A boat is a generic term for small watercraft propelled by paddles, oars, sail, or motor, open or partially decked, and usually less than 45 feet (roughly 14 metres) in length. A vessel larger than this is customarily classed as a ship, although the word boat is often applied to certain working vessels—such as tugboats—that may be of considerable size.
Humans have tended to live near water, and it is natural to make use of things that float. Logs or bundles of reeds can be lashed together to form rafts – hollow trunks can be improved to become dugout canoes. Once the principle of a watertight hull is understood, animal hides or the bark of trees can be attached to a framework of bamboo or wicker to make a simple coracle.
Circumstantial evidence, such as the early settlement of Australia over 40,000 years ago, findings in Crete dated 130,000 years ago, and in Flores dated to 900,000 years ago, suggest that boats have been used since prehistoric times.
The earliest boats are thought to have been dugouts, and the oldest boats found by archaeological excavation date from around 7,000–10,000 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. Other very old dugout boats have also been recovered.
Rafts have operated for at least 8,000 years. A 7,000-year-old seagoing reed boat has been found at site H3 in Kuwait.
Both the earliest civilizations, the Egyptian and the Mesopotamian, make extensive use of boats for transport on the Nile, Euphrates and Tigris. The Nile in particular provides a superbly predictable thoroughfare, for the wind always blows from north to south and the current always flows from south to north. Egyptian boats sail upstream, hoisting a large rectangular sail, and then are rowed back down the river.
The Egyptians, with access to the Mediterranean, also use larger seagoing vessels. These become known as ‘Byblos’ boats, revealing that their trade is with the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.
About 3000 BC, the Scandinavians were also building innovative boats. People living near Kongens Lyngby in Denmark, came up with the idea of segregated hull compartments, which allowed the size of boats to gradually be increased. A crew of some two dozen paddled the wooden Hjortspring boat across the Baltic Sea long before the rise of the Roman Empire. Scandinavians continued to develop better ships, incorporating iron and other metal into the design and developing oars for propulsion.
Many indigenous peoples of the Americas built bark canoes. They were usually skinned with birch bark over a light wooden frame, but other types could be used if birch was scarce. At a typical length of 4.3 m (14 ft) and weight of 23 kg (50 lb), the canoes were light enough to be portaged, yet could carry a lot of cargo, even in shallow water.
Kayaks were originally developed by the Inuit, Yup’ik, and Aleut. They used the boats to hunt on inland lakes, rivers and coastal waters of the Arctic Ocean, North Atlantic, Bering Sea and North Pacific oceans. These first kayaks were constructed from stitched seal or other animal skins stretched over a wood or whalebone-skeleton frame. Kayaks are believed to be at least 4,000 years old. The oldest kayaks remaining are exhibited in the North America department of the State Museum of Ethnology in Munich, with the oldest dating from 1577.
The Vikings started building longboats in 1000 AD. These are huge boats that can hold 60 people. These boats are thin and long – very suitable for sailing on rivers and high seas. Around AD 1100, the Chinese started utilizing boats called junk. Junks are boats with a steering rudder, watertight compartments and braces on the sails. These lodges and slats make them more grounded.
The earliest history of recreational boating begins with kings and royal regattas on the Thames River in the mid-1600s.
During the 17th century, the British developed the dogger, an early type of sailing trawler or longliner, which commonly operated in the North Sea. Doggers were slow but sturdy, capable of fishing in the rough conditions of the North Sea.
Dories appeared in New England fishing towns sometime after the early 18th century. They were small, shallow-draft boats, usually about five to seven metres (15 to 22 feet) long. Lightweight and versatile, with high sides, a flat bottom and sharp bows, they were easy and cheap to build.
The largest parade of boats consists of 1,180 boats as part of the Malaysia Day celebrations in Kemaman, Terengganu, Malaysia, on 13 September 2014.