One of the worst cruising faux pas is referring to a cruise ship as a boat. Without realising it, we’ve all overheard a first-time cruiser say, “Look how large that boat is!” instead of calling it a ship.
What distinguishes a boat from a ship?
The opposite of a small sailboat or canoe, cruise ships are enormous boats that can weigh over 200,000 tonnes. But what distinguishes a boat from a ship?
Broadly speaking, a ship is a large vessel, whereas a boat is a small watercraft. Although it may seem obvious, this is the simplest way to distinguish between a boat and a ship. A typical method to contrast the two is to say that while a ship cannot be carried on a boat, a boat may be carried on a ship.
The distinction between a boat and a ship cannot, however, be made solely on the basis of size. When does a boat turn into a ship? Does the amount of engines on a boat make it a ship? Or is a vessel’s classification as a boat or ship determined by the body of water it goes through?
Sadly, there isn’t a universally recognised definition of what distinguishes a boat from a ship. But, there are a few ways you can typically distinguish between a boat and a ship.
Size of a boat versus a ship
The size of a boat vs a ship is the most evident distinction; boats are smaller than ships. Depending on the source, a water-moving vessel may be regarded as a ship if its length exceeds 100 feet, however, some definitions require it to be considerably longer.
But, length alone does not define if something is a ship or a boat. According to certain definitions, a vessel must weigh more than 500 tonnes in order to qualify as a ship. By comparison, the smallest Royal Caribbean ship has a gross tonnage of around 80,000, whereas the typical sailboat weighs just over four tonnes!
Boats could also be transported by ships. Approximately twenty lifeboats are carried by the largest cruise ships, although you’ll never see a lifeboat carrying a ship (which is why it’s called a lifeboat rather than a life ship).
Powering a boat versus a ship
A ship’s power system is a tricky process. Onboard, ships feature significantly more sophisticated technology, including cutting-edge navigational and operational tools.
One of Royal Caribbean’s largest ships, Allure of the Seas, has six engines that provide 13,500 horsepower, allowing the 225,282-tonne ship to travel through the oceans with ease. Together with engines, there are gas turbines, stabilisers, tunnel thrusters, enormous galleys, and wastewater treatment systems.
On the other hand, boats don’t need such intricate mechanics. Canoes and kayaks, which are small boats, can be propelled by a single paddle, whereas sailboats are propelled by the wind. You won’t spot a Royal Caribbean ship propelled by the wind, for sure!
Boats can also be propelled by motors, but their power is far inferior to that of a ship.
Crew, passengers, and cargo
Compared to a boat, a ship requires a lot more technology to be powered. About 1,000 crew members are employed onboard the majority of Royal Caribbean cruise ships, and the majority of them are not even involved in the ship’s technical functioning.
While there are crew members working in the engine room, you won’t find them on most boats. Instead, there are chefs, stateroom attendants, performers, and musicians onboard.
A cargo ship, for example, might only have 20 to 30 crew members. Even so, this is still a lot more than you’ll typically see on boats, especially those designed to hold just two or three passengers. Even the majority of luxury yachts, which are big by boat standards, often have a crew of fewer than 15 people.
Some individuals categorise a ship as a vessel with a permanent crew regardless of whether the ship is in operation. Only while the boat is being used may it be manned (i.e. travelling on the water instead of docked).
Also, travellers frequently travel large distances between locations on ships. Water taxis and other small boats may also transport people, but usually just over short distances and without providing individual cabins for each traveller.
The ship’s cargo is another way to distinguish it from a boat. The largest container ships available today have a capacity of about 25,000 containers, with an average of 15,000 containers. A boat could never match a cargo ship’s cargo capacity because each container weighs more than 5,000 pounds when it is empty.
Apart from a small fishing boat transporting the day’s catch, boats rarely carry freight.
Where they sail?
Usually, boats and ships travel in different types of water. Ships typically sail in the ocean, covering great distances while transporting goods or people. Ships do not move in small lakes or rivers, but they do travel across the world’s oceans from one continent to another.
Cruise ships, cargo ships, tankers, offshore boats, naval ships, and big ferries are a few examples of ships.
Smaller bodies of water like ponds, lakes, and rivers are where boats are most frequently seen sailing. As they aren’t built for long journeys across the wide ocean, most boats only travel in close proximity to the coast.
Little ferries, water taxis, towing boats, sailboats, kayaks, and canoes are a few examples of boats.
What about sailboats and submarines?
What about a sailboat? It’s typical to categorise a boat as a vessel that does not traverse great distances in the ocean.
The majority of sailboats are thought of as boats rather than ships. They carry fewer passengers and personnel, are substantially smaller than ships like cargo ships and cruise ships, and are typically employed for short trips close to the coast.
The distinction between a sailboat and a sailing ship does exist, though. Larger boats with at least three masts that have square sails on each one are known as sailing ships. During the Age of Discovery in the 15th century, these ships were the norm for ocean travel.
Submarines, however, which ought to be considered ships, are classified as boats. This is a result of undersea history. Early submarines were considered boats because they were transported on ships. Submarines were originally called boats, but as they became larger and larger over time, the name remained.
The bottom line
You won’t discover a clear definition of what distinguishes a ship from a boat. Most of the time, comparing the size of the vessel, its mechanics, and the body of water the vessel goes through makes it simple to distinguish between the two.
There are, as you can see, a lot of exceptions, as with submarines and big sailing ships. Yet, if there is one thing we are certain of, it is that a cruise ship is never to be referred to as a boat!
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Source: Royal Caribbean Blog