Flat-bottomed boats (flatboats) have served many purposes over the centuries. Their unique structure allows them to be steered in shallow waters. Below, we explore the history and uses of flat-bottomed boats.
Advantages of a Flat-Bottomed Boat
Flat-bottomed boats have double chine hulls. This means they have nearly vertical sides. Such a structure allows them to move easily in shallow waters. Their shallow hulls also make them more buoyant than boats with deeper hulls.
Thus, these boats are suitable for cargo transportation and fishing excursions. Flat-bottomed boats are also useful for hunters, due to their providing stable platforms from which to hunt.
No one knows who fashioned the first flatboats. Historians assume that ancient civilizations were responsible for their creation. However, there isn’t much evidence of their existence before the 1800s. There are some vague mentions of skiff boats (a type of flat-bottomed boat) in the 1600s. However, the first historical record of a skiff comes from English settlers on the North American continent. The settlers built and used the boats for hunting, fishing and ferrying passengers to and fro.
These boats were usually used for traveling downstream. Often, they were dismantled for lumber at their destination. Since there are so many types of flat-bottomed boats, we’ll explore a few to give an idea of their variety in form and function.
The jon boat is one of the most common types of flat-bottomed boats. It’s inexpensive and usually made of aluminum, fiberglass or wood. These boats can be used for hunting, fishing and recreational purposes. They gained popularity in the late 1800s, primarily in the bodies of water in the Ozark region.
Jon boats are still used today and there are many commercial models available from a variety of manufacturers.
A barge is a flat-bottomed boat used for transporting bulk goods. It’s typically used on rivers or canals because its flat bottom makes it ideal for steering in challenging conditions. Early barges were pulled by horses on a path next to the waterway. However, modern barges can be self-propelled by a diesel engine or towed/pushed by other vessels.
Barges became popular during the Industrial Revolution and continue to power modern commerce by carrying both dry and liquid bulk goods.
The gondola is a flat-bottomed boat that originated in Venice, a city famous for its “streets of water.” Gondolas were an important method of transportation throughout Venice for hundreds of years. These unique boats are operated by gondoliers, who use oars to steer them. Some types of gondolas require two gondoliers.
Though gondolas can still be seen in Venice today, they are mostly utilized for tourism purposes and regattas (boat races). Modern gondolas are well-built and aesthetically appealing, compared to ones from yesteryear. The latter were often built from the cheapest materials available.
In summary, the flat-bottomed boat’s unique design allows it to thrive on the water. Specifically, the level and uniform construction keep it buoyant. This gives it more stability in shallow waters. As a result, there’s very little, if any, danger of flat-bottomed boats getting grounded in shallow waters. Their rich history and diversity of uses place them among the most important sea vessels in history.