What’s the difference between a boat and a ship? This has been – and remains – a point of much debate and discussion.
In the age of sailing, the term ship was used to refer to a craft with three or more square-rigged masts and a full ‘bowsprit’ (pole or spar). However, with the onset of motorization and different forms of power generation, this definition is now archaic.
Today, ships can usually be distinguished from boats based on size and their ability to operate independently for extended periods of time. Additionally, a ship is often defined as any sea going vessel having a displacement of more than 500 tonnes. One general rule of thumb is that a boat can fit onto a ship but a ship cannot fit onto a boat.
However, despite these maxims, things are not always clear cut. For example, many commercial fishing and other vessels are extremely large and carry smaller crafts such as lifeboats and dinghies. Yet these are still not deemed to be ships. In addition, modern submarines are huge, but they are not considered to be underwater ships, rather boats. This may be because when subs were first invented, they were controlled by a ‘mother ship’.
Thus, distinguishing between a boat and a ship is not always straight forward, and one will find regional differences too. But in general, a ship is usually defined by its size, displacement, function and ability to operate independently.
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