This article is a beginners guide to buying a used aluminum jon boat . How to assess and apply your needs to available platforms, determine value, transfer, register, engines, and trailers. This basic guide will help first time buyers get into a reliable, cost efficient vessel.
Why an Aluminum Jon boat? They are affordable, simple in design, and easy to maintain. It won’t delaminate or hold water in the floor like fiberglass, absorb and rot like wood, or rust like steel. You could practically sink your boat and retrieve it a year later and it be structurally intact minus the wood on the transom. Though susceptible to electrolysis commonly contracted from the pressure treated lumber, or leaking batteries they are an ideal boat building material. In addition Jon boats draw very little water allowing them to reach where few others can go into the shallows. The most commonly found aluminum boat, it allows anglers to get off the banks for very little cost. Plentiful second hand, you can become a boat owner on a canoe budget.
In order to run a motor in a public waterways you must have your boat registered. Regulations on power boats vary state to state so contact your local DMV, Tag office, or Marine Police station to see what is needed. Some states require the vessel has a title, others just a bill of sale and a copy of the last registration. It is crucial you know before purchasing second hand because without the proper paper work you can find yourself owning a boat that can only be used on private property. Similar guidelines can apply to boat trailers as well. Boat manufacturers were required to provide a unique identification number to each vessel produced in the early 1970’s and forward called a Hull Identification number and it can be found on the outside wall of the transom, usually top right. Just like a serial number you would find on your vehicle. Generally this 16 digit, though not always, is necessary to register a vessel. Boat’s without HIN #’s will be required to have one issued by the state in which a Marine policeman will come and inspect your vessel.
When buying second hand you will need to verify the owners and the vessels information against the paperwork provided. Insure titles do not hold liens, Make/Model/Year Mfg, State registration number, and HIN #’s match the vessel you are purchasing. The Bill of Sale needs to include all this information with no corrections, date of purchase, sellers information and address, price it was purchased, and generally two witnesses. If the seller cannot provide the proper paper work for the sale look else where. Attempting to fix bad paperwork is a gamble and not worth the risk.
There are many venues to consider looking when purchasing second hand. Local papers or classifieds, boat trader, side of the road sales, or craigslist being the most popular. See a boat in a yard? Consider a knock and talk. Sometimes they will consider your offer. The longer you wait usually the better deal you will find, same goes for the amount of research you conduct before purchase. Generally the region in which you are located will determine the market value for these boats. Sometimes it’s necessary to drive a bit to reach a reasonable deal. Be sure you ask about paperwork, and have enough pictures to justify a drive to look at a second hand vessel.
Jon Boats are offered in a variety of sizes and a few different hull configurations. Firstly you need to decide on how many people you plan on taking with you on average as size generally determines max capacity/load weight. 10′ Boats are good for one person, small for two occupants. 12′-14′ boats are good for two, small for three occupants. 15′ to 16′ boats are good for three, small for four occupants. Also stability is a main concern with these boats as many are narrow. The average Jon boat is 36″ Inches wide. While fishing with two people only one should stand at at time to maintain stability. Wider boats, starting at 48″ Inches in width, both anglers could stand and be stable. Width is the most important consideration when shopping for these boats as a 12′ boat that is 48″ on the floor will be much more stable than a 14′ boat that is 36″ on the floor.
To determine Occupant capacity multiply the Length X Width then divide by 15.
i.e. 14′ x 36″ Jon Boat. 14×3 / 15 = 2.8 Persons
To determine Weight capacity multiply occupants X 150.
i.e. 2.8 Persons x 150 = 420 lbs
The most common hull type for a Jon boat is a flat bottom. It is exactly as it sounds, completely flat from bow to stern. The benefits of this design is it draws very little water meaning it will go through very shallow areas and the bow is much more stable while idle making these boats popular to install Forward decks or platforms. Those who Bow Fish, throw cast nets, or Flounder prefer this style hull. The down side being they will not provide a comfortable ride in choppy water. Preferable for small bodies of water, ponds, and rivers. The second is a Semi V-Bow design. It is an edged bow (front), and goes flat towards the bow (back). This allows the boat to cut through choppy water and provide a smoother ride in larger bodies of water that have frequent rough water like large lakes, or bays. The bow (front) is not stable at idle so platforms or decks need to be placed further back. Third hull type would be a Modified V Hull. Basically a Flat bottom with a greater degree or shorter V bow. This provides the stability of a Flat bottom with minor ability to cut chop like that of a lower degree longer edged Semi V-hull. Depending on the Mfg’r and degree of the bow will determine it’s effectiveness either way. These boats are generally closer to Flat bottoms. Lastly Tunnel Hulls, which are made for Jet drive setups being used in shallow water rivers. Unless you plan to run a lower end that has a jet drive focus on the other three platforms.
1.2b Hull Material & Assembly
Most Jon boats are riveted. This allows Mfg’rs to produce them rapidly and cost efficiently. The down side to rivets is they can become lose over time creating leaks. A majority of older Jons will have small leaks. Re-tightening or worst case replacing rivets is not a difficult task. Also the gauge, or thickness of the aluminum sheeting used in the manufacture of the boat. Ideally the thicker, the better. Older boats were generally made from heavier gauge aluminum compared to today with the cost of metal in high demand they are made thinner. Recently a lot of Mfg’rs are selling boats called ” All Welds” that utilize no rivets. These boats are made from heavy gauge aluminum that were welded at all the seams and braces. This means the hull is much more solid. These are ideal if you foresee yourself encountering a lot of underwater obstacles, shallow water river running, larger setups, or commercial applications.
1.2c Hull Condition & Repair
Jon boats are quite resistant to damage unlike many other hull materials available. Dents topside generally have very little if no effect on performance. Also paint is unnecessary as aluminum does not need to be coated for protection other than barnacle growth though few are left in the water year around. When you are looking at a boat for sale the deal breakers are few and far between. Biggest one being the condition of the braces that run from port to starboard. Occasionally these can split in the middle. Or if someone placed Pressure treated lumber over the floor, electrolysis can start the early decay of these braces making the floor extremely weak. Due to the corrosion of the metal form or being so thin weld repairs may not be an option. Replacing and fabricating braces can outweigh the value of the hull. Next, large holes that would require welding. There are ways around it with fiberglass but in the end it would not make for a reliable long lasting repair. Broken Braces or Large holes should be deal breakers.
Minor or Common repairs that come expected with older boats would be small leaks, or weak transoms. Tightening rivets or using sealant for leaks is a common fix with owning an aluminum boat. Replacing or repairing transoms is as well. All these issues can be repaired at home with simple tools and very little money. Do not shy away from a boat that needs these done if the price is right and you are capable. There are many posts on the forums that go over what is needed and how to repair these problems. To determine if a boat leaks fill the inside with couple inches of water then look underneath. To determine if the boat has a weak transom push on the foot, near the prop of the motor, and look to see if the transom flexes back and forth.
If you are buying a motor with your boat there are a couple things you will need to look for when purchasing it as a package. Generally if the motor doesn’t run it’s value should be around 25% if not less than that of the same in running condition. Depending on whether or not it was used in salt of fresh water can make a big difference as well. Salt water tends to corrode engines internally. If not properly flushed the motor could be destroyed quickly. How easy will the motor start? good idle? Importantly, is the water pump putting out a good stream of water? Your best bet if buying a boat with a motor is to take it out on the water. Outboards can run great on a stand but can become a different story when they are pushing a boat. If you are planning a large purchase, consider taking it to an outboard mechanic. This will usually cost around 75$-100$ but will be worth every penny if you can avoid a plagued motor. The best bet is to stick with brand name common engines, Not to say the other makes are bad motors, just so parts and help will be easy to come by. Mercury, Evinrude, Johnson, and Yamaha.
Outboards are offered in either two stroke or Four stroke. The earlier two stroke motors you must mix Gas and Oil. Four stroke engines will take straight gas. The newer motors, four strokes are heavier but tend to get better gas mileage and are quieter. Older two strokes seem to be a bit faster out of the hole due to making power on the up and down stroke, are lighter, but louder. Just like Hull prices, each region will vary in price. Most jon boats will have a Data plate riveted to the inside of the transom stating Max weight, and Max H.P. rating for the transom. Hulls will differ greatly due to design, length/width, gauge sheeting, transom, etc that it is difficult to say in general how much HP is ideal for you setup. Common 10′-12′ boats use a 5-10hp while a 14′-16′ boat a 10hp-25hp. When reading your data plate it is usually best to get the Max rated motor for your boat as it will make it easier to plane off so you will get the best gas mileage and have the ability to push and carry max weight appropriately.
Depending on your state you might have to tag the trailer. Does the seller have proper paperwork?
One of the most undervalued part of a boat package is the trailer. It is incredibly important the trailer is up to spec so you do not risk an accident on the road way. The issue is that when you launch a boat submerging the trailer subjects it to premature rust and corrosion. Especially in salt water. When purchasing a package pay close attention to the springs, bolts, and the under carriage. Also the bearing and hubs. Does the wheel wobble? or Make noise when trailering? Since they usually sit up most the year sometimes the tires can be dry rotted as well. Submersing the lights can cause shorts or destroy bulbs. Do the lights work? Most trailers use either 1 7/8 or 2″ hitch so plan ahead if you are considering to purchase. If you do not feel comfortable with the condition of the trailer have it towed. Trailers can over turn vehicles.
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