Kayak vs. Jon Boat – Which Is Best?


Boats come in all shapes and sizes. As you’ve narrowed down which boat you’d most like to own, you’ve found yourself torn between kayaks and jon boats. Of the two, which is the better choice?

Whether a kayak or jon boat is your ideal boat depends on your budget, what you’ll use your boat for, and how much space you like on your boat. Kayaks have better maneuverability, but jon boats offer more space and are typically motorized. 

If you’re still on the fence, this definitive guide will help you choose between a kayak and a jon boat. First, we’ll detail the features and types of each respective boat before diving into a multitude of factors that will make it easier to decide which boat you want. 

Let’s get started! 

What Is a Kayak?

First, let’s talk about kayaks. They’ve been a major topic of discussion on the blog recently, so some of this information will serve as a recap.

Kayaks are long, narrow boats with at least one cockpit. In the cockpit is where the kayaker sits. The deck of the kayak is typically covered to offer protection from UV exposure and water. The addition of a spray deck further safeguards the kayaker from water spray. 

The average length of a kayak is 10 feet, although fishing kayaks are usually longer. A kayak’s beam is a measure of its widest area, with the average range here between 26 inches and 30 inches. 

Kayaks are available in a variety of materials that correlate to the different price points in which you can buy this type of boat. Rotomolded plastic kayaks are among the least expensive. These boats are made of polyethylene resins for great impact resistance. 

Fiberglass is another popular material for a kayak hull, although cracking is an issue with fiberglass compared to plastic.

If your kayak isn’t hard-shelled with a fiberglass or polyethylene hull, then it will be inflatable. These boats require you to manually inflate the kayak to use it. When you’re done for the day, you’d deflate the kayak, tuck it in its carrying bag, and bring it home. 

Although kayaks are available with a motor, most require you to manually push a paddle into the water to propel yourself forward. Experienced kayakers can also use the paddle for other maneuvers such as turns. 

The average cost of a kayak is $400 to $1,500, but the price varies mostly by the type of kayak you buy. 

Types of Kayaks

With so many kayaks on the market, let’s go over the different types you might be interested in. 

Recreational Kayaks

A recreational kayak is for beginners and others who aren’t into intense kayaking. If you want to enjoy a relaxing day of family fun in a kayak, then a recreational kayak would be perfect for you. That’s also true of photographers, videographers, nature lovers, and very casual anglers.

Since they’re designed to accommodate a range of users, recreational kayaks are among the most popular. 

To reduce the barrier to entry, recreational kayaks feature inexpensive hull materials, usually polyethylene. They boast spacious cockpits for comfort and storage. A recreational kayak will have a sizable beam but isn’t otherwise a large boat. 

Sea Kayaks

You should not use a recreational kayak in the ocean, but a sea kayak is built for just that. Designed for thrill-seekers, sea kayaks have a generous capacity for gear and cargo. They’re quite stable so they’re less likely to capsize.

The extended waterline of a sea kayak as well as its skegs (a type of fixed rudder) or other rudder types increase your confidence as you navigate the waters. A sea kayak can fit as many as three people, but solo sea kayaks are also very common. 

Whitewater Kayaks

Speaking of thrills, it doesn’t get more exciting than whitewater kayaking. The boat you select must be capable of withstanding the rigors of whitewater riding, and a whitewater kayak is. These polyethylene rotomolded boats are built for high impact resistance and structural security. 

Since you’ll inevitably hit rocks and other sharp objects when whitewater kayaking, plastic is a wise choice for the hull of a whitewater kayak. Fiberglass would crack too quickly, forcing you to replace your kayak prematurely. 

Of course, polyethylene is not impervious to damage, and the more you use a whitewater kayak, the more severe that damage becomes. Once the plastic punctures, it’s time to buy a new boat. 

Sit-In Kayaks

A sit-in kayak is a traditional kayak as described earlier. These boats have deep cockpits for you to climb into and sit in. The cockpit is covered and might include a spray deck as well. Under-cockpit storage keeps your items dry. 

Sit-on-Top Kayaks

The sit-on-top kayak has a much wider cockpit that’s completely uncovered. If you need more legroom, then a sit-on-top kayak is recommended. The extra elevation can also help when fishing or taking photos or videos of local wildlife. 

Sit-on-top kayaks usually have generous cargo space in the front and rear for bringing all your everyday essentials. 

Fishing Kayaks

Fishing in a kayak has become a favorite means of traversing the water for many anglers. A fishing kayak is well-suited for saltwater and freshwater conditions alike, although certain kayak materials might not be. 

The length of a fishing kayak is greater than any other type so the boat has excellent lateral stability. Outriggers can make a fishing kayak even stabler. A twin-hull design encourages you to stand up and fish or paddle should you want to. 

Across the boat are also plenty of spaces for amenities such as dry tacklebox storage, fish finders, rod holders, and more. 

Inflatable Kayaks

The last type of kayak is an inflatable kayak. We touched on these boats a little earlier in this section. An inflatable kayak is made of polyurethane-coated cloth, PVC, nitrile rubber fabric known as Nitrilon, or Hypalon, which is like neoprene. 

You can use an electric pump or a hand or foot pump to inflate the kayak. Many inflatable kayaks feature several air chambers so that even if one chamber were to pop, the entire boat doesn’t deflate. 

Inflatable kayaks perform best in calm bodies of water such as rivers rather than oceans, but some inflatable kayaks are designed specifically for ocean riding. These boats usually feature a sit-on-top design and an internal frame for greater durability. 

Drop-stitch inflatable kayaks are the toughest of this type. The material is stiff, which lends the kayak the ability to inflate to a higher pressure than most inflatable kayaks, up to 10 pounds per square inch of pressure or PSI. 

What Is a Jon Boat?

Now let’s switch gears and talk about jon boats, which are sometimes spelled as johnboats. 

A jon boat has a flat bottom and bench seating. The bigger the boat is, the more rows of seats a jon boat will offer. At the very least, the boat will have one row of seats for one boater. Others have three rows of seats for up to three people. 

The bow of a jon boat is square-shaped rather than pointed and angular like a kayak, which is one of the biggest differences between the two boats.

Jon boats are usually made of one of four materials: polyethylene, wood, fiberglass, or aluminum. Polyethylene, like we talked about when discussing kayaks, is a type of plastic that’s both low-cost and durable.

Wood jon boats will be treated so they’re waterproof and sometimes weatherproof as well. This increases the durability of the boat. Fiberglass is a strong material for a jon boat (as it is with kayaks), but as you’ll recall, fiberglass is sensitive to damage like scratching and cracking.

Aluminum is by far the most frequently used jon boat material. It’s a lightweight metal that’s cheap to procure. 

The design of a jon boat isn’t much. This isn’t one vessel that’s meant to turn heads. The descriptor utilitarian is an apt one to define the simple jon boat. 

Due to the flat shape of the hull, a jon boat will ride over water and waves. This is different from boats with V-shaped hulls, which cut through the water. Since a jon boat glides over the water, it creates a draft of several inches. It’s the draft that allows the jon boat to excel in shallow waters. 

The average size of a jon boat is eight to 24 feet long. These are wide boats too, between 32 and 60 inches. The spacious width of a jon boat allows for great storage potential underneath the bench seats. 

You can accessorize your jon boat if you want, such as with the addition of poling and casting platforms, mountings and pads, electrical wiring, and new floors and decks. If you want center or side consoles or even some bait wells, you can get those as well. 

How does a jon boat travel through the water? These boats are motorized, although not all have a motor. If not, then the boat will feature a transom for mounting an outboard motor. 

Granted, jon boats aren’t particularly fast, but they don’t have to be. These boats are primarily used for cruising, hunting, and fishing. None of these activities require that much speed.

Here is a breakdown of the general speed ranges according to the size of your jon boat:

  • 5 MPH for an eight-foot boat
  • 5 to 10 MPH for a 10-foot boat
  • 10 to 15 MPH for a 12-foot boat
  • 20 to 25 MPH for a 14-foot boat
  • 25 to 30 MPH for a 16-foot boat
  • 35 to 45 MPH for an 18 to 20-foot boat

The average cost of a jon boat is $5,400. 

Types of Jon Boats

As we did when talking about kayaks, let’s examine the types of jon boats now. 

Flat-Bottomed Jon Boats

A flat-bottomed jon boat is the type of boat we talked about in-depth in the paragraphs above. The flat hull lends a jon boat great stability as well as the capability of riding in very shallow waters. However, in calm waters, a flat-bottomed hull does not perform as well. 

Modified-V Jon Boats

Most boats have a V-shaped hull, and with a modified jon boat, that can be true of your boat as well. V-shaped hulls slice through the water, as we touched on before, which reduces their draft. If you want to ride in deeper, calmer waters than a flat-bottomed jon boat would allow, try a modified V. 

Jet Jon Boats 

Supercharged Jet Jons feature more durable aluminum frames and jet-drive outboard engines. These boats can navigate the shallowest depths of all jon boats. 

Kayak vs. Jon Boat – Which Is Right for You?

Now that you’re clearer on kayaks and jon boats, we want to take this section to compare the two types of boats. You’ll soon find it a lot easier to decide between one boat or the other!  

Size

Jon boats are the bigger of the two, but they’re not so large that transporting one is unwieldy. 

You can always strap your jon boat to the top of your car or truck roof using bungees or toss the boat in the back of a truck bed (securing it, of course).  If yours is an especially large jon boat, you can tow it to the back of a car or an SUV. 

Hard-shelled kayaks are transportable in much the same way, although bigger kayaks might not be able to fit in a truck bed. If yours is an inflatable kayak, then transportation is the easiest of all since you can carry the deflated boat in a bag. 

Weight

Between kayaks and jon boats, the latter is heavier, and by quite a good margin too. The average weight of a kayak is 20 to 80 pounds whereas it’s common for jon boats to weigh 500 pounds. They’re easy enough to tow and trailer into the water, but if you’re looking for a boat you can easily carry by yourself, that’s not a jon boat.

The weight of a boat is also something to think about in case you capsize, which is when your boat tips over in the water. If your boat flips over on you, you have to lift it and then climb back in. If you don’t, you could be at risk of drowning.

When you’re in shock and possibly injured after capsizing, turning over a 500-pound boat would be a lot to ask of anyone. Of course, jon boats are a lot less likely to capsize than a kayak due to their flat hulls. They’re like pontoons in that regard, which almost never tip. 

That said, it’s not impossible for a jon boat to capsize, so make sure you’re comfortable with the weight of a jon boat in all regards. 

Maneuverability 

A kayak’s size makes it easier to steer and do other maneuvers in the water when kayaking compared to commandeering a jon boat. However, also in the vein of maneuverability, jon boats can reach shallower waters than kayaks due to their flat bottoms. 

Motorization

Kayaks are known for their manual effort, as you must paddle when you want to get anywhere. If you’d rather spare your arms, you can always buy a motorized kayak. They’re less common, but they are out there. 

Jon boats are the opposite. They’re known for their motorization, but they don’t exclusively have to use a motor. You can always maneuver a jon boat via a push pole, paddles, or oars. 

Let’s take a moment to talk more about the types of motors that your jon boat might come outfitted with. 

One such motor type is the trolling motor, which is a bow-mounted outboard motor that’s often electric but can use gas. A trolling motor is whisper-quiet, so if you’re hunting or fishing in your jon boat, this type of motor is preferable.

Your jon boat might also use a mud motor, which is designed for riding in wetlands, waterways, marshes, and swamps without incurring damage. The motor uses gas and has a long propeller drive so the prop is nearer to the water. 

If the prop bumps into vegetation, rocks, or stumps, it won’t be damaged so your jon boat won’t be left stranded.

An outboard motor runs on electricity, propane, or gas, with the latter fuel source the most common. When the motor runs, the thrust pushes the propeller, not unlike a mud motor. The amount of thrust required is the horsepower of the motor, which we talked about earlier. 

Types

If you want boat options, you can select from far many more types of kayaks than you can jon boats. Kayaks come in plenty of shapes and sizes for activities such as recreational use, racing, and fishing. Jon boats have different hull designs for aiding in various activities as well. 

Price

Going back to what we talked about earlier, jon boats cost $5,400 on average while a new kayak is priced between $400 and $1,500. Some kayaks are more expensive than that, but they’re not in the $5k range. 

Storage and Amenities 

A jon boat is wide, but it doesn’t have specialized cubbies or storage areas. In that regard, it’s like a sit-in kayak, which usually requires you to store your gear in or around the cockpit. 

If you want amenities, jon boats usually don’t have those either. You’d have to outfit your jon boat with your own fishing rod holders or cupholders or fish-finder mounts. Kayaks may have these amenities built-in, especially fishing kayaks. 

Final Thoughts 

Kayaks and jon boats can both be used for fishing and recreational riding, but that’s about where the similarities end. Now that you’re clearer on the differences between jon boats and kayaks, you’re ready to buy your next great boat!  

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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