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Boating is the leisurely activity of travelling by boat, or the recreational use of a boat whether power boats, sail boats, or yachts (large vessels), focused on the travel itself, as well as sports activities, such as fishing or waterskiing. It is a popular activity, and there are millions of boaters worldwide.

Types of boats

Recreational boats (sometimes called pleasure craft, especially for less sporting activities) fall into several broad categories, and additional subcategories. Broad categories include dinghies (generally under 16' powered by sail, small engines, or muscle power), paddlesports boats (kayaks, rowing shells, canoes), runabouts (15-25' powerboats with either outboard, sterndrive, or inboard engines), daysailers (14–25' sailboats, frequently with a small auxiliary engine), cruisers (25–65' powerboats with cabins), and cruising and racing sailboats (25–65' sailboats with auxiliary engines). A very common type of boat in England is the canal Narrowboat, usually fitted out with sleeping accommodation, though it is not clear which of the above categories it fits in (some are long).

The National Marine Manufacturers Association, the organization that establishes several of the standards that are commonly used in the marine industry in the United States, defines 32 types of boats demonstrating the diversity of boat types and their specialization. In addition to those standards all boats employ the same basic principals of hydrodynamics.

Boating activities

Downeast style charter boat Wreck Valley
Boating activities are as varied as the boats and boaters who participate, and new ways of enjoying the water are constantly being discovered. Broad categories include the following:

  • Paddlesports include ears(lakes), swiftwater (rivers), and ocean going types, usually covered-cockpit kayaks.
    • Canoes are popular on lakes and rivers due to their carrying capacity and efficiency on the water. They are also easy to portage, or carry overland around obstructions like rapids, or just down to the water from a car or cabin.
    • Kayaks can be found on calm inland waters, whitewater rivers, and along the coasts in the oceans. Known for their maneuverability and seaworthiness, kayaks take many shapes depending on their desired use. Rowing craft are also popular for fishing, as a tender to a larger vessel, or as a competitive sport.
    • Rowing shells are extremely long and narrow, and are intended to convert as much of the rower's muscle power as possible into speed. The ratio of length of waterline to beam has much importance in marine mechanics and design.
    • Row boats or dinghies are oar powered, and generally restricted to protected waters. Rowboats are generally heavy craft compared to other has
  • Sailing can be either competitive, as in collegiate dinghy racing, or purely recreational as when sailing on a lake with family or friends.
    • Small sailboats are commonly made from fiberglass, and will have wood or aluminum spars, and generally a sloop rig (two sails: a mainsail and a jib). Racing dinghies tend to be lighter, have more sail area, and may use a trapeze to allow one or both crewmembers to suspend themselves over the water for additional stability.
    • Daysailers tend to be wider across the beam and have greater accommodation space at the expense of speed.
    • Cruising sailboats have more width, but performance climbs as they tend to be much longer starting Length Over All of at least 25 feet (six metres) re-balancing the dynamic ratio between length of waterline (aiding speed) and beam width (adding cargo and people space).
  • Freshwater fishing boats account for approximately 1/3 of all registered boats in the U.S., and most all other types of boats end up being used as fishing boats on occasion. The boating industry has developed freshwater fishing boat designs that are species-specific to allow anglers the greatest advantage when fishing for walleye, salmon, trout, bass, etcetera, as well as generic fishing craft.

  • Watersport Boats or skiboats are high-powered Go-Fast boats (specialized towboats in fact) is designed for activities where a participant is towed behind the boat such as waterskiing and parasailing.
    • Variations on the ubiqutous waterski include wakeboards, water-skiing, kneeboarding, inflatable towables, and wake surfing. To some degree, the nature of these boating activities has an impact on boat design. Waterski boats are intended to hold a precise course at an accurate speed with a flat wake for slalom skiing runs. Wakeboard boats run at slower speeds, and have various methods including ballast and negative lift foils to force the stern in the water, thereby creating a large and "jumpable" wake.
    • Saltwater fishing boats vary widely in length and are once again specialized for various species of fish. Flats boats, for example, are used in protected, shallow waters, and have shallow draft. Sportfishing boats range from 25' to 80' or more, and can be powered by large outboard engines or inboard diesels. Fishing boats in colder climates may have more space dedicated to cuddy cabins and wheelhouses, while boats in warmer climates are likely to be entirely open.
    • Cruising boats applies to both power and sailboats, and refers to trips from local weekend passages to lengthy voyages, and is a lifestyle. While faster "express cruisers" can be used for multiple day trips, long voyages generally require a slower displacement boat (trawler) with diesel power and greater stability and efficiency. Cruising sailboats range from 20' to 70' and more, and have easily managed sailplans to allow relatively small crews to sail them long distances. Some cruising sailboats will have two masts (ketch, yawl, or schooner rigs) to further reduce the size of individual sails and make it possible for a couple to handle larger boats. Diesel- (now sometimes electric-) powered Narrowboats are a very popular mode of travel (and accommodation) on the inland waterways of Englandmarker.
  • Racing and Regatta's are common group activities in the sub-culture of boaters owning larger (twenty-five foot plus) small boats and larger Yachts, and are frequently organized around a Yacht club or Marina organization
    • Sailboat racing can be done on conventional family sailboats racing under one of the simpler handicap formulas [81094] (PHRF, or Performance Handicap Rating Formula is one such rule), or can be done on specialized boats with virtually no accommodation or compromises for comfort. Racing is generally either one design, where the boats are close to identical, or handicapped where the boats' finishing times are adjusted based on their predicted speed potential. Racing is further broken down into ocean racing, where boats start at one port and race in the ocean and back to the same port or a new destination, or buoy racing where boats race around prescribed courses and return to port at night. Several famous races cross oceans, like the biennial Transpac Race[81095] from Los Angeles to Honolulu, or the Newport-Bermuda Race [81096]from Newport, Rhode Island to Bermuda. Other races actually circumnavigate the globe, like the Volvo Ocean Race or Vendee Globe race.

Big boats, small boats, large boats. long boats && short boats

Boat storage

Rack storage.
The smallest boats and kayaks may simply be carried by hand or by lashing them to the top of an automobile. Most smaller boats are stored at home and carried to the water on boat trailers, where they are floated from launch ramps leading down into the water. Some marinas will also offer electric hoists that can lift a boat from a trailer and swing it into the water (generally less than 6,000#). Larger boats are kept at marinas, which offer a mooring protected from the weather and a variety of support services, such as fuel, equipment and so forth.

A more recent form of storage is rack storage where runabouts are stored in large steel racks, sometimes four or five boats high, and perhaps 25 boats across. These racks are housed in sheds, and large specialized fork trucks are used to lift the boats from the racks and place them in the water. This reduces the amount of space needed for boat storage, and also provides a clean environment in which the boats are housed.

Some marinas will offer dry storage yards, where boats on trailers or dollies are stored on a hard surface. Many yacht clubs will offer a fenced area where boats are conveniently stored near the water, but without the maintenance associated with continual water storage (bottom growth, etc.) Boats in dry storage areas are either ramp-launched or hoisted into the water. The method of boat houses and ramps for them to slide down are not commonly employed in this day and age.


Since it is a recreational activity, most boating is done in calm protected waters and during good weather. Even so, conditions can change rapidly, and a small vessel can get into life-threatening difficulties. It is important to keep an inventory of safety gear onboard every boat, which is prescribed by the U.S. Coast Guard as well as state boating law administrators in the U.S. Depending on the size of the boat and how it is powered, required equipment may include:
  • personal flotation devices (PFDs or life jackets) for everyone on board
  • a throwable flotation device (in the U.S., a Type IV PFD)
  • navigation lights suitable for the type of boat operation
  • visual distress signals (VSDs) which are effective both day and night
  • sound making devices including horns and bells
  • fire extinguisher(s)
  • a copy of the Inland Rules of the Road
Other items might seem obvious but are not actually required by law. They include a flashlight, first aid kit, paddles, whistles, anchor and rope, engine spare parts, bilge pumps, a VHF radio or mobile phone, etc.

In addition to these safety items listed above, the Code of Federal Regulations lists some additional required items that may not fall into the common definition of "safety" items:
  • backfire arresters on gasoline powered vessels
  • ventilation systems on gasoline powered vessels
  • plaques which list the penalties associated with pollution due to oil discharge, or dumping trash overboard.
  • a marine sanitation system (MSD) which prevents water pollution from sewage

State laws may add to this list of requirements. Most of the differences fall into a few categories:
  • laws requiring life jackets to be worn in specific activities or by children
  • upgraded life jackets for specific activities or by children
  • restrictions on the types of MSDs that are allowed within state borders


Recreational boating deaths could be dramatically reduced with increased use of PFD or Life Vest. Wear rates in 2003 were around 22.4% [81097], although state and Federal laws requiring children to wear flotation were more common, and therefore children's wear rates were much higher than those for adults. Relatively few children die in boating accidents; the more likely victim is an adult male in the mid-afternoon in a boat (under length over all) who is not wearing a PFD.

Not surprisingly, that also describes a typical boater under normal conditions.

While various strategies have been devised in the last few decades to increase PFD wear rates, the observed rate has been relatively constant. This has led to the possibility of legislation requiring PFD usage on boats under a specified length when underway.

Interestingly, the percentage of deaths due to drowning have declined (from 80% to 70%) in the last decade for a peculiar reason. Personal Watercraft, or PWCs [81098], have increased in popularity for the last 15 years, and account for about 70 fatalities per year (2002). However, PWC operators commonly wear PFDs, and therefore have a relatively low incidence of drowning. Trauma, largely due to collisions with other vessels and the shoreline, accounts for 70% of PWC fatalies while drowning accounts for about 30%.

PFD Types as defined by the U.S. Coast Guard such as Type I, Type II, Type III, Type IV, Type V can be found at the U.S. Coast Guard In the U.S. one PFD's MUST be available for everyone on board. Life Jacket definitions for Great Britain's Coast Guard can be found here


In the U.S., approximately 700 people die per year as a result of recreational boating accidents. These accidents are tabulated in the B.A.R.D., or Boating Accident Reporting Database [81099], which is published each year by the U.S. Coast Guard based on the cumulative records of the National Association of Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) [81100]. Since 1970, when recreational boating deaths peaked at about 1700 per year, the annual rate of fatalities has been declining at a rate of about 2% per year. The majority of these deaths (70%) occur due to drowning, and are frequently associated with small powerboat accidents. Other causes of death include trauma (especially with small powerboats), fire, carbon monoxide poisoning, and hypothermia.

The cause of the reduction of deaths is subject to some debate, but the Federal Boat Safety Act [81101] in the 1970s required that boats under 20' be equipped with level flotation. This change in boat construction meant that boaters who found themselves in the water next to a swamped boat could climb back into the boat and both reduce their likelihood of drowning, while increasing the size of a search target and reducing hypothermia. Other frequently named causes include improved boater safety education, increased use of life jackets, and improved boating safety gear.

Another potential cause for drowning is the presence of stray electrical power from a boat leaking into the water. This is known as electric shock drowning. Metal surfaces of a boat leaking power into the water can create zones of high-energy potential. Stray current entering salt water is less of a problem than the same situation in fresh water. Salt water is a good conductor and it carries current away to ground quickly. Fresh water is a poor conductor and when alternating current form an electrical potential near a boat, the current can paralyze a swimmer. Stray electrical current has caused many drowning, but post-mortem examinations will not link this problem to the death. The problem can be reduced by prohibiting swimming near boats connected to shore power and ensuring marinas comply with National Fire Protection Association Standard 303 for marinas.

Carbon Monoxide

In the early 2000s, several high-profile deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning (CO) led to increased scrutiny of boating habits (especially the practice of towing participants immediately behind a boat, known as "teak surfing" or "platform towing") and the implementation of various warning placards to educate boaters of the hazards arising from these activities. Other CO-related deaths were attributed to high concentrations of CO gas from houseboat generator exhaust, where swimmers were able to access an area near the stern of the boats that collected the exhaust. This has led to improved pollution controls on modern generator sets, and changes in the designs of houseboats so that they discharge exhaust gasses in a way that they can dissipate. The increased use of CO detectors, especially in boats with enclosed accommodation spaces, would help reduce the risk of CO poisoning.


Depending on the country or continental union, boating on coastal waters and inland waters may require a license. Usually, boating on coastal waters almost always requires a license, while boating on coastal waters only requires a license when a certain boat size is exceeded (eg a length of 20 meters), or when passenger ships, ferries or tugboats are steered. Boating on international waters does not require any license, due to the absence of any laws or restrictions in this area. Europe's continental union, the EU, issues the International Certificate of Competence.

See also


  1. Info from Dutch wikipedia article; Vaarbewijs

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