Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Reader Contributions: Sue P, on Ships and Boats


The time has come,' the Walrus said,
      To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
      Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
      And whether pigs have wings.'

-        Lewis Carroll.
The Walrus and the Carpenter,
from Through the Looking Glass

Well, to talk of ships anyway, the shoes and the sealing wax will have to wait for another day.

Byter Sue P sent me the following email in response to the Bytes post on the Gordon Lightfoot song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the facts behind that song:

Fascinating Otto thank you! 

I vaguely remembered my Dad talking me through different boat sizes and function so this prompted me down a rabbit hole:

Looks fairly simple?

Compare it to:,,-197783,00.html
but historically to this:
and regionally to this: 

Great way to start the day :-) 

Regards, Sue 

Readers who wish to follow up those links will find a lot of information about the difference between ships and boats, the Great Lakes ships (or is that boats?), Lakers and Salties, and more.

For those who want the condensed versions, here is a summary.


The difference between a ship and a boat  is not just one of size. This article looks at the 7 major factors that determine whether a vessel is a ship or a boat:

1.   1. Size:
The most important aspect that is considered in deciding whetrher a vessel is a ship or a boat is the size.  It is said that a ship can carry a boat but a boat cannot carry a ship.  So there you have it, size does matter.

2. Operational areas:
Ships are vessels that are operated in oceanic areas and high seas. They usually include cruise vessels, naval ship, tankers, container ships and offshore vessels. They are mainly built for cargo/ passenger transportation across oceans.  Boats are operable in smaller/ restricted water areas and include ferrying and towing vessels, sail vessels, paddle vessels, kayaks, canoes and patrolling vessels..  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
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)

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.


So, are you now the wiser?

Alternatively, you can use Otto’s Law: "The bigger the boat the more likely it is to be a ship.:

This can be reduced to the formula FBB = S, where BB stands for “big boat” and S stands for “ship”.


Comments, a lot of comments, on the same topic, the difference between boats and ships.

Some of the comments:

The main difference is the SPELLING....Doh

Simple, when a ship sinks you get in a boat, when a boat sinks you get in the water.

So if you put a boat on a boat on a ship does the middle one become a ship too or stay a boat?

In the officers mess it is said "A ship, gentlemen is what we are in, a boat, is what the gravy comes in"


A detailed look at the history and development of Great lakes water craft.


Another look at the Great Lakes marine vessels, pointing out that ships of the Great Lakes are also known as "Lakers", whereas ocean vessels are known as "Salties" around the Great Lakes region, denoting that they visit the Great Lakes from the salt filled oceans.


Thanks for all that, Sue.


Life's mysteries:

Why is it that when you transport something by car it is called a shipment and when you transport something by ship it is called cargo?


Okay, it is a flippant question, but the explanation is interesting . . .

The words have origins in different languages.  "Cargo" derives from a Spanish word meaning "load" which was derived from the Latin "carrus" a wheeled vehicle, which survives in English as "cart."   "Shipment" derives from the Old English word "scip" pronounced the same as modern "ship". The historical usage of "shipment" was to indicate the totality of cargo being transported at one time, whether on multiple wagons or multiple ships. 

Cargo and shipment have become so commonplace that many people tend to use them interchangeably as if they are synonyms. Cargo is always a noun that refers to goods or items that are being transported. On the other hand, shipment is both a noun as well as verb ("We will ship . . . "). When used as a noun, it is synonymous with cargo as it then refers to the goods being moved around while when used as a verb, it refers to the actual act of transportation. The inclusion of ship in shipment does not mean that goods are being transported by ship alone as it can mean transportation of goods through land, air or sea as the case may be.


I began this post with a quotation referencing discussions nautical and will close with another, one of my favourite limericks . . .

Ethnologists up with the Sioux
Wired home for two punts, one canoe.
The answer next day
Said, "Girls on the way,
But what the hell`s a `panoe`?"

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