some real benefits to not using one if you can do so safely. For starters, a trailer can cost a lot of money so you’re saving yourself the hassle. Also, you don’t have to worry about registration, security in terms of locks and keeping it safe, or overall repairs and maintenance. So transporting your jon boat in a truck can save you a lot of time and money if it’s a viable option.

Can You Transport a Jon Boat Without a PickUp Truck?

The short answer here is yes, you can! This definitely takes more planning and finesse than using the bed of a pick up truck but you can use a car to transport a jon boat. That being said, you need to make sure your car can transport your boat because this isn’t a 100% guarantee. Not every car can carry every jon boat. That means double check that this can work before you start.

You need to know the carrying capacity of your car to ensure this will work and, of course, the weight of your jon boat. The bigger the boat and the smaller the car, the less likely this will work out. In addition, you’ll need to have a roof rack on your car to make this work as well. Is it possible without one? I wouldn’t risk it at all.

A sedan typically has a towing capacity of around 1,000 to 1,500 pounds so there’s definitely a chance this could work out. Keep in mind, that 1,000 pounds includes you and everything you have in the car, as well. This would be a lot easier with an SUV, but let’s stick to a car for the purposes of this section.

You need to be 100% certain your car is ready and able to handle the jon boat you’re trying to transport before doing this because you could damage both or cause a serious accident otherwise. If you overtax your engine, your brakes, the suspension or any other parts of your car, you may end up with a huge repair bill or worse. Keep that in mind and know that this is not the “ideal” method of transport, but it can work if you are prepared.

How to Transport a Jon Boat on Top of a Car

  • Remove everything from the boat, especially the motor. 
  • You’ll need at least one person to help you get the boat up onto the roof rack. You need a roof rack to prevent dents and scratches and also to ensure you can secure the boat. Load the jon boat upside down as this will let the boat mold to the shape of the car a little better and also prevent more drag as a result of wind scooping into the boat when you’re in motion and any uneven movement caused by the underside of the boat against the rack.
  • Keep the boat centered. A little overhang at the front and back is fine but you don’t want to obstruct visibility on either end. If your boat is too long this wont work
  • Use high quality and strong, secure tie downs to attach the boat to the rack on the car. Like before, you watch ratchet tie downs or transom tie downs that are meant for a boat and can hold it firmly and safely. I lean towards overkill for something like this so use an couple of straps just to be safe. You can use rope to connect the bow and stern to the front and rear of your car as well for increased stability.
  • Test your set up by driving a short distance including accelerating and braking to see how everything holds. If it’s secure, make sure you proceed with caution to your destination.

The Bottom Line

The best way to transport a jon boat without a trailer is in the bed of a pick up truck. Secure it with high quality ties and you can transport boats up to about 14 feet if your truck bed is long enough. It’s possible to transport a jon boat on top of a car as well, though you need a rack to secure it and you need to be 100% positive your car is capable of handling the weight of the boat. 

About Ian

My grandfather first took me fishing when I was too young to actually hold up a rod on my own. As an avid camper, hiker, and nature enthusiast I'm always looking for a new adventure.

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