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A modern copy of a whaleboat at Mystic Seaport. The mast is stowed with its heel under the after thwart and resting on the gunwale on the starboard quarter. The 2 tubs containing the whale rope are in the after half of the boat, and the rope is led round the loggerhead and then forward to the bow, between the chocks. The harpoons are already attached to the rope. Mystic whaleboat.jpg
A modern copy of a whaleboat at Mystic Seaport. The mast is stowed with its heel under the after thwart and resting on the gunwale on the starboard quarter. The 2 tubs containing the whale rope are in the after half of the boat, and the rope is led round the loggerhead and then forward to the bow, between the chocks. The harpoons are already attached to the rope.
Whaleboat aboard the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport MysticWhaleBoat.JPG
Whaleboat aboard the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport

A whaleboat is a type of open boat that was used for catching whales, or a boat of similar design that retained the name when used for a different purpose. Some whaleboats were used from whaling ships. Other whaleboats would operate from the shore. Later whaleboats usually could operate under sail or oar - American whaling crews in particular obtained better results by making their first approach to a whale under sail, then quickly unstepping the mast and using oars thereafter.


Most whaleboats have double-ended [lower-alpha 1] , clinker-built hulls of light construction. The hulls were narrow and with sharp ends to achieve the best possible speed for the length of waterline. Length was between 27 and 31 feet. Beam was just over a fifth of the length. Typically they were propelled by five oars when rowed, and stepped a single removable mast when under sail. A rudder was used when under sail and a steering oar when the boat was rowed. The latter provided the manoeuvrability needed when closing with a harpooned whale.

Outside of whaling, whaleboats were well thought of for their seaworthiness and as a useful compromise between optimisation for sail or oar. They were therefore used as a type of ship's boat and for other utility purposes. Many of these derivative types varied from the whale-hunting types to some extent - for instance the Montagu whaler was a somewhat sturdier version with slightly fuller lines, but still retaining, for example, the five oars, clinker build, double ends and a reputation for seaworthiness.


The early history of whaleboats includes a c. 1335 image of Basque whalers working from a double-ended boat of this type. The similarity of the whaleboat to the Shetland sixern has been commented on - suggesting a Norse design heritage. An early 1600s description of whale-hunting from a whaleboat follows closely the methods of New Bedford whalers in the 1870s. There is little information on the actual boats used in the 1600s, but with a whaleship of that time carrying half a dozen or more whaleboats, they are likely to have been specialised types. Illustrations from 1711 and the 1720s show double-ended whaleboats with a crew of six, single-banked oars and a steering oar. The bollards (loggerheads in American terminology) on which the whale-rope would be controlled are clearly depicted. There is no evidence of sails being used in on whale-boats before 1825, but this soon became the preferred technique of approaching a whale prior to harpooning. (The crew would rapidly unstep the mast as the harpooned whale moved off, towing the boat behind.) Boats became more optimised for sailing, with slightly more beam and less slack bilges in the section (to give greater stability); by the 1850s centreboards were common. The last whaleships to carry whaleboats worked under oar and sail operated in the 1920s. [1] :1, 7-14, 66

Modern applications and derivative designs

Today whaleboats are used as safety vessels aboard some marine vessels. The United States Coast Guard has been using them since 1791. Their simple open structure allows for easy access and personnel loading in the event of an emergency. Currently, some USCG whaleboats are used as lifeboats, with standardized equipment such as a hatchet, compass, sea anchor, emergency signal mirror, drinking water, first aid kit, jack knife with can opener, bilge pump, and other emergency provisions.[ citation needed ]

On modern warships, a relatively light and seaworthy double-ender for transport of ship's crew may be referred to as a whaleboat or whaler. Many have fuller hulls with more capacity, but far more drag.

Monomoy surfboats, a lifeboat directly descended from whaleboats, are used for recreational and competitive rowing in the San Francisco Bay Area and coastal Massachusetts.

The Tancook Schooner descends from whaleboats through the tancook whaler, a double-ended design optimized for sail.

Uses in war

Whaleboats were also extensively used in warfare. Colonel Benjamin Church is credited with pioneering their use for amphibious operations against Abenaki and Mi'kmaq tribes in what is today Maine and Acadia. His troops, New England colonial forces and Native allies from southern New England, used them as early as 1696 (during King William's War). Others in the Northeastern borderlands followed suit and they were used throughout the imperial conflicts of the early 18th century, and extensively used by both British and colonial troops during the French and Indian war. Units that made extensive use of whaleboats were the 7th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment at the siege of Louisburg in 1745, often referred to as "the whaleboat regiment", and Gorham's Rangers, formed in 1744, initially a company of Indians mainly from Cape Cod, many of whom were employed as whalers, and which later evolved into a British Army ranger company in the 1750s and 1760s. [2] John Bradstreet's Bateaux and Transport service, [3] a corps of armed boatmen tasked with moving supplies on inland waterways during the French and Indian War also used whaleboats extensively. In 1772, American colonials used whaleboats to attack and destroy the Gaspee in Narragansett Bay. During the American Revolutionary War, there were many whaleboat raids, including one with 230 men led by Return J. Meigs Sr. to sack Sag Harbor on Long Island in 1777. On December 7, 1782, two fleets of whaleboats fought a bloody battle on Long Island Sound known as the Boats Fight. During the desperate hand-to-hand conflict, every man involved was either killed or injured.[ citation needed ]

Construction and use

The whaleboat was originally a lapstrake design, clearly in the Northern European building tradition that created the longship and the yole. Its "superior handling characteristics soon made it a popular general-purpose ship's boat". [4] In the first half of the 20th century, many navies carried whaleboats on their warships, such as the 27ft whalers used in the Royal Navy. [5]

Whaleboats were equipped with a mast, which was stepped immediately after launching. The preferred whale-hunting technique was to approach a target whale under sail, as this was less likely to startle the animal than under oars. In light winds, paddles were used as these created less noise than oars. [1] Boats used strictly for whaling often used only a long steering oar, while those used as ship's boats often had dismountable pintle-and-gudgeon rudders as well.[ citation needed ] A main sail, and occasionally a jib were used. After 1850 most were fitted with a centreboard.[ citation needed ]

See also


  1. A "double-ended" hull is one that is pointed in the same or similar way at each end. Many whaleboats were built with the bow and stern built from exactly the same moulds.

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Sailboat Boat propelled partly or entirely by sails

A sailboat or sailing boat is a boat propelled partly or entirely by sails and is smaller than a sailing ship. Distinctions in what constitutes a sailing boat and ship vary by region and maritime culture.

Sail plan Description of the specific ways that a sailing craft is rigged

A sail plan is a description of the specific ways that a sailing craft is rigged. Also, the term "sail plan" is a graphic depiction of the arrangement of the sails for a given sailing craft.

Dinghy Type of small boat

A dinghy is a type of small boat, often carried or towed by a larger vessel for use as a tender. Utility dinghies are usually rowboats or have an outboard motor. Some are rigged for sailing but they differ from sailing dinghies, which are designed first and foremost for sailing. A dinghy's main use is for transfers from larger boats, especially when the larger boat cannot dock at a suitably-sized port or marina.

Yawl Type of sailboat

A yawl is a type of boat. The term has several meanings. It can apply to the rig, to the hull type or to the use which the vessel is put.

Harpoon Long spear-like instrument used in marine hunting

A harpoon is a long spear-like instrument and tool used in fishing, whaling, sealing, and other marine hunting to catch and injure large fish or marine mammals such as whales. It accomplishes this task by impaling the target animal and securing it with barb or toggling claws, allowing the fishermen to use a rope or chain attached to the projectile to catch the animal. A harpoon can also be used as a weapon. Certain harpoons are made with different builds to perform better with the type of target being aimed at. For example, the Inuit have short, fixed foreshaft harpoons for hunting at breathing holes while loose shafted ones are made for attaching to the game thrown at.


A longboat is a type of ship's boat that was in use from circa 1500 or before. Though the Royal Navy replaced longboats with launches from 1780, examples can be found in merchant ships after that date. The longboat was usually the largest boat carried. In the early period of use, a ship's longboat was often so large that it could not be carried on board, and was instead towed. For instance, a survey of 1618 of Royal Navy ship's boats listed a 52 ft 4 in longboat used by the First Rate Prince, a ship whose length of keel was 115 ft. This could lead to the longboat being lost in adverse weather. By the middle of the 17th century it became increasingly more common to carry the longboat on board, though not universally. In 1697 some British ships in chase of a French squadron cut adrift the longboats they were towing in an attempt to increase their speed and engage with the enemy.

Cutter (boat) Type of boat

A cutter is a type of watercraft. The term has several meanings. It can apply to the rig of a sailing vessel, to a governmental enforcement agency vessel, to a type of ship's boat which can be used under sail or oars, or, historically, to a type of fast-sailing vessel introduced in the 18th century, some of which were used as small warships.

<i>Essex</i> (whaleship) American whaleship from Nantucket, Massachusetts

Essex was an American whaler from Nantucket, Massachusetts, which was launched in 1799. In 1820, while at sea in the southern Pacific Ocean under the command of Captain George Pollard Jr., she was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale. Thousands of miles from the coast of South America with little food and water, the 20-man crew was forced to make for land in the ship's surviving whaleboats.

<i>Charles W. Morgan</i> (ship) American whaling ship built in 1841

Charles W. Morgan is an American whaling ship built in 1841 that was active during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ships of this type were used to harvest the blubber of whales for whale oil which was commonly used in lamps. Charles W. Morgan has served as a museum ship since the 1940s and is now an exhibit at the Mystic Seaport museum in Mystic, Connecticut. She is the world's oldest surviving (non-wrecked) merchant vessel and the only surviving wooden whaling ship from the 19th century American merchant fleet. The Morgan was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

This is a glossary of nautical terms; some remain current, while many date from the 17th to 19th centuries.

The Ann Alexander was a whaling ship from New Bedford, Massachusetts. She is notable for having been rammed and sunk by a wounded sperm whale in the South Pacific on August 20, 1851, some 30 years after the famous incident in which the Essex was stove in and sunk by a whale in the same area.

Whaler Specialized ship designed for whaling

A whaler or whaling ship is a specialized vessel, designed or adapted for whaling: the catching or processing of whales.

Drascombe Family of British sailboats

The word Drascombe is a trademark that was first registered by John Watkinson who applied it to a series of sailing boats which he designed and built in the period 1965–79 and sold in the United Kingdom (UK). They comprised the Coaster, Cruiser Longboat, Dabber, Drifter, Driver, Gig, Launch, Longboat, Lugger, Peterboat, Scaffie, Scaith and Skiff, together with a few other one-offs. They have wide and deep cockpits, adaptable boomless rigs and high bulwarks.

A Nantucket sleighride is the dragging of a whaleboat by a harpooned whale while whaling. It is an archaic term from the early days of industrial whaling, when the animals were harpooned from small open boats. Once harpooned, the whale, in pain from its wound, attempts to flee, but the rope attached to the harpoon drags the whalers' boat along with it. The term refers to Nantucket, Massachusetts, the center of the American whaling industry; as well as the speed associated with riding in a horse-drawn sleigh. The term wasn't used by whalemen themselves, but was probably invented by a late 19th-century journalist.

Whaling in the United States Industry

Commercial whaling in the United States dates to the 17th century in New England. The industry peaked in 1846–1852, and New Bedford, Massachusetts, sent out its last whaler, the John R. Mantra, in 1927. The Whaling industry was engaged with the production of three different raw materials: whale oil, spermaceti oil, and whalebone. Whale oil was the result of "trying-out" whale blubber by heating in water. It was a primary lubricant for machinery, whose expansion through the Industrial Revolution depended upon before the development of petroleum-based lubricants in the second half of the 19th century. Once the prized blubber and spermaceti had been extracted from the whale, the remaining majority of the carcass was discarded.

Sperm whaling

Sperm whaling is the hunting of the marine mammals for the oil, meat and bone that can be extracted from their bodies. Sperm whales, a large and deep-diving species, produce a waxy substance that was especially useful during the Industrial Revolution, and so they were targeted in 19th-century whaling, as exemplified in Moby Dick. Sperm oil is no longer needed, but another unusual product, ambergris, is still valued as a perfume fixative. Although the animal is classified as a vulnerable species, aboriginal whaling in limited numbers is still permitted, notably from two villages in Indonesia, for subsistence.

A whaler is a specialized kind of ship designed for whaling.

Montagu whaler

The Montagu whaler was the standard seaboat of the Royal Navy between 1910- 1970, it was a clinker built 27 by 6 feet open boat, which could be pulled by oars or powered by sail – a shorter version of 25 feet (7.6 m) was also built. It was double-ended; having a pointed stem and stern. The design of this naval whaler, was proposed by retired Rear Admiral The Honourable Victor Alexander Montagu in 1890 to replace a variety of smaller craft with one single, versatile craft.

This is a list of nautical terms starting with the letters M to Z.


  1. 1 2 Ansel, Willits Dyer (1978). The Whaleboat : a study of design, construction, and use from 1850 to 1970. [Mystic, Conn.]: Mystic Seaport Museum. ISBN   0-913372-39-0.
  2. Brian D. Carroll, "'Savages' in the Service of Empire: New England Indians in Gorham's Rangers, 1744-1762", New England Quarterly 85, no. 3 (September 2012): 383–429.
  3. Joseph F. Meany, Jr. "Bateaux and 'Battoe Men': An American Colonial Response to the Problem of Logistics in Mountain Warfare". New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center. Accessed July 5, 2013.
  4. "whaleboat". Encyclopædia Britannica, January 1 – December 31, 2013. Retrieved April 11, 2014
  5. Manual of Seamanship: volume 1. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office. 1937.

Further reading