What Is A Skiff? Skiff vs. Jon Boat Everything You Need To Know

What is the difference between a SKIFF and JON BOAT?
What is the difference between a SKIFF and JON BOAT?

What Is the Difference Between a Skiff and a Jon Boat?

When I was a teenager, my grandfather handed down his small sixteen-foot fiberglass flatbottom boat that he used to go clamming and skirt around the shallow coastal waters of South Carolina. He wasn’t using it very often and thought my Dad and I might get some use out of it. While that boat is long gone now, I still have the 1970’s Johnson outboard sitting on a motor rack in the garage. It has those classic 1970’s colored stripes and all.

This got me thinking, was that flatbottom boat considered a skiff or a Jon boat? We used to call it a Jon boat but was it really? As a result, I did some research and decided to write this post in case anyone else has a similar question.

So, what is the difference between a skiff and a Jon boat? A Jon Boat is a flat-bottomed boat with a flat square cut bow. A Skiff has a broader definition. It can be a flat-bottomed boat but its bow is often pointed or curved. Both names are often used to describe small fishing boats that can operate in shallow water.

What Are Skiffs and Jon Boats Made Out Of?

There are three main materials used in the construction of skiffs and jon boats. In the early days, these boats were almost exclusively built from wood. However, in more modern times fiberglass and aluminum have become the preferred material for building a skiff or jon boat. Each material has its benefits. The fiberglass is strong and can flex. This flex provides a softer more comfortable ride when water turns rougher. Aluminum is lightweight and strong so it allows for use in rocky rivers and it is lightweight so it is easy to haul to remote locations to fish or hunt.

What Are Skiffs and Jon Boats Made Out Of? Today, most people would visualize a skiff being made out of fiberglass and a Jon boat being made out of aluminum, but wood, fiberglass or aluminum can be used to make either boat.

Why Do They Call It A Jon Boat?

It’s not clear why they are called “Jon” Boats. One theory has it coming from Scandinavia, where “Jon” is a very popular name vs. “John” as we might say here in the United States. With lots of fishermen using these small boats, it is believed they became known as the Jon boat.

It seems like there would be a better story than this, but how does anything get a name? I guess it is a little bit like how we drive on a “parkway” and we park on a “driveway”. Sometimes things just don’t seem to make much sense.

How Do They Measure a Jon Boat?

To measure a Jon boat, there are two key measurements, the length and the width. You measure the length of a Jon boat from the tip of the front to the tip of the rear of the boat. To measure the width of your Jon boat you want to measure on the bottom of the boat from side to side. This measurement is also known as your “beam”.

If you are looking at boat models, you may see something like a 1336 or a 1648 model of Jon boat. Typically, this would tell you that the boat is 13 feet long and 36″ wide at the beam (the widest part). A1648 would likely be 16 feet long and 48″ wide at the beam. Some boat builders do not use the beam (width) in the numbering. If you see a 160 or a 140 model, it is referring to the length only. These would be a 16′ or 14′ boat.

Are Jon Boats Safe or are Skiffs Safer?

In general,  a skiff is safer than a Jon boat. BUT I would rather be on a Jon boat with an experienced operator than a small skiff with an inexperienced operator.

Operating experience is the single greatest factor in your safety when on a boat of any size. Typically bigger boats can handle rough water and bad weather better than others, but nothing makes up for experience and knowing how your boat will handle different conditions.

For example, let’s say you plan to run your boat in a shallow or slow-moving river? For this, you would want your boat as light as possible. If you are on a calm lake loading your boat with gear can create a smoother ride with less pounding, but if a storm comes with strong winds that form good sized waves that weight is a liability. You might consider beaching your boat and simply waiting out the storm.

It is for this reason, you need as much experience as you can get whether you operate a Jon boat or a skiff.

In today’s boating world skiffs have gotten much bigger. Just look at a brand like Carolina Skiff. Carolina Skiff produces skiffs that range from 13 feet to 24 feet long.

Their bigger skiffs can handle much rougher conditions than the little 13 footer. You could even take some of their skiffs out into the ocean if conditions are right.

I chuckle, but on really calm days I have seen people out in the ocean on a 14′ Jon boat, but that is a little unnerving for my risk tolerance because of the low sides and the ability to get into trouble in a hurry.

My suggestion — spend as much time as you can getting experience. With today’s low profile vest lifejackets and inflatable lifejackets, there is no excuse for not wearing one. You are in a lightweight craft that can be meaningfully impacted by wind and wave changes. Wear your lifejacket and get out there and test yourself and your boat.

If you make a mistake, learn from it.

What Are The Most Popular Jon Boats?

When it comes to Jon boats, there are three popular brands for you to know about.

  • Alumicraft Jon Boats
  • Lowe Jon Boats
  • Lund Jon Boats

Alumicraft has been building aluminum fishing boats since 1946. Their boats include either welded or riveted hull designs and range from 10 feet to 18 feet long.

How Much Does an Alumicraft Jon Boat Cost? Alumicraft Jon Boats cost between $710 to $13,470 depending on the hull size, motor size, and features.

Lowe Boats product many different boat design types, but are well known for their classic riveJon jon boats. Their classic Jon boats range from 10 feet to 17 feet long.

How Much Does a Lowe Jon Boat Cost? Lowe Jon Boats cost between $725 to $3,719 for the base models. Features, engines and other upgrades can greatly increase the overall cost of a Lowe Jon Boat.

Lund Jon Boats has been building boats since 1948. That is a long time! They offer many types of boat designs including aluminum Jon boats. Like Alumicraft and Lowe, Lund offers their Jon boats in a 10 foot to 18-foot range.

How Much Does a Lund Jon Boat Cost? Lund Jon Boats are sold by dealers and Lund does not provide pricing on their website. I expect Lund to be comparable in price to the other two manufacturers.

What Are The Most Popular Skiff Manufacturers?

In today’s marketplace, the construction and features between an aluminum Jon boat and an entry-level fiberglass skiff can have a wide difference in prices. In recent years, basic skiffs have started looking more and more like their fancy high-end cousins in the bay boat and center console boating segment.

Let’s take a quick look at each of these popular skiff brands:

  • Sundance Boats
  • Mako Boats
  • Carolina Skiff

Sundance Boats still produces their original skiff design called the K16 Skiff. This skiff is designed for skinny water and near shore fishing. It offers many more features than a Jon boat including in hull storage, a center console and it can be powered by a 40 horsepower or 50 horsepower engine. The K16 Skiff by Sundance Boats retails for $13,995. 

Mako Boats produces multiple skiffs in what they call the “Pro Skiff” series. These skiffs include a 15-foot, 17-foot, and a 19-foot version. Like the skiff from Sundance, the Mako skiffs offer in hull storage, operate from a center console station and have engine rating that includes as small as 40 horsepower for the 15-foot skiff all the way up to a 115 horsepower for the 19-foot skiff. The Mako Pro Skiff series ranges from $14,995 up to $24,390 for the largest skiff.

Carolina Skiff might be the most well know skiff manufacturer out there. This is definitely true here in the Carolinas where I am located. You can find the Carolina Skiff boats on almost any body of water you can imagine. Carolina Skiffs are seen running rivers, lakes, waterways and even out in the ocean near shore on nice days.

If you are looking for a Skiff, Carolina Skiff probably has a boat to suit your needs. If you want a fiberglass boat with a tiller motor similar to a Jon boat you can look at their smallest 13-foot JV tiller series boat which is paired with a 25 horsepower tiller motor. If you want to go to a top of the line skiff, Carolina Skiff offers their 24 Ultra Elite skiff. It is almost hard to call this boat a skiff. It comes with all of the bells and whistles you could ever want on a skiff. The 24 Elite weighs over 3,400 pounds and is rated for a 250 horsepower engine. While it has “skiff” in the name, this boat is much closer to what we would know today as a traditional center console.

New Carolina Skiffs for sale online cost between $10,500 for the 13 JV and $58,000 for the top of the line 24 Ultra Elite Skiffs.

Kern Campbell

Kern is a life long boater who finds great happiness sitting at the helm of a boat running on the open water. When he's not running the boat, he's likely anchored up along the beach with his wife, kids and good friends enjoying a great day at the coast.

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