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A recreational motorboat with an outboard motor Motorboat at Kankaria lake.JPG
A recreational motorboat with an outboard motor

A boat is a watercraft of a large range of types and sizes, but generally smaller than a ship, which is distinguished by its larger size, shape, cargo or passenger capacity, or its ability to carry boats.


Small boats are typically found on inland waterways such as rivers and lakes, or in protected coastal areas. However, some boats, such as the whaleboat, were intended for use in an offshore environment. In modern naval terms, a boat is a vessel small enough to be carried aboard a ship. [1]

Boats vary in proportion and construction methods with their intended purpose, available materials, or local traditions. Canoes have been used since prehistoric times and remain in use throughout the world for transportation, fishing, and sport. Fishing boats vary widely in style partly to match local conditions. Pleasure craft used in recreational boating include ski boats, pontoon boats, and sailboats. House boats may be used for vacationing or long-term residence. Lighters are used to move cargo to and from large ships unable to get close to shore. Lifeboats have rescue and safety functions.

Boats can be propelled by manpower (e.g. rowboats and paddle boats), wind (e.g. sailboats), and inboard/outboard motors (including gasoline, diesel, and electric).


Silver model of a boat, tomb PG 789, Royal Cemetery of Ur, 2600-2500 BCE Silver model of a boat, tomb PG 789, Royal Cemetery of UR, 2600-2500 BCE.jpg
Silver model of a boat, tomb PG 789, Royal Cemetery of Ur, 2600–2500 BCE

After Homo erectus possibly used watercraft more than a million years ago to cross straits between landmasses, [2] [3] boats have served as transportation far into pre-historic times. [4] Circumstantial evidence, such as the early settlement of Australia over 40,000 years ago, findings in Crete dated 130,000 years ago [5] and in Flores dated to 900,000 years ago, [6] suggest that boats have been used since pre-historic times.[ non sequitur ] The earliest boats are thought to have been dugouts, [7] [ dubious ] and the oldest boats found by archaeological excavation date from around 7,000 to 10,000 years ago. The oldest recovered boat in the world, the Pesse canoe, found in the Netherlands, is a dugout made from the hollowed tree trunk of a Pinus sylvestris that was constructed somewhere between 8200 and 7600 BC. This canoe is exhibited in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands. [8] [9] Other very old dugout boats have also been recovered. [10] [11] [12] Rafts have operated for at least 8,000 years. [13] A 7,000-year-old seagoing reed boat has been found at site H3 in Kuwait. [14] Boats were used between 4000 and 3000 BC in Sumer, where a 4000-year old boat has been excavated at Uruk, [4] [15] ancient Egypt, [16] and in the Indian Ocean. [4]

Boats played an important role in the commerce between the Indus Valley civilization and Mesopotamia. [17] Evidence of varying models of boats has also been discovered at various Indus Valley archaeological sites. [18] [19] Uru craft originate in Beypore, a village in south Calicut, Kerala, in southwestern India. This type of mammoth wooden ship was constructed[ when? ] solely of teak, with a transport capacity of 400 tonnes. The ancient Arabs and Greeks used such boats as trading vessels. [20]

The historians Herodotus, Pliny the Elder and Strabo record the use of boats for commerce, travel, and military purposes. [18]


Boats with sails in Bangladesh saari saari paal tolaa naukaa.jpg
Boats with sails in Bangladesh

Boats can be categorized by their means of propulsion. These divide into:

  1. Unpowered. This involves drifting with the tide or a river current.
  2. Powered by the crew-members on board, using oars, paddles or a punting pole or quant.
  3. Powered by sail.
  4. Towed either by humans or animals from a river or canal bank (or in very shallow water, by walking on the sea or river bed) or by another vessel.
  5. Powered by machinery, such as internal combustion engines, steam engines or by batteries and an electric motor.
    Any one vessel may use more than one of these methods at different times on in combination. [21] :33

A number of large vessels are usually referred to as boats. Submarines are a prime example. [22] Other types of large vessels which are traditionally called boats include Great Lakes freighters, riverboats, and ferryboats. [23] Though large enough to carry their own boats and heavy cargoes, these vessels are designed for operation on inland or protected coastal waters.


The hull is the main, and in some cases only, structural component of a boat. It provides both capacity and buoyancy. The keel is a boat's "backbone", a lengthwise structural member to which the perpendicular frames are fixed. On some boats a deck covers the hull, in part or whole. While a ship often has several decks, a boat is unlikely to have more than one. Above the deck are often lifelines connected to stanchions, bulwarks perhaps topped by gunnels, or some combination of the two. A cabin may protrude above the deck forward, aft, along the centerline, or covering much of the length of the boat. Vertical structures dividing the internal spaces are known as bulkheads.

The forward end of a boat is called the bow, the aft end the stern. Facing forward the right side is referred to as starboard and the left side as port.

Building materials

Traditional Toba Batak boat (circa 1870), photograph by Kristen Feilberg COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Een Toba Batak prauw met houtsnijwerk op de voorsteven TMnr 60011149.jpg
Traditional Toba Batak boat (circa 1870), photograph by Kristen Feilberg
Fishing boats in Visakhapatnam, India Boats at Bhimili beach in Visakhapatnam.jpg
Fishing boats in Visakhapatnam, India

Until the mid-19th century most boats were made of natural materials, primarily wood, although reed, bark and animal skins were also used. Early boats include the bound-reed style of boat seen in Ancient Egypt, the birch bark canoe, the animal hide-covered kayak [24] and coracle and the dugout canoe made from a single log.

By the mid-19th century, many boats had been built with iron or steel frames but still planked in wood. In 1855 ferro-cement boat construction was patented by the French, who coined the name "ferciment". This is a system by which a steel or iron wire framework is built in the shape of a boat's hull and covered over with cement. Reinforced with bulkheads and other internal structure it is strong but heavy, easily repaired, and, if sealed properly, will not leak or corrode. [25] [26]

As the forests of Britain and Europe continued to be over-harvested to supply the keels of larger wooden boats, and the Bessemer process (patented in 1855) cheapened the cost of steel, steel ships and boats began to be more common. By the 1930s boats built entirely of steel from frames to plating were seen replacing wooden boats in many industrial uses and fishing fleets. Private recreational boats of steel remain uncommon. In 1895 WH Mullins produced steel boats of galvanized iron and by 1930 became the world's largest producer of pleasure boats.

Mullins also offered boats in aluminum from 1895 through 1899 and once again in the 1920s, [27] but it wasn't until the mid-20th century that aluminium gained widespread popularity. Though much more expensive than steel, aluminum alloys exist that do not corrode in salt water, allowing a similar load carrying capacity to steel at much less weight.

Around the mid-1960s, boats made of fiberglass (aka "glassfibre") became popular, especially for recreational boats. Fiberglass is also known as "GRP" (glass-reinforced plastic) in the UK, and "FRP" (for fiber-reinforced plastic) in the US. Fiberglass boats are strong, and do not rust, corrode, or rot. Instead, they are susceptible to structural degradation from sunlight and extremes in temperature over their lifespan. Fiberglass structures can be made stiffer with sandwich panels, where the fiberglass encloses a lightweight core such as balsa [28] or foam.

Cold molding is a modern construction method, using wood as the structural component. In one cold molding process, very thin strips of wood are layered over a form. Each layer is coated with resin, followed by another directionally alternating layer laid on top. Subsequent layers may be stapled or otherwise mechanically fastened to the previous, or weighted or vacuum bagged to provide compression and stabilization until the resin sets. An alternative process uses thin sheets of plywood shaped over a disposable male mold, and coated with epoxy.


The most common means of boat propulsion are as follows:


A boat displaces its weight in water, regardless whether it is made of wood, steel, fiberglass, or even concrete. If weight is added to the boat, the volume of the hull drawn below the waterline will increase to keep the balance above and below the surface equal. Boats have a natural or designed level of buoyancy. Exceeding it will cause the boat first to ride lower in the water, second to take on water more readily than when properly loaded, and ultimately, if overloaded by any combination of structure, cargo, and water, sink.

As commercial vessels must be correctly loaded to be safe, and as the sea becomes less buoyant in brackish areas such as the Baltic, the Plimsoll line was introduced to prevent overloading.

European Union classification

Since 1998 all new leisure boats and barges built in Europe between 2.5m and 24m must comply with the EU's Recreational Craft Directive (RCD). The Directive establishes four categories that permit the allowable wind and wave conditions for vessels in each class: [29]

Europe is the main producer of recreational boats (the second production in the world is located in Poland). European brands are known all over the world - in fact, these are the brands that created RCD and set the standard for shipyards around the world. [30]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kayak</span> Light boat that is paddled

A kayak is a small, narrow watercraft which is typically propelled by means of a double-bladed paddle. The word kayak originates from the Greenlandic word qajaq.

Ship Large watercraft

A ship is a large watercraft that travels the world's oceans and other sufficiently deep waterways, carrying cargo or passengers, or in support of specialized missions, such as defense, research and fishing. Ships are generally distinguished from boats, based on size, shape, load capacity and purpose. Ships have supported exploration, trade, warfare, migration, colonization and science. After the 15th century, new crops that had come from and to the Americas via the European seafarers significantly contributed to world population growth. Ship transport is responsible for the largest portion of world commerce.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yacht</span> Recreational boat or ship

A yacht is a sailing or power vessel used for pleasure, cruising, or racing. There is no standard definition, though the term generally applies to vessels with a cabin intended for overnight use. To be termed a yacht, as opposed to a boat, such a pleasure vessel is likely to be at least 33 feet (10 m) in length and may have been judged to have good aesthetic qualities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Canoe</span> Light boat that is paddled

A canoe is a lightweight narrow water vessel, typically pointed at both ends and open on top, propelled by one or more seated or kneeling paddlers facing the direction of travel and using a single-bladed paddle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rudder</span> Control surface for fluid-dynamic steering in the yaw axis

A rudder is a primary control surface used to steer a ship, boat, submarine, hovercraft, aircraft, or other vehicle that moves through a fluid medium. On an aircraft the rudder is used primarily to counter adverse yaw and p-factor and is not the primary control used to turn the airplane. A rudder operates by redirecting the fluid past the hull or fuselage, thus imparting a turning or yawing motion to the craft. In basic form, a rudder is a flat plane or sheet of material attached with hinges to the craft's stern, tail, or after end. Often rudders are shaped so as to minimize hydrodynamic or aerodynamic drag. On simple watercraft, a tiller—essentially, a stick or pole acting as a lever arm—may be attached to the top of the rudder to allow it to be turned by a helmsman. In larger vessels, cables, pushrods, or hydraulics may be used to link rudders to steering wheels. In typical aircraft, the rudder is operated by pedals via mechanical linkages or hydraulics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oar</span> Implement used for water-borne propulsion

An oar is an implement used for water-borne propulsion. Oars have a flat blade at one end. Rowers grasp the oar at the other end.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Runabout (boat)</span> Boat type

A runabout is any small motorboat holding between four and eight people, well suited to moving about on the water. Characteristically between 20' to 35' in length, runabouts are used for pleasure activities like boating, fishing, and water skiing, as a ship's tender for larger vessels, or in racing. Some common runabout types are bow rider, center console, cuddy boat and walkaround. The world's largest runabout, Pardon Me, is 48 feet long and owned by the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, New York.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sea kayak</span> Light boat that is paddled

A sea kayak or touring kayak is a kayak developed for the sport of paddling on open waters of lakes, bays, and the ocean. Sea kayaks are seaworthy small boats with a covered deck and the ability to incorporate a spray deck. They trade off the manoeuvrability of whitewater kayaks for higher cruising speed, cargo capacity, ease of straight-line paddling, and comfort for long journeys.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Watercraft</span> Vehicles that are intended for locomotion on or in the water

Any vehicle used in or on water as well as underwater, including boats, ships, hovercraft and submarines, is a watercraft, also known as a water vessel or waterborne vessel. A watercraft usually has a propulsive capability and hence is distinct from a stationary device, such as a pontoon, that merely floats.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dugout canoe</span> Boat made from a hollowed tree

A dugout canoe or simply dugout is a boat made from a hollowed out tree. Other names for this type of boat are logboat and monoxylon. Monoxylon (μονόξυλον) is Greek – mono- (single) + ξύλον xylon (tree) – and is mostly used in classic Greek texts. In German, they are called Einbaum. Some, but not all, pirogues are also constructed in this manner.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Inflatable boat</span> Lightweight boat constructed with flexible tubes containing pressurized gas

An inflatable boat is a lightweight boat constructed with its sides and bow made of flexible tubes containing pressurised gas. For smaller boats, the floor and hull is often flexible, while for boats longer than 3 metres (9.8 ft), the floor typically consists of three to five rigid plywood or aluminium sheets fixed between the tubes, but not joined rigidly together. Often the transom is rigid, providing a location and structure for mounting an outboard motor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Boat building</span> Design and construction of floating vessels

Boat building is the design and construction of boats and their systems. This includes at a minimum a hull, with propulsion, mechanical, navigation, safety and other systems as a craft requires.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Boating</span> Leisure activity involving boats

Boating is the leisurely activity of travelling by boat, or the recreational use of a boat whether powerboats, sailboats, or man-powered vessels, focused on the travel itself, as well as sports activities, such as fishing or waterskiing. It is a popular activity, and there are millions of boaters worldwide.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Outrigger boat</span> Boat with one or more lateral support floats

Outrigger boats are various watercraft featuring one or more lateral support floats known as outriggers, which are fastened to one or both sides of the main hull. They can range from small dugout canoes to large plank-built vessels. Outrigger boats can also vary in their configuration, from the ancestral double-hull configuration (catamarans), to single-outrigger vessels prevalent in the Pacific Islands and Madagascar, to the double-outrigger vessels (trimarans) prevalent in Island Southeast Asia. They are traditionally fitted with Austronesian sails, like the crab claw sails and tanja sails, but in modern times are often fitted with petrol engines.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fishing vessel</span> Boat or ship used to catch fish on a body of water

A fishing vessel is a boat or ship used to catch fish in the sea, or on a lake or river. Many different kinds of vessels are used in commercial, artisanal and recreational fishing.

Ancient boat building methods can be categorized as one of hide, log, sewn, lashed-plank, clinker, shell-first, and frame-first. While the frame-first technique dominates the modern ship construction industry, the ancients relied primarily on the other techniques to build their watercraft. In many cases, these techniques were very labor-intensive and/or inefficient in their use of raw materials. Regardless of differences in ship construction techniques, the vessels of the ancient world, particularly those that plied the waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the islands of Southeast Asia were seaworthy craft, capable of allowing people to engage in large-scale maritime trade.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Traditional fishing boat</span>

Traditionally, many different kinds of boats have been used as fishing boats to catch fish in the sea, or on a lake or river. Even today, many traditional fishing boats are still in use. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), at the end of 2004, the world fishing fleet consisted of about 4 million vessels, of which 2.7 million were undecked (open) boats. While nearly all decked vessels were mechanised, only one-third of the undecked fishing boats were powered, usually with outboard engines. The remaining 1.8 million boats were traditional craft of various types, operated by sail and oars.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bangka (boat)</span> Traditional Filipino watercraft with outriggers

Bangka are various native watercraft of the Philippines. It originally referred to small double-outrigger dugout canoes used in rivers and shallow coastal waters, but since the 18th century, it has expanded to include larger lashed-lug ships, with or without outriggers. Though the term used is the same throughout the Philippines, "bangka" can refer to a very diverse range of boats specific to different regions. Bangka was also spelled as banca, panca, or panga in Spanish. It is also known archaically as sakayan.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lashed-lug boat</span>

Lashed-lug boats are ancient boat-building techniques of the Austronesian peoples. It is characterized by the use of sewn holes and later dowels ("treenails") to stitch planks edge-to-edge onto a dugout keel and solid carved wood pieces that form the caps for the prow and stern. The planks are further lashed together and to ribs with fiber ropes wrapped around protruding carved lugs on the inside surfaces. Unlike carvel construction, the shell of the boat is created first, prior to being fastened to the ribs. The seams between planks are also sealed with absorbent tapa bark and fiber that expands when wet or caulked with resin-based preparations.


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