7 Differences Between a Ship and a Boat

Although everyone knows the difference between a ship and a boat, there are quite a few who often get confused between the two terms. Technically, there is a thin line between them and this often leads to a major confusion.

While talking about difference between a ship and a boat, the first thing that comes to one’s mind is their sizes. Traditionally people consider a ship as a large ocean going vessel, whereas boats are comparatively quite smaller in size.

To understand the differences between ships and boats, a number of aspects need to be taken into consideration.

Mentioned below are seven main aspects which are taken into account to differentiate between a ship and a boat.

1. Size

The most important aspect that is considered while stating the difference between a ship and a boat is the size. It is said that the best way to differentiate between a ship and a boat is to remember that “A ship can carry a boat, but a boat cannot carry a ship.”


 Technically speaking, a mode of water transport that weighs at least 500 tonnes or above is categorised as a ship. In comparison, boats are stipulated to be quite compact in their structural size and displacement.

2. Operational Areas

A major difference between ship and boat is that of their areas of operation. Ships are vessels that are operated in oceanic areas and high seas. They usually include cruise vessels, naval ship, tankers, container ships, RoRo ships, and offshore vessels. They are mainly built for cargo/ passenger transportation across oceans.

Boats in contrast, are operable in smaller/ restricted water areas and include ferrying and towing vessels, sail vessels, paddle vessels, kayaks, canoe, patrolling vessels etc.  Boats are mainly used for smaller purposes and mainly ply in areas near to the coast.

 3. Navigation and Technology

Technologically, boats are simple vessels with less complicated equipment, systems and operational maintenance requirements.  Since ships are required to be operable for longer time-duration and travel across oceans, they are manned using advanced engineering, heavy machinery, and navigational systems.

4. Crew

This is one of the major differences between a ship and a boat.

New Boats

Ships are huge in size and therefore they are operated by professionally trained navigators and engineers. A ship requires a captain to operate the ship and guide the crew.

On the other hand, the size of the crew on a boat depends on the size of the boat. It can be one person or a full-fledged crew depending on the size and purpose of the boat.

5. Cargo Capacity

A boat is a small to mid-sized vessel, which has much lesser cargo carrying capability as compared to a ship.

Ships are specifically made to carry cargo or passengers or boats, whereas boat is a generic term used for a variety of water crafts.

Mainly boats are used for recreational purposes, fishing, or ferry people.

6. Construction and Design

When it comes to construction and design, ships are complicated structures having a variety of machinery systems and designing aspects for safety and stability of the ship.

A boat is much simple in construction and build, and has lesser machines and design complexities.

7. Propulsion

A boat can be powered by sails, motor, or human force, whereas a ship has dedicated engines to propel them. (Ships can also be propelled by sails or other advanced propulsion technologies)

A Cargo Ship

Even though all vessels operating in the high seas are referred to as ships, submersible vessels are categorically termed as ‘boats.’ This is mainly because of the fact that in the earlier centuries, submersible vessels could be hoisted on ships till they were required to be used in the naval operations. However, while talking about differences between a ship and a boat, vessels floating on water surface is mainly considered.

The usage of the term ‘ship’ or ‘boat’ also depends on the region it is being used in. People from several countries often refer a medium sized fishing vessel as a boat, or a medium sized ferry or recreational boat as ship. As it can be seen, people have a tendency to generalise a vessel on the basis of its size.

However, it is to note that the difference between a ship and a boat depends on a number of factors as discussed above.

Image Credits

christiancoachingmag, boatdesign, tqn, guim

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  1. JOSH says

    As a profesional mariner of over 25 years I would like to “weigh in” on this subject. What I will say is not about the currently accepted distinction between ship and boats, but rather historical.
    When ships (powered by sails) began to start losing trade to vessels powered by engines (boats) they as an industry attempted to associate these vessels with unplesant attributes like noise, soot, vibration, and in some cases slower speed. The sailoing industry (both cargo and passanger) would say that you could SAIL on a quiet, clean, calm, fast ship or go one of those dirty loud vibrating slow BOATS with an engine.
    The concept a ship being superior and a boat being inferior was sucessfully instituted. The engine powered vessels simply side stepped the ridicule bestowed on the term “boat” and made bigger, faster, clean, quiet vessels and took the market from the sail powered vessels along with the defination of SHIP for themselves.
    i wont step into the curret debate of what constitutes a boat or a ship but the origins of the debate stem from new technology (steam engines) fighting over market share.

  2. djm says

    A large freighter (1000′ x 85′, think of the Edmund Fitzgerald) hauling iron ore on the great lakes is referred to by her crew and company as a boat, never as a ship!

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