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Skiff Vs Jon Boat: Which One Is for You?

Fact checked by William Hart

skiff vs jon boat

If you are new to boating, smaller vessels like Jon boats and skiffs are a great place to start discovering the enjoyment of the water. But what are the differences between a skiff vs Jon boat? They are pretty similar and you might find people using them for the same activities.

Don’t mistake a Jon boat and skiff for one another, though. You’ll find a world of differences once you dive into the details. Generally speaking, skiffs are more expensive, non-customizable, and less versatile. However, they do offer more room, speed, and abilities to tackle rough waters. On the other hand, Jon boats are excellent as affordable starter boats.

In this article, we will discuss the similarities and differences of their outlooks, materials, performance, safety, and potential drawbacks.

Table of Contents

Jon Boat vs Skiff: The Outlook


Both kinds offer outstanding performance in shallow waters. However, each possesses their own strengths and weaknesses in other marine conditions.

A skiff is larger than a Jon boat. The typical dimension of a Jon boat is 12’2” (length) x 4’3” (width) x 2’ (depth). Meanwhile, the common dimension of a skiff is 15’ (length) x 5’4” (width) x 2’ (depth).

Jon boats are one of the simplest and most commonly-used models. Since they are small and lightweight, they are easy to launch, store, and tow. Plus, Jon boats are inexpensive compared to other small boats like pontoons, canoes, inflatables, or jet boats. Their basic traits include:

  • A flat or nearly flat bottom.
  • A square bow instead of a pointed front like regular fishing boats.
  • Being small and light.
  • One or more built-in bench seats.
  • An outboard or electric outboard engine.

On the other hand, the term “skiff boat” can be used for many different types of small boats. As long as a boat has the following traits, it can be called a skiff:

  • Being simple and open.
  • Not equipped with complex electrical or plumbing systems.
  • Has a hull, one or a few seats, rod holders, and livewell.
  • Has an outboard engine.

The main difference is the bow shape. A Jon boat usually has a squared-off bow while a skiff features a pointed or curved front. A personal watercraft or 10-foot long bass boat with a pointed bow can be called a skiff provided that the structural design is simple and open.

Jon Boat vs Skiff: Materials

In the past, these boats were mostly made from wood. But nowadays, fiberglass and aluminum have become more popular. Each material has its benefits and drawbacks.

  • Wood: Wood is buoyant on its own. Thus, the cost of producing wooden boats is fairly low. However, processing is essential. It must be hardy, durable, mold-resistant, and able to withstand the harsh marine conditions. It cannot be too soft, nor too brittle. Many people feel the vintage and classic look of a wooden vessel can’t be beaten by any other materials. Some common marine wood types include mahogany, cedar, pine, and oak.
  • Fiberglass: This type of material is heavy, strong, flexible, and durable. Hence, you can find fiberglass boats more stable and comfy. When tackling rough waters, they won’t get buffeted by the wind, drifting more slowly and predictably. Plus, fiberglass tends to look crisp, polished, and clean. The downside is that fiberglass boats are generally more expensive and costly to maintain.
  • Aluminum: This one is on the lighter and more affordable side. It is easy to be hauled to remote areas for fishing or hunting. Of the same size, an aluminum boat can be significantly lighter than a fiberglass one. Also, it requires lower operating costs. Unlike fiberglass, you don’t have to wax aluminum regularly, and it is cheaper to repair the material.

Most Jon boats are made of aluminum, but there are fiberglass and even polyethylene Jon boat models. The word “aluminum” goes with Jon boats so often that many people think a skiff is made out of fiberglass while a Jon boat is made out of aluminum. That is not true though; wood, fiberglass, and aluminum can be used to make both types of vessel.

Jon Boat vs Skiff: Performance

Since skiffs are larger; they offer more deck space and better setup for fishing activities. You will have more room for storing gear, installing permanent or temporary livewells, and inviting guests. On calm waters, you can find skiffs highly stable. The broader boats are equipped with larger motors. If you intend to tackle deep waters, a semi-V skiff is more ideal than a Jon boat.

On the flip side, Jon boats are designed for shallow waters. The flat bottom allows them to access extremely shallow water bodies. Because of the bigger engine, shape, and bottom, a skiff wouldn’t be able to do so. Moreover, there are upgrade options that can only be applied to Jon boats, such as electrical wirings, a side and center console, livewell, or poling platform. They are more versatile and can be easily customized.

Both a Jon boat and skiff can be used for leisure activities, fishing, or crabbing at small lakes, rivers, or swamps. Usually, they can seat from one to four people. Still, each boat is different, check the maximum capacity plate for specific information.

Jon Boat vs Skiff: Safety

In terms of safety between a skiff vs. Jon boat, you can rely more on the latter. Typically, bigger boats handle choppy water and awful weather better. The heaviness makes them more stable and the large engine allows for more control. That doesn’t mean a Jon boat is unsafe. It is the boat operator’s experience that plays the biggest part in ensuring safety.

For instance, there’s no safety guaranteed if you decide to direct a heavy skiff to a shallow or slow-running river. If you plan to go fishing on a calm lake with a lightweight aluminum vessel, loading it with appliances can create a smoother, less bumpy ride. But if there are strong winds that cause waves, the appliances will be a liability. The experience will tell if your boat can tackle such water or you should anchor and wait.

Be prepared as anything can happen and you must count on your experience to stay safe. Here are a few safety tips that will be helpful:

  • Always wear a life jacket. Make sure you have enough life jackets for all the guests.
  • Avoid alcohol before and during operating. Boating while intoxicated violates the law and your licence can be suspended.
  • Enroll in boating safety classes. They will help you gain precious knowledge about boating. Additionally, many insurance companies provide discounts if the boat owner enrolls in such classes.
  • Never overload the boat. It can easily swamp.
  • Operate at a safe speed, especially under bad weather.
  • Watch out for other boats, shallow water areas, rocks, and other submerged objects. Even when you don’t spot any boats around, it doesn’t mean there are no threats.

For more safety tips, watch this video on Boating Safety with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Jon Boat vs Skiff: Potential Drawbacks


Despite the amazing benefits that boats bring, they have certain drawbacks that you should consider.

1. Jon boats

Owing to the smaller size, Jon boats won’t provide much comfort. If you don’t do any customization, a Jon boat only includes a hull with ribs and bench seats. It can be uncomfortable to sit all day long in such limited space. More so, the flat bottom makes the boat vulnerable to rough waves. Rides can be really bumpy and wet on bad weather days.

Sometimes, the light nature of aluminum boats can be troublesome. Standing and walking on 10 or 12-foot aluminum vessels won’t be pleasant as the boat is precarious. Even though Jon boats are relatively inexpensive, adding things to enhance comforts, like swivel chairs, cup holders, carpeting, or fishing gear holders can increase the costs remarkably.

2. Skiff boats

Though a skiff offers more space and smoother rides than a Jon boat, remember that it is still small and simple. Most skiffs don’t feature forward helms or separate steering stations like larger vessels. Instead, you have to control them with tiller-steer outboards. A tiller steering system works conversely to your hand motions and is highly responsive. It might take a lot of time for a beginner to get used to the system.


We hope you’ve gathered enough information comparing a Skiff vs Jon Boat and can be a wise decision when purchasing your first boat. If you find this article useful, please help us share it with others. Should you have any further questions, feel free to let us know in the comments. See you then!

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