The Diversity of the Flat-Bottomed Boat

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. 

Jon Boat

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.

Viking Ships: More than Havoc-Wreaking Raiders

When Vikings are mentioned, two images come to mind. The first is of bloodthirsty marauders pillaging villages during the European Dark Ages, while the second is of Leif Eriksson discovering Greenland. A whole industry dedicated to advanced shipbuilding made both images historical realities.

It was the lack of farming resources in Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Norway and Sweden that led the Vikings to raid other lands. Their shipbuilding skills allowed them to land in extremely shallow waters. The Vikings so revered their boats that many were buried with them.

History of Viking Ships

The period between 800 AD and 1066 constituted the Viking Age. It coincided with the European Middle Ages, which lasted for 1000 years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Ottoman kingdom.

During the Viking Age, the Vikings would raid monasteries in Europe. Between the 9th and 10th centuries, architects and builders began fortifying monasteries or moving them further inland to avoid Viking raids. These defenses, coupled with changing political and religious environments in Europe, were thought to have made Viking raids less frequent in occurrence. The last record of a Viking raid in Europe was in 1066, which is the year scholars believe the Viking Age ended.

Viking Shipbuilding

The Scandinavian terrain is dominated by waterways. Fjords, lakes, rivers, seas and straits: every sort of waterway imaginable is found across the Northern European landscape.

Shipbuilding became an industry out of necessity, however. The two most common styles of Viking vessels were warships and merchant vessels. 

  1. Warships, called langskips.
  2. Merchant ships, called knorr.

The earliest example of a Viking warship is the Hjortspring boat of Denmark. It was made from planks of wood and is an example of shipbuilding techniques dating back to the Bronze Age. The boat was built of lime-wood, or Linden, from the genus Tilia. This particular type of wood is considered softwood, rather than hardwood.

Later, oak and maple woods were used to build boats. The Viking langskips were sleek and light. The Hjortspring, which is considered to be a war canoe, was 20 meters long and capable of transporting up to 24 men and their gear. Viking warships also had a reputation for swiftness on the water.

Meanwhile, merchant ships were wider, deeper and shorter than langskips. The higher sides of the knorr ships were meant to protect the cargo. On the other hand, the langskip was built for speed. The faster a langskip could get its men ashore, the better the opportunity for a successful raid. 

Decoration and Viking Ships

Viking warships were not only the fastest ships on the water at the time, but many also displayed intricate decorative elements. The bows of the langskips were intricately carved into whorls. Highly skilled craftsmanship can be seen in the Hjortspring boat framework.

A long piece of timber extends to the bow, with another parallel to it below. This design element reduces the surface area of the bow, which allows the boat to divide the waters with maximum efficiency.

The Hjortspring boat itself had few decorative elements. More emphasis was put on decorations in later warships, however. The latter often featured carvings of animal heads or dragons on the bows. Meanwhile, Viking Skuldelev ships discovered in the shallow waters of Denmark provide more insight into Viking shipbuilding practices. The Skuldelev ship looks much like the Hjortspring boat but with only one protruding bow timber. Historians have also learned much by examining the Oseberg and Gokstad ships.

Viking raids eventually stopped in 1066. In all, Viking ships are beautiful examples of excellent craftsmanship.

The River Raft

What started as one of the most simple forms of primitive navigation has turned into a modern high-adrenaline sport that millions of thrill seekers take part of every year. That’s right, we’re talking about river rafts! 

From a handful of rough-hewn logs bound together, to a highly durable rubber construction, river rafts have come a long way. Let’s take a look at where they started, and what they look like today. We’ll also discover some of the adventurous ways they are used on the water, so fasten on your life jackets and let’s get started!

The First River Rafts

The truth is, rafts have probably existed before our earliest history accounts! Most cultures who lived by the water built some form of floating raft by tying various buoyant items together, like logs, bamboo, reeds, etc. These would be tied together in such a way as to create a platform where a passenger (or passengers) could sit, along with whatever they were intending to transport.

Earliest rafts were designed for fairly calm water, as they were a bit bulky, brittle, and hard to steer. Paddles or poles were generally used for propulsion, as well as sails occasionally.

Rafting on the Great Mississippi

River rafts have some rich history in the United States of America, immortalized in famous literature such as Mark Twain’s classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnSuch rafts during the early 1800’s, made of logs and planks of wood, often had small shelters on them so that the boaters could spend several days at a time floating on the water. The Mississippi River, stretching over 2,000 miles and connecting 10 states, was a perfect waterway for floating rafts! 

River Rafts Hit the Rapids

Rafting took a drastic turn when designers started experimenting with rubber construction. There were successful attempts to create whitewater-worthy rubber rafts as early as the 1840’s! The vast majority of the public didn’t consider it to be a good way to spend their money and free time in that era, however; and rubber rafts were reserved primarily for use as emergency life rafts in military vessels and other large passenger-carrying ships.

By the time the 1960’s and 70’s rolled around, people were ready for adventure, and riding a big rubber raft down a turbulent river started to sound a little more fun! In 1972, the Olympic games were held in Germany, and whitewater rafting was included for the first time as a sport. Ever since then, it has steadily grown in popularity …and it’s still growing!

The Modern Raft

The basic shape of a raft is structured by an inflated tube that serves as the rafts sides, with a multilayered floor. The front and back lift out of the water slightly for easier movement. Modern rafts usually hold between 4-8 people, while some smaller models are designed for 2. Passengers are outfitted with life jackets, oars, and often helmets for head protection.

Today’s inflatable rubber rafts are quite sophisticated, featuring self-baling systems so that boaters no longer have to bucket out the water that splashes in on their wild rides. 

Where is Rafting Done?

Whitewater rafting is enjoyed in almost every state of America; wherever there are rivers, there you will find rafts! Some people enjoy a calmer ride, while others love the thrill of rushing rocky rivers. 

While it is often considered it to be a dangerous sport (and there is always a degree of risk in sports), statistics show that whitewater rafting is safer than kayaking, climbing, recreational swimming, and even bicycling. Just be sure to find a rafting guide who is certified, insured, and experienced.

Ready to have some summer fun? Get out there with your friends and do some river rafting!

Kayaking: A Popular Way to Paddle

The kayak is one of the most highly used watercraft in the world. You might be surprised by how many different ways it is used all over the world. 

Structure of the Kayak

The kayak is a narrow watercraft with a covered deck. The covered deck is what differentiates it from a canoe, which is hollow. Kayaks can seat one or two paddlers in what is called a cockpit.

Kayaks aren’t one-size-fits-all. According to, while there are many different options in kayaks, they can be described basically in two different styles. A longer hull is utilized for speed and covering greater distances, while a shorter hull is designed to be more easily controlled. Those using kayaks for the first time will want the stability that comes with a shorter hull (somewhere around eight to twelve feet or so.) People wanting to travel further and faster, such as in competitive kayaking, will look for a longer hull (between 12 up to 18 feet in length.) 

Competitive Kayaking

Kayaking is so popular that there are multiple Olympic events dedicated to the activity! Whitewater slalom and river racing are other forms of competitive kayaking available. The sport is popular enough that sponsorship is possible for the best of the best.

Of course, there are others that make a living teaching kayaking and offering guided tours through different rivers and waterways all throughout the world. Those that find that they are passionate about kayaking will find that it can be more than just a hobby. 

Kayak History

What we think of as a kayak is traced back approximately 15,000 years in the Northern Arctic region. Lenny Flank writes for Daily Kos that to travel through the icy waters, watercraft originally called “umiaks” were used by the Inuit people. These umiaks were used for hunting, to move materials, and to transport people.

As time went on, this watercraft evolved into what we now know as the kayak. The word “kayak” in the Inuit language means “hunter’s boat.” Using driftwood or whalebones, the hull would be constructed. The upper deck was made of multiple sealskins, which were waterproof.

By the mid 1700s, Russian hunting ships discovered the Inuit people in the Aleutian Islands, recognizing their use of the kayak for hunting seals and sea otters. Through the 19th and 20th centuries, Europeans built versions of the kayak, recognizing its versatility as a watercraft. Through the years, we have arrived to find kayaking clubs and organizations dedicated to the use of the kayak for its recreational use. 

Kayaks in the Military

Special forces units in the United States Military used kayaks as far back as World War II. Even today, kayaks are used as a way of infiltrating many areas that are difficult to navigate unseen by land.

The military uses a number of specially designed kayaks that are virtually impossible to sink. Many of these kayaks used by the military incorporate a longer hull, for the purpose of faster movement over longer distances. This YouTube video shows how the kayak is used in military applications. Many of the kayaks used by the military are designed for two paddlers, much like recreational kayaks.

Whether you intend to take a relaxing trip down the river on a weekend, or you plan to enter a competition, kayaking has something to offer everyone. You don’t have to be an Olympian to enjoy competitive kayaking. Fishermen frequently utilize kayaks to navigate rivers and lakes as well. Beginners will find it easy to get started, but beware that the kayak bug might pull you in as a lifelong lover and enthusiast. 

Yacht: History of a Pirate Hunter

According to the American Sailing Association, yacht originates from the Dutch word jacht which means “hunt”. Dating back to the 14th century, merchant boats were equipped with small, fast vessels that were deployed when the larger boats needed to chase down threats such as smugglers, pirates, and other criminals. The merchants then began a tradition of taking these smaller vessels out to meet ships that were returning to their fleets. It soon became fashionable to bring friends and relatives on these celebratory occasions which gave rise to the use of a yacht exclusively for the pleasure of its owner.

What Makes a Boat a Yacht?

It is immediately apparent that a yacht is more than just a boat. The yacht has the capability of being a fishing boat but does not appear as utilitarian. It is also capable of saving people lost at sea, but looks less like a Coast Guard Cutter and more like a luxury liner. A yacht is designed so that its inhabitants hardly notice that they are out in the ocean instead of on dry ground. Opulently decorated and exclusive by design, yachts have taken sea travel to another level. Writing for Business Insider in 2015, Madeline Stone reported that the cheapest yacht, a 60-foot vessel, was listed for sale at a cost of over $200,000 dollars. At the high end of the market, the asking price for used yachts in 2015 was $82 million dollars. That was the asking price of the yacht “Imagine”, which was a 213-foot behemoth. In today’s market, yachts comparable in size have a price range closer to $600,000 for smaller vessels of 13 to 16 meters (e.g. “Blue” and “Odin II”), to just over $95,000,000 for those over 71 meters, such as “Planet Nine”. Depending on your preference and navigational capabilities, yachts are available in two distinct flavors:

  1. Motoring Yachts
  2. Sailing Yachts

Motoring yachts are not as restricted by sailing requirements which allows them to be built larger and utilize more flexible design configurations than sailing yachts. The extra size motored yachts can achieve enables more elaborate amenities to be incorporated into their exterior designs. They are built for form over function. Motoring yachts appeal to clientele whose primary goal is relaxing when they are out on the open water. Sailing yachts, on the other hand, are just the opposite. Built for function before form, these yachts are for dedicated, knowledgeable sailors. Sailing requirements, like a lean of over 35 degrees, restricts the exterior design and ornamentation of these large vessels. Interior spaciousness and luxury between the two is much the same albeit slightly more streamlined on the sailing yacht. Owners of sailing yachts typically spend months at sea whereas the typical owner of a motoring yacht will have it in open water for shorter time spans and will stay primarily in coastal waters. 

Modern Amenities Found on the Typical Yacht

  • Hot tubs
  • Swimming pools
  • Fitness gym
  • Sauna
  • Dynamic positioning
  • Staterooms
  • Air scoops
  • Air Conditioning
  • Heaters
  • Sun pad
  • Luxury interior materials such as teak walls are common.
  • Fully equipped cooking and sanitation facilities.

Yachts, Sailing, and Regattas

As the yacht became more widely available, so did the need for owners to prove their boat was the best. In 1851 the 101-foot yacht “America” challenged England’s fastest schooners to a race. Toward the end of summer that year the “America” took part in an annual race against yachts that belonged to the Royal Yacht Squadron. According to the American Sailing Association, it was a 98-kilometer race around the Isle of Wight called the “Hundred Guinea Cup”. “America” carried the day. In honor of her victory, the race was later renamed the “America’s Cup”. Whether you’re a fisherman, sailor, or just out to relax, you can find your niche on one of these luxurious vessels.

The Fascinating History of the Optimist Dinghy

You may think of sailing as something that only adults can safely do—but did you know that there is a boat designed specifically for children to sail and race?

The Optimist Dinghy is a very small vessel that can be sailed by a single child. It was designed in 1947 by two men: Clark Mills and Major Clifford McKay. 

History of the Optimist

McKay had the initial idea for the Optimist after watching his 12 year old son struggle to build a Soap Box Derby car. McKay believed that rather than spending a lot of time and money building this small car that could only be used a handful of times, it would make more sense to find a way to build an affordable sailboat that could last significantly longer.

Just as Soap Box Derby cars are raced by a single child, the idea was to create a small boat that a single child could sail and race as much as they wanted. McKay’s goal was to foster a sense of independence and responsibility in any child who wanted to sail.

McKay enlisted the help of Mills, who was a designer of small boats. According to McKay’s son in the book The Origins of the Optimist Dinghy, McKay told Mills that the boat “should be built with two sheets of 4′ x 8′ plywood; and it should use a bed sheet for the sail.” In an effort to keep costs low, McKay insisted that each boat cost less than $50 to build, which was the same spending cap enforced by the Soap Box Derby.

The first iteration of the Optimist, named the Optimist Pram, was designed in less than a week. Initially, a group of boys ranging in age from 10 to 16 were selected to build and sail their own Optimist Prams. While the focus was initially male-centric, girls were included in the sailing program only six months after it was first established.

How Optimist Dinghies are Built

Optimist Dinghies are very small, as they are designed to be a single-handed vessel. The goal of the dinghy is to safely teach children how to sail, and then enable them to continue on to more advanced sailing and races.

The Optimist has a broad beam to increase stability, and has a single sail and centerboard. Ever since 1972, Optimists are also required to have a small plaque to confirm that they were built according to the sizing rules of the Optimist class. Because of the popularity of this type of vessel, knock-off Optimists are common—the plaque ensures that the ship you’re sailing is genuine. 

The Modern Optimist

Optimists are still incredibly popular to this day—in fact, they are the only vessel approved by the International Sailing Federation to be sailed exclusively by people younger than 16 years old. 

Optimists are most frequently used in racing. The first World Championship was held in England in 1962, and the North American Championship was established in 1976. Most recently, the Optimist World Championship has been won for three consecutive years—2017, 2018, and 2019—by 15 year old Italian sailor Marco Gradoni

Today, the main international governing body of Optimist vessels is the International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA). The IODA keeps track of the Optimist rules and regulations in every country to ensure that World Sailing requirements are upheld. It also aims to help reduce costs for young sailors. 

There is no doubt that learning to sail and take care of your own vessel at a young age can teach independence and responsibility, just as McKay initially intended when he conceptualized the first Optimist in 1947. If you know a child who might like to sail, the Optimist is an excellent place to start.

Cable Ferry: Conquering Currents

Whether man-powered or electric-powered, cable ferries serve an important role in getting passengers from point A to point B – and in the right location, they also provide an opportunity to check out the local history.

By Any Other Name

The cable ferry can go by several other names, including the chain ferry, swing ferry, floating bridge, or punt. Regardless of the name, these vessels are all guided across rivers or other bodies of water by cables connected to both shores. Historically the cables were rope or steel, but they transitioned to wire cable beginning in the 19th century.

These ferries can carry vehicles in addition to walk-on passengers. They cannot be steered because they are bound to the cables for their journey and can’t deviate from the established path. While there are some exceptions, cable ferries make most sense in areas where there are not many other water vessels to get caught in the cables. They are especially attractive as a safer option in rivers where the currents are too strong for a non-cabled ferry to cross safely.

Three Types of Cable Ferries

There are three types of cable ferries, each of which are powered differently:

  • Reaction Ferry: This cable ferry uses the power of the water to move across the current. These ferries are considered very environmentally friendly.
  • Powered Ferry: This version of the cable ferry uses an engine or electric motors to move across the water. These ferries use powered cogs on the vessel to pull it along the cables. The cables are built with slack so that they can remain under the water, allowing other vessels to pass-by, reducing the risk of cables snapping or interference from other boats.
  • Hand-operated Ferry: As the name implies, this cable ferry is powered by muscle alone. Given the advancements in electricity, the hand-operated ferry is now the least common of the three. There are, however, a number of hand-operated ferries that still draw significant traffic, including the Stratford-upon-Avon cable ferry and the Saugatuck cable ferry – and one man-powered ferry left in Germany.

Technology continues to advance, even for vessels as old as the cable ferry. The newest innovations being researched for the cable ferry include use of lithium ion batteries to power the boats.

History of the Cable Ferry

Individuals have needed to cross bodies of water since before recorded history, and some version of the cable ferry likely existed to address this need. Recorded examples of this type of transportation date back to the 13th century, including the Hampton Ferry in England. Other notable, historical cable ferries include:

  • Kennebecasis River: In the early 1900s, Canadian engineer William Pitt installed a cable ferry on this river, paving the way for additional cable ferries along the Saint John River system.
  • Sacramento Delta: Cable ferries rose to prominence on the Columbia River, though most are no longer workable.
  • New South Wales: Cable ferries once served as the primary means of transportation for automobiles.
  • Tai O on Lantau Island: The Tai O Ferry in Hong Kong served as the main crossing over the Tai O River.
  • Connecticut River: Cable ferries operated on this river as early as 1640.

Beware of Danger

Cable ferries don’t come without their own hazards. Given their dependence on cables, they are susceptible to accidents. Cables could snap or other vessels could inadvertently wander into the path of the cable ferry, leaving passengers stranded or injured. An example of such an incident can be seen here.

While there are some small risks of danger, cable ferries represent an important and impressive part of water-travel history. Consider taking a ride if you ever have the opportunity to board a cable ferry.