45 Types of Boats
There are literally hundreds of different types of boats in the world. For some, the difference between them is very little. For instance, a pontoon and a tritoon are the same boat save for the addition of a single extra pontoon tube. Other boats are highly specialized like a crane boat which may be used for lifting freighters out of the water. And yet others are mostly lost to history, like the boita vessels of the Kalinga region of India.
Let’s take a look at some of the more common boats you’re apt to see in the world today, and maybe a few less common ones.
Historically there are actually two kinds of vessels known as banana boats. The less common version in the modern world is the banana boat transport ship which carried bananas as freight from their tropical origins to ports in Europe and North America.
In the modern parlance, a banana boat is a long, banana-shaped inflatable craft used for recreation. They can seat as many as 10 people and they are towed behind other boats similar to water skiing or tubing.
Barges are flat bottomed boats that are used in rivers, canals and other inland waterways. Usually these are just used to carry freight and cargo and sometimes they are not even able to do so under their own power, rather they are pushed or pulled by tugs.
Bass Fishing Boat
A bass boat is a small motor boat for use in freshwater specifically for freshwater fishing and, in particular, bass fishing. They often feature livewells for holding fish as well as flat decks and room for several anglers. The seats in bass boats actually swivel to allow you to shift from one side of the boat to the other very easily. There will also be more storage for fishing gear and rods than you’ll find on the average boat.
A bass boat will be powered by an outboard motor but it should also have a trolling motor for maneuvering as well.
Bowrider boats have an open bow area to allow for additional seating. Bowriders are often lumped under the umbrella of runabouts but while a bowrider is a runabout not all runabouts are bowriders, obviously. Most bowriders are between 20 and 35 feet. They typically have sterndrive or outboard motors and can offer seating for around 6 to 10 passengers. They will have a deep v-shaped hull and are good boats for things like water skiing and cruising.
Cabin Cruiser Boats
A cabin cruiser is a power boat that features a cabin on the vessel so that crew or passengers can spend the night on the boat. Typically these accommodations are larger and more well-appointed than what you’ll find in a cuddy cabin, but definitely not as luxurious as a yacht or a houseboat. A good-sized cabin cruiser over 40 feet should have private staterooms, a head and a cooking and dining area. You can comfortably sleep half a dozen people in most cabin cruisers and many more in larger ones.
One of the oldest and most recognizable kinds of boats, a canoe is a long, narrow craft which is paddled by the boater. A single bladed paddle can be used by one or more passengers. Canoes are pointed at the bow and after and can come in a variety of lengths such that they have room for one or many passengers inside.
Canoes can be made from wood, fiberglass or aluminum and are typically lightweight enough to allow them to be carried, or portaged, from one body of water to another if necessary. They are ideal for rivers, lakes and coastal waters and can be used for fishing and cruising.
A catamaran is a boat with two distinct but equal sized hulls. The hulls are connected by a bridge deck between them. They are known for offering a stable ride and can be powered by engines or wind.
Center Console Boats
As the name suggests, a center console boat features the helm control is the center of the boat. If the boat is large enough it may feature a cabin or a berth inside, but smaller center consoles will not. A center console is an ideal boat for fishing because, with the console located in the middle, the rest of the boat is open in a full 360 degrees for visibility and moving around. Combined with a good amount of deck space they are easy to use and offer space for gear storage.
Cigarette boats are also known as cigar boats, rum runners and, more generically, go-fast boats. The names cigar and cigarette come from the fact they are similarly shaped, which is to say long and thin. Cigarette boat is actually a brand name for a go-fast boat.
Because of their long, sleek shape and design, these boats were ideal for smuggling as well as racing.
Cuddy Cabin Boats
A cuddy cabin boat, or a walkaround cuddy, is usually somewhere between 18 and 25 feet. They can be used as fishing boats or cruisers and will have cabin space to allow for overnight trips as well, which is what the term “cuddy” refers to. In this case, a cuddy is a berth in the V of the boat’s bow that will also have a small head and maybe a sink. Sometimes the cuddy is simply used for storage though it can easily be used for sleeping.
Deck boats have wide bows which allow for larger deck space, hence the name. The hull is a v-shaped but more flared with a typical boat to allow for that extra space. Deck boats are often compared to pontoon boats but the traditional hull of a deck boat means they will not generally have the same amount of space as a pontoon.
Dragon boats originate in China and are used for racing these days. Similar to canoes in design, they are generally about 40 feet long and are powered by 16 to 20 paddlers split evenly between the two sides of the boat paddling with oars to propel the boat forward. There will be a steersperson at the front of the boat and also a drummer at the back to maintain a pace for the rowers.
The boats are made of wood traditionally and have been used for over 2000 years. The ends of the boat are usually decorated with dragon heads and tails to complete the look.
Dinghy is another general, catchall term for a number of very small boats. Typically a dinghy will only have room for one or two passengers. They can be rowed with oars or sailed with small sails. Some feature small outboard motors as well. Dinghies are frequently carried by or towed by larger boats for the purpose of allowing crew to leave the larger vessel and take the dinghy ashore.
Also called an airboat, a fan boat looks similar to a hovercraft but does not have the air cushion beneath it. Instead they will have a rigid, flat bottom hull design that is usually aluminum. Airboats are most often used in swamp and marsh areas where a propeller engine would not be practical due to shallow waters and numerous hazards that would get caught in the props. With a very shallow draft and a powerful fan engine, the fan boat is able to skin across the surface of shallow areas.
A ferry is a passenger vessel that usually runs a scheduled route between two points. Small ferries may simply offer transports for people while larger ferries can accommodate vehicles as well. Ferries generally operate in one of two ways. They bring people to and from specific destinations which can only be accessed by boat or they provide tours such as the Maid of the Mist ferry which allows passengers to get a closer look at Niagara Falls.
Fishing boats are one of the most loosely defined boat types. It’s a catchall term for really any boat that is used for fishing and, as such, can take on countless forms. From large commercial vessels to a simple aluminum fishing boat or a sport fishing boat, as long as you can fish from the boat it qualifies as a fishing boat.
Most people, when referring to fishing boats, mean smaller vessels which can still vary greatly between freshwater and saltwater use.
When you’re in a shallow part of the water with a flat bottom most people will call that a “flats.” Flats boats are small fishing boats with a very shallow draft perfect for fishing in flats and can handle water less than a foot deep. Usually these are coastal waters and sometimes in bays which is why flats boats are also called bay boats sometimes.
A frigate is likely something you won’t be coming across in your travels but you may still hear the name. Frigates are military vessels. Once upon a time they were three-masted warships and today they are still ships of war through noticeably without sails. They tend to be smaller than Destroyers but serve much the same purpose in warfare.
Gondolas are flat bottomed rowing boats similar to long, narrow canoes. They are most famously found in the canals of Venice in Italy although they are also prominent in some Asian countries for navigating along rivers and canals as well. You can also find gondolas in places like New Orleans and Boston. A gondola is usually a passenger vessel operated by a gondolier who will stand at the bow of the vessel and use a long oar to maneuver the boat.
A houseboat is a boat that serves as a full time residence and therefore contains all the amenities you would expect in an actual house including multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, fully functional kitchens and so on. A houseboat can be operated and taken out for cruising or fishing but most are permanently moored in a place that will serve as a residence. This allows for the boat to be connected to utilities such as electricity from a land-based source, as well as having access to clean water.
Some houseboats can get incredibly extravagant with multiple floors, indoor swimming pools, wine cellars and more.
A hovercraft is able to travel over both water and land and is sometimes called an air cushion vehicle or ACV. Air fills a skirt or cushion beneath the vessel’s hull to provide lift. Unlike some other boats that use air to achieve lift, like a hydrofoil, the design of a hovercraft means they can take advantage of the lift even while not in motion. As well, they are not limited to operating solely on the water. Many hovercraft designs also include a large fan in the rear for propulsion.
A hydrofoil boat uses a hydrofoil, sometimes just called a foil, to provide lift to the boat as it reaches speeds. These foils look like feet that extend under the boat into the water. They are fully submerged when the boat is at rest or moving slowly and cause the boat to have a deep draft which means they cannot be used safely in shallow water.
As a hydrofoil gains speed, the foils will lift the hull of the boat out of the water. This cuts back on drag and allows the boat to travel faster and operate far more efficiently. The ride is often more comfortable for passengers as well.
A hydroplane, sometimes called a thunderboat, is a racing boat that often looks like some kind of wingless jet or spacecraft on the water. They are designed so that, at high speeds, they plane on the water to stay afloat rather than having to rely on the buoyancy of the hull. That means hydrodynamic lift keeps the boat above the water, in much the same way a stone will skip across the surface of the water when thrown properly.
An inflatable boat can take several forms and may include anything from a dinghy to a liferaft and even inflatable pontoon boats. Any lightweight boat that has a hull made entirely from flexible tubes or supported by those flexible tubes that can be filled with pressurized air to provide buoyancy and structure to the boat can be considered an inflatable.
Any boat that moves thanks to jet drive propulsion qualifies as a jet boat. This would also include personal watercraft, strictly by this definition. A jet drive differs from an outboard or even inboard motor which uses a propeller to rotate through the water and push the boat forward. A jet drive draws water inside with an impeller and then expels the water with force out of the rear of the vessel. The pushing out of a jet of water forces the boat to move forward. Some jet boats produce a massive jet of water from the rear known as a rooster tail.
The fastest boats in the world are jet boats with those outfitted for racing able to reach speeds well over 300 mph.
A jon boat is a very basic, flat-bottom vessel usually reserved for fishing or cruising. It may have one to three benches inside for seating and little else. Hulls are typically aluminum and sometimes fiberglass and should not exceed 24 feet. Because they have an extremely shallow draft they are ideal for use in rivers, swamps and other shallow water areas. Jon boats typically use an outboard or trolling motor to maneuver around. They’re considered good boats for newcomers to boating and are not difficult to control.
Similar to a canoe but with a covered deck and dual paddles. Kayak the word comes from an Inuit language and the boats are Inuit in origin where they were used for hunting and fishing in lakes, rivers and coastal waters. There have been numerous modifications to this original kayak design including kayaks that seat several passengers, ones you sit on top of, sailing kayaks and even motorized kayaks.
An optimist boat or optimist dinghy is usually used by children. It is a sailing vessel with room for just a single occupant. Today they are often used for racing and official races require that the boats are registered and meet some fairly strict requirements to qualify as “real” optimist boats.
An outrigger canoe is a traditional canoe that has been outfitted with an additional one or even two buoyancy supports. Often a single outrigger will extend from one side or the other of the canoe’s hull. The outrigger can be similar to a pontoon or even just a log in very simple designs. Anything that offers buoyancy and stability to the main vessel. An outrigger can be affixed to both sides producing a look similar to a trimaran.
Also called a pedalo, a paddle boat requires human power rather than wind or a motor to move it. The operator and/or passenger pedals in a similar fashion to a bicycle which in turn rotates a paddle wheel to provide propulsion. These are typically used in ponds or calm river stretches. Steer is usually limited to a very simple rudder control that will allow for very slow and simple turns while the paddle itself provides propulsion only as powerful as your legs can manage.
A pontoon boat uses aluminum or inflatable tubes, called pontoons, to keep the hull above the water. This provides good stability and buoyancy. Some boats have a third pontoon and may be called tritoon boats. They offer more deck space than typical v-shaped hull boats but tend to be slower overall. Pontoon boats are ideal fishing and cruising boats, and their large deck space makes them ideal boats for families. They are not well suited for open waters and rough seas, however.
A PWC or personal watercraft is often called a Sea Doo or jetski. These recreational craft are usually used by just one person but some have room for passengers. They are operated by sitting or standing on them rather than in them as you would a boat. PWC are powered by outboard jet drive propulsion. In addition to recreation activities, PWC are often used by lifeguards because of their speed and maneuverability. Most states have additional laws for boaters using PWCs that need to be followed.
A raft is one of the simplest and most basic structures that can qualify as a boat. It is a flat structure devoid of sides and may be as simple as boards, branches or logs lashed together to provide a surface that can hold a passenger. Their buoyancy comes from the materials, such as wood, rather than any kind of strategic hull design. That said, pontoon rafts can also be easily made even from simple materials like air-filled barrels.
Also called a RIB, a rigid-hull inflatable boat has a rigid bottom made of something like aluminum, with inflatable tubes making up the sides to give structure and buoyancy. Life boats and dinghies will often be rigid-hull inflatables.
Runabout is a general term that can apply to several specific kinds of boats. In general, a runabout is a motorboat that can be used for fishing, cruising, or watersports. It seats several people, around a half dozen or so, and is usually between 20 feet and 35 feet. The steering is located at the front and there’s probably a windshield as well. Runabouts are fairly basic boats that are well-suited to newcomers.
Any boat propelled by the power of the wind acting on sails is a sailboat. Within that definition there can be different types of sailboats including schooners, cutters, sloops, ketches, catamarans and many others. These are historically some of the oldest boats in the world dating back thousands of years. Sail boats can be small enough to hold just a single passenger or massive enough to accommodate hundreds. With the advent of motorized travel, most sailboats only exist as recreational vessels.
Modern sailboats are recreational craft used for fishing, racing and cruising.
A schooner is a sailboat with at last two masts. To qualify as a schooner the after mast or masts have to be as big or bigger than the foremast. Technically you would only use the word “schooner” to describe such a boat with two masts and if it had four masts, for instance, you would call it a four-masted schooner.
A scow is a large, flat bottomed boat like a barge but not as big. The ends are squared off and the purpose of the vessel is generally for transportation. Arguably the most well known type of scow is a garbage scow which, as the name suggests, transports large quantities of trash.
A skiff is not a specific type of boat. Any small, flat-bottomed boat with a squared off aft section and a pointed bow would likely qualify as a skiff. These are usually used for things like river fishing and can be operated with lower horsepower outboard engines.
This is the state boat of Maryland and was traditionally the boat used in the Chesapeake Bay for oyster dredging. They are two-masted sailboats with what they call a leg-o-mutton sail, which means triangular fore and aft sails behind the mast which is raked, or angled.
A sloop is a sailboat that has a single mast. It should only have two sails – a headsail and a mainsail. You may also see a sloop with a racing or cruising spinnaker.
There are actually two kinds of boats called trawlers. Fishing trawlers are commercial fishing vessels that trawl for fish, which means they drag fishing nets behind them. Recreational trawlers are named after fishing trawlers and feature much the same design, they’re just not used for fishing, or not commercial fishing at least. Recreational trawlers feature cabins and creature comforts like you’d find in a cabin cruiser, a yacht, etc.
Similar to a catamaran, a trimaran has one central hull and then two smaller outriggers. While a catamaran may be more oriented to being a pleasure vessel, a trimaran is better equipped for speed. The outriggers ensure great stability even at speed and are adept at staying afloat even on very rough seas.
Tugboats are most often found in harbors or ports where they are used to help larger vessels maneuver in tight spaces. They are also deployed to tow damaged or incapacitated vessels. They can either pull another vessel with a tow line or pull it. Given the nature of their jobs, tugboats are surprisingly powerful despite their small size.
There is not actually a specific boat that qualifies as a yacht in the way a canoe must clearly be a canoe or a pontoon boat is clearly a pontoon boat. A yacht can be sail powered or engine powered, used for racing, fishing or cruising, and can be a variety of lengths. In general, however, a yacht has a cabin to allow for extended and overnight stays and will usually be at least 33 feet in length. Most people associate a yacht with at least some measure of luxury.
The Bottom Line
There are hundreds and hundreds of different kinds of boats and ships, including various subsets of boats such as is the case with things like sailboats, fishing boats and yachts. Other boats may be known by several different names interchangeably, like how canoe can refer to both a canoe or a kayak in the UK. If you’re ever unsure about what kind of boat someone is referring to, it never hurts to ask or check with your old friend Google.