Sun Dolphin American 12 Jon Boat Review
Ian Fortey Updated on March 14, 2023. In Jon Boatsby
When you’re in the market for a two-person fishing boat, the Sun Dolphin American 12 should definitely be on your list of boats to check out. This budget-friendly jon boat is a step up from the Sun Dolphin kayak and has a lot of features for the fisherman who just wants a simple and effective boat to get them out on the water and make their fishing trip easier and more convenient.
Features and Specifications
While the Sun Dolphin is by no means a luxury vessel, it does offer up a lot of what you need for a solo trip out on the water, or if you have a partner. It’s small but well built and very efficient for when you need a boat that’s solid and gets the job done. Specs for the Sun Dolphin American 12 include:
- Length: 144” or 12’
- Width: 52” or 4’4”
- Height: 21”
- Weight Capacity: 532 lbs
- Dry Weight: 110 lbs
- HP Rating: 6 HP
In terms of features this is obviously a small vessel so you won’t be getting live wells, LED lighting or bilge pumps. However, it does offer up an incredibly sturdy and rugged design. Check out some of the most notable features it brings to the table.
- Two large,bench seats ensure ample room for two to fish without getting in each other’s way once you’re out on the water.
- The UV-stabilized deck and hull are made of a high density polyethylene known as Fortiflex. If the name isn’t familiar, just know that it’s tough and rugged and can stand up to more than its fair share of abuse.
- The jon boat features closed cell polystyrene foam flotation which means the boat has the buoyancy you need but it’s also very lightweight at the same time.
- Both the bow and stern of the Sun Dolphin have built in motor mounts, and there’s also built in battery storage as well.
- In addition to those built in features you’ll also find built-in oarlock sockets, storage trays and rod holders as well. There are a total of four rod holder locations available which is decent for a boat of this size.
- Sundolphin also offers a limited lifetime warranty on the boat’s deck and hull while components get one year of coverage. This doesn’t cover accidents or vandalism so it’s essentially a warranty against manufacturer defects.
- Recessed drink and tackle holders to keep your stuff stable and secure
- The vessel meats all coast guard safety standards
- The boat’s hull is fade resistant, abrasion resistant and puncture resistant in addition to that UV resistance.
Design and Construction
The overall design of the Sun Dolphin American 12 is a simple jon boat. Flat bottom, two bench seats, flat back and a modified V-bow. It’s nothing you wouldn’t expect from a small jon boat in terms of appearance.
In terms of construction, that durable hull material is what makes this a standout. An aluminum hull is obviously going to be one of the sturdiest hulls you can get but it does come with a pumped up price tag. For those boaters who don’t want to invest in aluminum and are looking for a synthetic hull, the Sun Dolphin’s Fortifex hull is a decent product that is better able to handle some rough waters and scrapes than other polymer hulls I have seen.
The material is touted as being abrasion and puncture resistant and of course that doesn’t mean proof. It will still suffer some abrasions and scrapes but those smaller ones that will scuff up a cheaper quality boat won’t have as big an effect here. So if your concerns lie in balancing cost against quality, you’ll find a good middle ground with how this vessel is constructed.
The other strength of the materials used in this construction beyond durability and resistance is that weight. It’s really lightweight despite that solid structure and that means it’s easy to get in and out of the water, easy to clean and easy to transport. For some this may work best with a dolly, or you may want a second person to help, but depending on your physical abilities you may be able to move this around pretty easily all on your own as well.
At this size and layout, it’s 100% clear that the Sun Dolphin American 12 is a fishing boat. It’s designed just for this purpose so it’s not like you’ll be using this for day cruising with the family or anything of that sort.
There’s definitely enough room for two people to use the boat comfortably so it’s ideally suited for fishing with a friend, a father-son trip, a day out on the lake with a special someone or even just you and the dog having a relaxing afternoon on the water.
For a single person it’s more than roomy and it’s not too hard to manage alone by any means. The bench seats are very plain and I wouldn’t call them comfortable but they’re not terrible, either. They do the job efficiently enough and after a few hours you might find your backside a little sore.
Since it’s only rated for a 6 HP motor you can see it’s not a powerhouse but nor should it be. It handles still waters well but if things get choppy you’ll find it’s a little harder to manage.
I got to try out a Sun Dolphin American 12 last summer and let me just say I was legitimately surprised. A lot of times you might think a smaller vessel with a plastic hull is kind of cheap and forgettable but this boat really is sturdy and solid on the water.
If there’s one thing you want to be wary of, it’s how you distribute your weight on the boat. If there are two people on board and one is significantly heavier than the other, the situation can get a little unstable. But if you’re careful about how you organize yourselves and your gear it should be okay. Just be careful of movements if the weight is a little off.
You can manage this with a 4 hp trolling motor easily enough but I think the recommended 6 HP is the way to go. This is where weight distribution really becomes important. With a 6 hp motor mounted you may find yourself really lagging still. It’s not unheard of to pull just 8 mph or so with a 6 hp motor mounted. You should be able to do more and you can do more, you just need to be aware of how the boat is working.
If you’re alone and sitting at the stern, you are going to be weighing that thing down, it’s inevitable. Don’t waste your time trying to adjust your position and angle, it won’t matter. You’re just going to need to balance the load. This is where a dog or a child passenger really comes in handy but, failing that, make sure you have a cooler filled with stuff or some other gear that can at least partially counter your weight. If you get the boat balanced you can boost a lagging 8 mph to a much more reasonable 15 mph.
Worth noting if you’re a big guy like I am, and your friend is also a bigger guy, you will balance the boat but you’ll definitely be slowing down again. The total weight capacity on the boat is just over 500 lbs but the closer you creep to that the slower you will definitely find yourself going.
As far as maneuverability goes, I recommend getting your trolling motor mounted up on the bow. The boat handles really well with a bow mount and you can maneuver through tight places with ease, as you’d expect with a boat mounted trolling motor.
In general, maneuverability is about what you’d expect from a jon boat if you’re working with a standard stern mounted outboard.
Comfort and Convenience
One thing I will mention about convenience here, or the lack thereof, is cleats. The boat doesn’t have cleats. It’s easy enough to add your own, of course, and you should add some so you can dock it more easily. But it’d be nice if it had cleats already so keep that in mind.
On the flip side, a very convenient aspect of this boat is how light and easy to manage it is. You can transport and store this very easily. If you have a garage at home there’s no doubt you can find some space to stash this when you’re not using it which is super convenient. A small trailer, some sturdy racks or shelves, there are lots of options that work well with this particular jon boat.
The boat is lightweight as you can see at just 110 lbs but that can definitely be on the heavier side for some people depending on their own physical limitations. You may want to use a dolly to move it about and something as simply as a kayak dolly works well here if need be.
The seats, as I mentioned above, are not built for extended comfort. I know some people like to straddle a bench seat but that is not recommended here. The benches are pretty wide and that seems like it’s a benefit, but if you try to straddle them you’re going to feel some discomfort pretty quickly, especially if you have shorter legs.
Ideally, I’d recommend installing a seat instead of just relying on the bench. If you plan on getting a lot of use out of this boat then it would be worth the investment.
Safety and Reliability
The hull really is durable and more so than you might think. Not that you’d want to be taking a boat like this into rapids or banging against rocks. For everyday wear and tear it’s strong and reliable and will stand up to most of what you’d expect and a little more as well.
The closed cell polystyrene foam flotation really strikes a good balance between overall boat weight and buoyancy. It will hang a little low as you approach that 500 lb weight limit but it still performs well enough when the weight is properly distributed and you can’t ask for more than that.
In terms of safety, I have to mention again that the boat can get a little wobbly when the weight is not well distributed so be aware of that. As always, you should make sure you have a life jacket on at all times and if you’re out with little ones on this boat you absolutely want to make sure they are wearing a life jacket too. I know it’s most likely being used on smaller lakes and in shallow waters but safety should always be the priority.
If you plan on taking the boat out in the early morning or the evening, do put some consideration into getting a small portable light.
Pros vs Cons
There’s a lot to consider when looking at this Sun Dolphin jon boat so let’s break it down in a simple pros vs cons comparison.
- Great price for the size and compared to similarly sized boats
- Durable hull stands up to reasonable wear and tear really well
- Decent space for one or two people
- From and back motor mount is conveninent
- Lightweight makes for easy cleaning, transport and storage
- Good maneuverability
- Drink holders and storage isn’t fancy but is convenient and well placed given the boat’s design
- Not the most comfortable experience you’ll have on the water if you use these seats for a few hours
- Sturdiness is a little suspect if the weight distribution is off
- Harder to steer than it should be given the position of the bench seats relative to wear you’ll mount your motor
- Needs some cleats
- The speed is going to suffer the closer you get to that weight limit which is pretty low overall
Who Do We Recommend it To?
If you’re a casual fisherman who doesn’t want a ton of bells and whistles with a boat, definitely look into the lightweight Sun Dolphin American 12. It’s ideal for those who want to go out alone or maybe with a friend or a child every so often. Fishing or duck hunting expeditions will be well served.
If your interest is in something that’s really easy to use, stress free and you can store it wherever and whenever, this is definitely a recommended choice. If it’s well maintained I’m pretty sure this boat could easily last you many seasons with only minor visible wear and tear that shouldn’t impede performance at all.
In a nutshell, I’d recommend this boat to those who value the following:
- Low cost
- Ease of use
- Stress free fishing/boating
The Sun Dolphin American 12 is a budget fishing boat that offers some good value for the money. You can find this boat for about $750 brand new but you do need to buy your own motor separately. That said, a quality trolling motor will not set you back too badly.
Obviously I think an aluminum hull boat, something like a Tracker Grizzly, is going to offer more durability overall but if we’re looking at just value for money here, I can’t trash talk this Sun Dolphin. It’s a lot sturdier than you’d think a boat would be at this price point, it performs well when the weight is balanced, it’s super easy to use and transport and it checks a lot of boxes you’ll need for a simple, low cost jon boat.
It would score higher points for me if it had a better maximum weight capacity than it does, and if the seats were made more comfortable. But those are small quibbles as they can be managed well enough. This is a small boat, after all, so there’s only so much you can expect for weight capacity anyway.
It may not be the fanciest boat on the water but it’s durable enough to last you over several seasons and compared to other small jon boats, including some of the higher priced aluminum models, this one holds its own. If you want a basic jon boat that does what it promises but is also easier on your wallet, I’d give this one a second look. It’s definitely recommended.
Categories: Jon Boats