Water Sports - 10 min read

14 Types of Small Boats (Photos, Features & Sizes!)

Shaldon Roberts-Lemus

Shaldon Roberts-Lemus, Updated October 20, 2022

Boat lovers all over the world first found their fondness while fishing aboard a small canoe, riding down rapids on a kayak, or on some other small boat. Those looking to recapture that initial feeling, hoping to share it with others, or wanting to own a small boat for any other reason, will find a multitude of options.

There are a huge assortment of small boats on the market, all with various uses and in different sizes. From dinghies to Jon boats, to skiffs, and beyond, small boats can be a valuable asset for any boater. These specialized boats can help solve problems larger boats can’t handle and offer an additional way to enjoy the water.

However, with so many options, finding the right one for your specific needs can be a challenge. This is especially true if you aren’t familiar with the terminology or names of the many different types of small boats.

Below is a list of many of the most common small boats on the market, and an explanation about each one’s use. So, whether you’re looking for a fishing boat for the weekends, a small boat as a companion to a larger one, or something else, you’ll know what to look for.

What Are the Different Types of Small Boats?

Now that it’s understood that there is a wide array of options to choose from, let’s dive into the specifics of the most popular options out there. After this article, you’ll feel confident that you know what you’re looking for to meet your specific needs.

Pontoon boats

Pontoon boats are a great option for those looking for a casual boat option either for fishing or cruising short distances. These boats offer a lot of room on board for seating and are distinguished by the Catamaran style hull keeping it afloat.

Most pontoon boats are between 15 and 30 feet long. They have a flat profile with aluminum tubes spread around the boat for added support. 

The flat profile allows for plenty of passengers and equipment to be stored on board, however pontoons are not suited for long distances. This is a casual cruiser or fishing boat, not an intracoastal voyager.

Inflatable boats

There are two main types of inflatable boats, the RIB kind and the SIB kind. RIB stands for rigid inflatable boats. These types of boats have a rigid flooring or hull with an inflatable component. SIB stands for soft inflatable boat. These types of boats are soft all the way through.

Both the RIB and SIB have their advantages and disadvantages. The RIB offers added structural integrity, but due to its rigid hull, cannot be easily stored. The SIB lacks the structural integrity of the RIB, but its completely soft body allows it to be easily stored anywhere.

Inflatable boats typically range in size from 6 feet to 22 feet and have a variety of uses. They work great as lifeboats aboard a larger vessel, but can also be great for recreational use.

Jon Boats

Those looking for a simple but reliable boat for recreational use, cruising, or fishing, will find exactly what they’re looking for with a jon boat. This kind of boat is characterized by its flat bottom, affordable price, bench seats, and motor.

Jon boats are most commonly used as cruisers and fishing boats. Their relatively small and simple construction makes them easy to transport, making them perfect for a quick weekend trip. 

Additionally, the light and simple construction of the Jon boat makes it perfect for fishing in shallow waters, where other boats might have trouble. The simple construction also means that they require very little maintenance, meaning you can spend more time on the water.

Skiffs

Skiffs are one of the more ambiguous boat types in this list. Skiffs are characterized by their small, simple, and open design, but can be used to categorize many other kinds of boats. Skiffs are made up of a simple hull, an outboard engine, and some seats.

Skiffs are ideal for recreational use, fishing, and cruising short distances. The simplicity of a skiff is one of its main draws. With a skiff you won’t have to worry about maintenance or have to worry about mastering many moving parts.

Their compact size also makes them easy to transport and easy to maneuver in the water. However, their small size also means that less people can be aboard at a time. Additionally, they have no natural protection from the elements, so you will have to find a safe space for storage.

If you’re looking for a simple boat ideal for recreational use at a moderate price, then a skiff might be for you. 

Personal Watercrafts

Sometimes referred to as water bikes, water scooters, “boatercycles,” or jet skis, personal watercrafts, or PWC’s, offer a lot of fun. These small “motorcycles” of the water are great for the adventurous looking for a thrilling time on the water.

Jet skis are recreational watercrafts suited for cruising and some light fishing. They can range in horsepower from 60 to 300, so you can get some serious speed if you want it. PWC’s can only hold one or two people, so keep that in mind if you’re looking to get more people on the water.

Personal watercrafts come in sit down and stand up versions, so make sure you know which one you’re getting when you buy. 

Jet Boats

If you’re looking to go fast but want something larger than a personal watercraft, then a jet boat is for you. These boats use a high powered nozzle to propel you quickly through the water. These boats are great recreational boats for cruising and water sports.

Jet boats typically vary in size from 14 to 24 feet in length. They can’t fit as many people as some other boat options, but you will still find space to bring along a few passengers. The main draw for a jet boat however, is the speed and maneuverability.

Jet boats are great for speeding along the water even in shallow areas and participating in water sports. While you could also fish from a jet boat, you would probably be better off with a different option, as these are built for speed. 

Dinghies

Dinghies are another type of boat that come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and forms. Dinghies can be sailed, rowed, or motored, but a common aspect is they are small and often used alongside a larger boat.

Some dinghies will be inflatable while others may be fiberglass, aluminum, or wood. They are typically between 8 and 10 feet long, making them one of the smallest options in this list. They also have varied amounts of seating, depending on the specific kind you get.

Dinghies are best used as companions to larger boats to reach areas that the larger vessel can’t reach. Their compact size makes them perfect for towing along with a larger boat. They can also be used as small fishing boats or for relaxing on the water.

Aluminum Fishing Boats

Aluminum fishing boats are one of the most reliable and utilitarian options on the market for fishing. Their relatively small size, between 8 and 24 feet in length, make them easy to transport to your favorite fishing spot for the weekend.

Aluminum fishing boats are great for navigating even the most shallow of waters, and their simple construction makes them durable. You won’t often find yourself worrying about maintenance with this type of boat.

Some fishing boats must be rowed,  but most will be motored. They often have plenty of floor space for sitting, walking, and storing equipment. 

Canoes

Canoes are one of the most popular options of boat on the market for their simple construction, low maintenance, and ease of use. Canoes are propelled by rowing and are great for a fishing trip, or for coasting along a river.

These types of boats are moderately priced and easy to transport, making them perfect for recreational use. They offer plenty of seating for passengers, given their small size, which you’ll be thankful for when rowing.

Canoes are simple and offer plenty of fun for everyone involved. They come in a variety of shapes as well, some prioritizing speed, others prioritizing coasting, and more. 

Kayaks

Kayaks are very similar to canoes in their simple construction, but vary in a few key ways. While canoes offer an open interior to store things and sit, Kayaks seal off your legs and are used primarily for traversing a body of water. 

Kayaks typically only sit one or two people and are propelled by rowing. They use a double bladed paddle as opposed to two separate oars. 

Kayaks are also more suited for maneuverability, and will often be seen as the boat of choice on rapids. These types of boats are ideal for coasting along a body of water or racing down rapids.

If you’re looking for a boat with speed but want a more comfortable seating area than a jet boat has, then the deck boat is for you. This type of boat varies in length from 25 to 35 feet, and offers plenty of seating and comfort for all your passengers.

Deck boat

The wide deck is what gives the deck boat its name. Its large deck space makes it ideal for just about any water activity. Its high powered engine makes it great for watersports, while its wide deck makes it suitable for parties. 

Deck boats can be used for fishing, some longer distance travel, and much more. These are the ideal boat for someone hoping to take a lot of people out on the water. 

Runabout

Runabout boats are another catch-all term used to describe a variety of boats. Runabouts include bowriders, deck boats, jet boats, and more. The two primary factors that distinguish a runabout boat are that they are powerboats, and that they are relatively small.

Bowrider Boat

Bowriders are another great option for those hoping to take several people out onto the water. They typically range in size from 16 to 28 feet in length and are characterized by their v-shaped hull. 

Bowriders are great for just about any water activity from fishing to cruising, to watersports, and beyond. They are known for their versatility.

What’s the Smallest Boat?

The smallest boat on the market is the jet ski, the largest being only around 11 feet long. While there are some dinghies, kayaks, and other boats of similar size, jet skis at their smallest take the title. The stand-up models are even smaller than the sit-down style.

What Is a One-Person Boat Called?

There is no one singular name for a single-person boat, as there are numerous kinds of boats that are built for individuals. 

Some of these types of boats include kayaks, rafts, sculls, and dinghies. However, there are many more, and some of these have models that fit more than one person.

What Is a Small Pleasure Boat? 

Small pleasure boats can refer to a variety of boats on the list above. While there is no official designation for what makes a “small” boat, most people agree that smaller than the upper 20s in feet is the cut-off. 

Some small pleasure boats may include bowriders, runabouts, jet boats, and car toppers among many more. What distinguishes a small pleasure boat is that it fits within the loose definition of “small boat” and can be used as a personal water vehicle.

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