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Ships & Boats - What's The Difference?

written by: Raunekk•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 6/12/2010

Ever called a ship a boat and a boat a ship? Ever wonder what is the difference between a ship and a boat? If yes then this article is just for you. Read inside to find out how our minds have been trained to identify a ship or boat and how traditional notions have led to this confusion.

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    The first thing that comes to anyone’s mind when differentiating between a ship and a boat is their size. Though the thought process is partially correct, there is a thin line of demarcation between a boat and a ship which is absolutely elusive. And if we plan go technically, it’s a totally different ball game.

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    The Era of Sails

    During ancient times when seagoing vessels used to have sails, any square rigged craft with at least three masts was considered a ship, whereas every other sailing craft was considered a boat. Technically also boats were small sized vessels with a mast, paddles, or oars for propulsion. Boats were not built for deep-sea expeditions; however they were used extensively for daily chores. Ships in ancient times were massive and heavily built with at least three masts along with oars. They were used for warfare and for carrying cargo. As ships were made for deep sea purposes, they were made extremely robust.


    Image Credits : Sail ship from katmerlibilgi.files ( )

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    Modern Times

    In modern day motorized seagoing crafts, also, all deep seagoing vessels are known as ships. Modern ships are large in size and have several trained sailors to operate and maintain them. In comparison to ships, boats are much smaller in size and are not used for deep sea voyages. Going by definition, any sea going vessel with a displacement of more than 500 tons is termed as ship; everything else is a boat. Also, it is said that a boat is something that can be easily carried by a ship. This means that a boat should be small enough to be carried by a ship and a ship should be big enough to carry a boat.

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    In spite of these well-defined rules, often the thin line of difference between a boat and ship is often overlooked, which eventually leads to confusion. For example, a submarine is not an underwater ship, but is classified a boat. This is because when submarines were first made they were controlled and moved using a mother ship. Even today large ships are used to lift and tow submarines, though some cannot be carried onboard. Thus submarines are still termed as boats in spite of the fact that the lengths of few of them are equal to those of the largest ships.

    Even some of the leisure vessels such as kayaks, catamarans, yachts, ferries, tugs, and canoes are termed as boats. Also, large commercial fishing vessels, which can be easily termed ships, are called boats. When one thinks about ships, they imagine large sea going vessels such as cruise ships, container and tanker vessels, aircraft carriers, etc. Thus traditionally, ships are vessels with large cargo and crew carrying capacity, along with sophisticated technology on board.

    Thus, finding a difference between a ship and a boat can be a daunting task, especially when the traditional features of both of them overlap. Moreover, the term by which a particular vessel is known also depends on the region it belongs to. But throughout the world, a ship or a boat is mostly known by its size and the function that it performs.


    Image Credits : Boat at reedboat website (