July 14

A Helpful Guide to Understanding the Different Types of Boats


Last Updated on August 18, 2022

You see them out on the water, but could you identify which boat type is which? 

There are many different types of boats that fall into three categories, depending on how they’re used and water conditions. Here’s our helpful guide to understanding the different types of boats.

Types of People-Powered Boats

While there are boats powered by the wind or motors, some of the most basic vessels simply rely on manpower.

types of people-powered boats infographic


Canoes are long, narrow boats pointed on both the front (hull) and rear (stern), and are about the same length on each side. Canoes have a prominent place among the histories of the European and Indigenous people in North America, because these were a common vessel for travel, exploration, and trade. These boats are ideal for smaller interior waterways. 


A kayak looks like you crossed a canoe with a surfboard. Whereas canoes are completely open on top, a kayak’s top is closed. This means the legs of the person in the kayak are inside the boat, while only the torso remains exposed. Since the top of the kayak is covered, water goes right over it, making them ideal for traversing rapids and white water rafting.


A dinghy is a type of boat usually 6 to 20 feet in length that is carried or towed by larger boats. Although most people think of them as lifeboats, historically they’ve been used to bring people or supplies onto another boat. They are used to service boats while at sea and to send communication parties between two larger vessels. Most often, these boats are propelled with oars. 

Types of Sailboats 

types of sailboats infographic

The term sailboats refers to several kinds of boats with each being classified according to the type of rig (mast, sails, ropes, etc.). A lot of them look very similar and their definitions often rely on comparisons to other boat types. All sailboats are either completely or partly powered by the wind.


The sloop is the most common modern sailboat. It features one mast and two sails (one fore and one aft), efficient for sailing into the wind. Having one fore and one aft sail is called the Bermuda rig. This is a popular rig because it’s simple—operable with a small crew or single person—and requires little equipment. Sloops can reach 60 feet, however, the sails on sloops greater than 45 feet in length become difficult to handle. 


Similar to a sloop, this single-masted boat, with two or more headsails is often used by government agencies for patrolling territorial waters. They were even used in warfare during the 18th and 19th Centuries. 


A catboat is the simplest of all sailboats. It features a single mast with a single sail mounted near the front of the boat.


Similar to a sloop, the ketch features a second shorter mast called the mizzen mast, and the sail is called the mizzen sail.


A yawl is similar to a ketch, but features a shorter mizzen mast than the ketch.


A schooner has two masts—a mainmast and a foremast. The main mast is always taller.

Types of Motorboats

types of motorboats infographic

When not powered by people or relying on the wind to push sails, some vessels depend on internal mechanisms like propellers and fans to travel across the water.


An airboat is one of the most unique boats, featuring a flat bottom and a large propeller (or fan). The propeller points rearward and is above water. Seats are also elevated high above the boat floor. Also known as a fan boat, plane boat, swamp boat, and bayou boat, these boats operate in swamps and marshes, as well as frozen lakes, where a boat with an engine that submerges into the water would be impractical. An airboat has no moving parts below the surface of the water and is very fast compared to similarly-sized motorboats (135 mph or 117 knots versus 35 mph or 30 kn for most motorboats). These boats are used for transportation in shallow water and for fishing, hunting, and ecotourism.


This is any boat that has been designed or modified for long-term living. Houseboats include many of the amenities found in a “ground house” but you’re much more mobile. Some are vacation houses while others are permanent, some can be rented out like hotels, and some are entire multi-unit apartment buildings for college students.


Pro-Line isn’t really a type of boat. Instead, it’s the name of a manufacturer of fiberglass fishing boats. However, in the same way the company name “Kleenex” and the word “tissue” have become synonymous, so have “Pro-Line” and “fiberglass fishing boat”. Fiberglass fishing boats range from 20 to 26 feet. The operator station sits about midway on the boat (front to rear) and there may be a second row of seating, or that area may be smooth and raised similar to the front half of the boat. They get used in bays and more open waters, typically fishing and leisure activities.  


A skiff can refer to a variety of small boats with very little similarities, but generally refers to small fishing boats ranging from 10 to 24 feet in length. Larger skiffs designed for more open waters and larger waves are called sea skiffs. Characteristics of these boats include a flat bottom, angular bow, and boxy stern. They are also generally equipped with strong engines and produce fast speeds. Besides fishing, these boats are used for cruising, rescue, and military use. 


The most common type of trawler is the fishing trawler. This type of boat drags one or more nets along the sea floor for commercial fishing. Recreational trawlers are called trawler yachts and are designed with yacht elements. Naval trawlers were widely used during the First and Second World Wars because trawlers are designed to work in all types of weather, have large clear working decks, and can be equipped with minesweeper, sonar, and depth charges for anti-submarine duties. Most trawlers are between 35 and 60 feet.


Tugboats are the tow trucks of the marine world. They move other marine vessels that need repair or ones that are immobile, such as barges and some dredgers. Oftentimes, wire cable is deployed from the rear of the boat and fastened to the towed vessel. Tugboats are also equipped with a lot of padding, so they can also push other vessels.


There is no standard definition of yacht, but it must contain amenities for overnight use and make other people jealous you have one. Yacht lengths begin at 33 feet. Yachts with lengths greater than 131 feet are called superyachts or megayachts.

That concludes our helpful guide to understanding the different types of boats. Now, is the time for you to hit the sea, or the ocean, or any body of water for that matter, so long as you can make use of a vessel. If you’re ready to explore your options, then Municibid has plenty of boats to offer.


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