Can You Put a Surface Drive on a Jon Boat?

Jon boats are renowned for their versatility, durability, and affordability. These flat-bottomed vessels have been a staple in the world of boating and fishing for decades, and their adaptability has made them a popular choice among outdoor enthusiasts. One common question that arises among Jon boat owners and potential buyers is whether it’s possible to equip these boats with a surface drive. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of Jon boats and surface drives to answer the burning question: Can you put a surface drive on a Jon boat?

Understanding Jon Boats

Before we delve into the specifics of surface drives, it’s essential to understand what a Jon boat is and why they are so popular. Jon boats, short for “John boats,” are a type of flat-bottomed watercraft with a simple, minimalist design. They are typically constructed from aluminum or fiberglass and are characterized by their:

  1. Flat Bottom: The flat bottom of a Jon boat is one of its defining features. This design choice makes them incredibly stable in calm water, shallow ponds, marshes, and even muddy or swampy areas.
  2. Shallow Draft: Jon boats have a shallow draft, meaning they can navigate through water as shallow as a few inches. This makes them ideal for exploring narrow waterways and getting into tight spots where deeper-draft boats cannot go.
  3. Wide Beam: Jon boats generally have a wide beam (the width of the boat), which contributes to their stability and allows for more deck space. This extra space is advantageous for fishing, hunting, and other recreational activities.
  4. Open Layout: Jon boats typically have an open layout with no cabin or enclosed spaces. This design provides plenty of room for cargo, fishing gear, and passengers.
  5. Affordable Price: Jon boats are known for being budget-friendly compared to other types of boats, making them accessible to a wide range of boaters.
  6. Versatility: Due to their simplicity and adaptability, Jon boats are used for various purposes, such as fishing, hunting, transportation, and recreational boating.

Now that we have a better understanding of what Jon boats are, let’s explore the concept of surface drives and their compatibility with these versatile vessels.

What Are Surface Drives?

Surface drives, also known as long-tail mud motors or mud outboards, are a type of propulsion system designed for boats that need to navigate through shallow and muddy waters. These drives are specially engineered to work in conditions where conventional outboard motors would struggle or get damaged. The key features of surface drives include:

  1. Long Tail Design: Surface drives have a long, extendable propeller shaft, often referred to as a “long tail.” This tail extends below the boat’s transom and is immersed in the water to drive the boat forward.
  2. Air-Cooled Engines: Many surface drives use air-cooled engines, which are better suited for shallow and muddy water conditions because they don’t rely on water for cooling.
  3. Swiveling Propeller: The propeller on a surface drive can swivel independently of the motor, allowing for precise maneuvering, especially in tight spots.
  4. High Thrust: Surface drives are known for their high thrust capabilities, which make them suitable for pushing heavy loads through challenging environments.
  5. Durability: These drives are built to withstand the rigors of rough and muddy terrain, with strong materials and construction.

Surface drives have gained popularity in activities like duck hunting, fishing in backwaters, and navigating swamps and marshes due to their ability to excel in shallow, debris-laden, and mucky waters. But can they be fitted onto Jon boats?

The Compatibility of Surface Drives with Jon Boats

The question of whether you can put a surface drive on a Jon boat is one that many boat enthusiasts and owners ponder. The answer, in short, is yes, you can put a surface drive on a Jon boat. However, several factors need to be considered to ensure a successful and safe installation.

1. Boat Size and Weight

Jon boats come in various sizes and configurations, ranging from small 10-foot boats to larger 20-foot models. The size and weight of your Jon boat will play a crucial role in determining whether a surface drive is a suitable option. Larger Jon boats with higher weight capacities are better suited for surface drives because they can handle the increased weight and thrust.

2. Transom Strength

The transom of a Jon boat is the vertical wall at the back of the boat where the outboard motor is typically mounted. Installing a surface drive will put more stress on the transom compared to a traditional outboard motor. It’s essential to ensure that your Jon boat’s transom is strong enough to handle the additional weight and torque generated by a surface drive. Reinforcing the transom may be necessary in some cases.

3. Engine Compatibility

When considering a surface drive for your Jon boat, you’ll need to choose an engine that matches the boat’s size and weight capacity. Surface drives are available with various engine options, and selecting the right one is crucial for optimal performance. Consult with the manufacturer or a marine expert to determine the appropriate engine size and power for your specific Jon boat.

4. Boat Modification

In some cases, you may need to make modifications to your Jon boat to accommodate a surface drive. This can include reinforcing the transom, adding support brackets, or making changes to the boat’s layout to accommodate the long tail of the surface drive. These modifications should be done carefully to maintain the structural integrity of the boat.

5. Steering Mechanism

Surface drives typically come with a swiveling propeller, allowing for precise steering. Ensure that your Jon boat is compatible with the steering mechanism of the chosen surface drive. Some boats may require additional modifications to accommodate the steering system.

6. Weight Distribution

Proper weight distribution is essential when adding a surface drive to a Jon boat. The added weight of the engine and drive system can affect the boat’s stability and performance. Distribute weight evenly to maintain a balanced and safe ride.

Advantages of Using a Surface Drive on a Jon Boat

Now that we’ve established that it is possible to put a surface drive on a Jon boat with the right considerations, let’s explore the advantages of doing so:

1. Increased Versatility

Adding a surface drive to your Jon boat significantly increases its versatility. You’ll be able to navigate through shallow, weedy, and mucky waters with ease, opening up new fishing and hunting opportunities. This versatility makes your Jon boat even more valuable for various outdoor activities.

2. Access to Remote Areas

With a surface drive, you can access remote and hard-to-reach areas that would be challenging or impossible to reach with a traditional outboard motor. This can be particularly advantageous for anglers and hunters looking to explore untouched waters.

3. Improved Maneuverability

Surface drives are known for their exceptional maneuverability, thanks to the swiveling propeller. This allows you to make precise turns and navigate through tight spaces effortlessly, making them ideal for navigating through dense vegetation or narrow channels.

4. Enhanced Durability

Surface drives are built to withstand tough conditions. They are less susceptible to damage from submerged obstacles, mud, and debris compared to traditional outboard motors. This durability can save you money on repairs and replacements in the long run.

Potential Drawbacks and Considerations

While surface drives offer numerous benefits for Jon boat owners, there are also some potential drawbacks and considerations to keep in mind:

1. Increased Weight

Surface drives are generally heavier than traditional outboard motors. The added weight can affect your Jon boat’s overall performance, including speed, stability, and fuel efficiency. Ensure that your boat can handle the additional weight without compromising safety.

2. Initial Cost

Investing in a surface drive setup can be more expensive than purchasing a traditional outboard motor. However, the increased capabilities and versatility may justify the higher initial cost for boaters who frequently navigate shallow or challenging waters.

3. Maintenance Requirements

Like all marine engines, surface drives require regular maintenance to ensure they perform optimally and have a long lifespan. Be prepared for maintenance tasks such as engine tune-ups, oil changes, and propeller maintenance.

4. Learning Curve

Operating a surface drive may require a bit of a learning curve, especially if you’re used to traditional outboard motors. Familiarize yourself with the unique features and handling characteristics of surface drives to ensure safe and efficient operation.

Tips for Installing and Using a Surface Drive on a Jon Boat

If you’ve decided that a surface drive is the right choice for your Jon boat, here are some tips to help you with the installation and use:

  1. Consult with Experts: Seek advice from experienced boaters or consult with marine professionals to ensure you choose the right surface drive and engine for your specific Jon boat.
  2. Follow Manufacturer Guidelines: Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for installation, maintenance, and operation of your surface drive. This will help you avoid potential issues and ensure your safety on the water.
  3. Balance the Load: Pay attention to weight distribution within your boat to maintain stability. Distribute weight evenly to prevent the boat from becoming too front- or rear-heavy.
  4. Practice Maneuvering: Spend time practicing maneuvering your Jon boat with the surface drive to become familiar with its handling characteristics. Practice in a safe and controlled environment before venturing into challenging waters.
  5. Perform Regular Maintenance: Stay on top of maintenance tasks to keep your surface drive in top condition. Regularly inspect the engine, propeller, and other components, and follow the maintenance schedule recommended by the manufacturer.
  6. Be Mindful of the Environment: When navigating through sensitive ecosystems, be mindful of the impact your surface drive may have on aquatic vegetation and wildlife. Follow local regulations and ethical boating practices to minimize your ecological footprint.


In summary, you can put a surface drive on a Jon boat, provided you carefully consider factors such as boat size, transom strength, engine compatibility, and boat modifications. Doing so can significantly enhance the versatility of your Jon boat, allowing you to navigate through shallow and challenging waters with ease. While there are considerations and potential drawbacks to keep in mind, the advantages of using a surface drive for specific applications can make it a worthwhile investment for many Jon boat owners.

Before embarking on your surface drive journey, it’s essential to do thorough research, consult with experts, and follow manufacturer guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable boating experience. With the right setup and proper care, you can unlock new opportunities for adventure and exploration with your Jon boat and surface drive combination.