Saturday 3 July 2010

Q: What is the Difference Between a Boat, a Ship and a Vessel?

Vessel is a catch-all term, like 'watercraft', which describes any floating object used for the carriage of people or goods. Generally smaller and less complex vessels are 'boats', whilst larger and more complex vessels are 'ships'. As a general rule, you can put a boat on a ship, but you can't put a ship on a boat. 

Specifically, boats are small to medium-sized vessels with hulls,* powered by sails, engines, or human force. Some types of vessel are always categorised as boats, regardless of their size or complexity.** Their 'boat' status was designated when these types of vessel were small and has stuck despite their future growth.

A ship is a larger vessel, built to transport either passengers or cargo. These types of vessel started off large and accordingly we talk of a cruiseships, containerships and a battleships.

* a raft, for instance, has no hull; it would therefore be incorrect to call it a boat - hence 'life raft'.
**  submarines, fishing boats, tugs and barges for example.

(Image Credit: John Keogh)


Anonymous 2 August 2013 at 08:11  

Boat in a ship, ship in a boat.... So because I carry a small boat on my 23 and 24 foot boats they are ships. But since their primary purpose is pleasure and not commerce, they are yachts. Sweet! I have two yachts, 23 and 24 footers, or one 47 footer with some careful use of duct tape.

Paul 2 March 2014 at 01:19  

or a 24' catamaran...

Tim Trent 3 January 2015 at 15:45  

A Royal Navy officer stated that the distinction is that a boat leans inwards on a turn and a ship leans outwards. He was convinced that this was the definition, and convinced those to whom he spoke

Anonymous 15 February 2016 at 00:58  


Unknown 1 August 2016 at 05:39  

The difference is to do with the main deck, if it is below the waterline it is a boat above it is a ship. That is why a submarine is classed as a boat.

Anonymous 15 August 2016 at 05:23  

I concur with Tim Trents post. On a visit to Newcastle University Marine Engineering Dept, one of the NA lecturers said the best differential between ship and a boat is the relationship between the CoG and metacentric height which causes the vessel to lean in or out of the radius of its turn. Submarines turn in like a motorbike does, hence why submariners always talk about their 'boat'. A ship leans outwards. 'Vessel' is easy to define, see COLREGS Rule 3A. I can see the temptation to call smaller, less complex vessels 'boats' but at what length/size would the cut off be? 50m? The debate continues, but I like the Newcastle Uni NA's definition, its more scientific than any other and I've never come across anyone who disputes it.

Sara 6 March 2017 at 17:17  

you funny people :) Well thank you all - was looking this up and have several definitions now. Thanks!

Anonymous 15 June 2017 at 22:01  

Nice Blog,

Great explained boat is a boat, and a ship is ship boat can be small but the ship is a huge vessel like as superyacht charter Cannes.

Thankyou for sharing this with us.


Andrew James 16 August 2017 at 22:43  

A boat is the smallest vessel that can help you navigate the sea. A ship is bigger than a boat. Anyways, I really wanted to work on a ship someday after graduating from my maritime school in the Philippines.

Anonymous 6 July 2018 at 08:42  

... a boat leans inwards on a turn and a ship leans outwards.
So, your lordship or boatlord, why aren't they called "houseships"?

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