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Two steam-powered boats and a dinghy

A boat is generally used to describe a small watercraft which is usually not covered .

The expression has its roots in Middle Low German bōt, possibly also Middle English or Old English bot and originally means “ cut trunk ”. The synonym “small ship ” is used. In fact, vehicles are also referred to as boats that do not correspond to this description.

There is no binding definition of the term “boat”, watercraft were and are named differently in the different areas of transport in the respective epochs and in regional linguistic usage. In addition, organizations or the jurisprudence develop their own definitions if it seems appropriate. If you refer to the boat as a "small ship", you can see that the basic structure of these vehicles and the designation of the respective components and equipment are the same. Just as there are different ship types and classes , there are also boat types and classes .

Concept development in the German-speaking area

If one looks at the general definitions in German-speaking countries since around 1900 and the developments that have taken place after that, one can narrow down what was understood by the term “boat” in the narrower sense and how the definition has changed to this day. Around 1900 there was a consensus that these are open, at least belt- movable vehicles that are used in short-distance traffic. It is particularly emphasized that boats are carried on ships, be it as lifeboats or to transport people or cargo. The largest boats in this sense are the barges , in the military sector with a length of up to 14 m, space for up to 100 people and 2 masts with sails. In the civil sector, a length of up to approx. 20 m is assumed, and this information is still used today. It should also be noted that in nautical parlance, vehicles that did not correspond to the definable description of the boat did not automatically represent a "ship". These were actually just referred to as "vehicles". With the introduction of the engine in particular, forms have developed that cannot be classified based on the criteria that used to apply.

Comparison of terms

The difficulties of differentiation can be made clear by comparing several fishing vessels. If a catboat like the Brek Marshall can undoubtedly be classified as a boat despite a small foredeck, this is more difficult with a vehicle like the Catarina . With a length of 16 meters, it can still be located in the area of ​​the boats. Although she has a cockpit , she is actually to be regarded as decked. With a team of a maximum of three people, it is also not designed to be rowed.

If one looks at the President Freiherr von Maltzahn with a construction waterline of a little more than 20 m in length , it cannot be brought into conformity with the given criteria in any way. Nevertheless, it was not yet declared as a "ship" in traditional language, while a whaler like the Charles W. Morgan with a KWL of 26.00 m met the criteria of a ship at the time.

Further developments

The inaccuracies have tended to increase up to the present day. From 1960 onwards, the " Werft und Hafen " trade school in Hamburg taught that the watercraft to be built were divided into "boats" and "ships". It is emphasized that it is impossible to draw a sharp line between these two terms. There the simple fishing trawler is already counted among the ships, although many of these are also built in boat builders. The term "vehicle" as an intermediate form is no longer to be found, instead " yacht " is emphasized as a special term under which both certain "boats" and "ships" are summarized according to criteria other than size.

Another source defines that small sailing vehicles are referred to as "boats", while larger sailors, who usually require an employed crew to operate them, are referred to as "sailing ships". From this it can also be deduced why trade fairs for recreational water sports enthusiasts are also called “boat fair” (e.g. “ Interboot ”, “ hanseboot ” or “ boot Düsseldorf ”) and not “ ship fair ” - a term that also has a different meaning.

In addition, terms such as “ hovercraft ” were created for vehicles that are no longer a watercraft in the true sense of the word, as they neither displace the water nor slide on it during the journey.

Underwater boats”, on the other hand, swim, exactly balanced, according to the Archimedean principle and can therefore be viewed as “boats”. However, many submarines today go far beyond the dimensions described above, so that they could actually be referred to as "underwater ships"; however, this term has been used for a long time for the submerged part of the ship's hull .

Special definitions


The German law defines law neither the concept boat, nor the term ship . The Federal Court of Justice understands "a ship in the legal sense [...] to be any buoyant, hollow-space vehicle of not entirely insignificant size [...] whose intended purpose involves moving it on the water ."

German Navy

In the German Navy , ships and boats are differentiated according to the disciplinary authority of the commander and the first officer :

  • On ships, the commander has the disciplinary authority of a battalion commander , the first officer that of a company commander . In the case of disciplinary decisions, the first officer is responsible, the commander is the next higher disciplinary superior to whom the person concerned can lodge a complaint about a disciplinary measure.
  • On boats, the commander has the disciplinary authority of a company commander, his deputy has no disciplinary authority and is not referred to as a first officer (IO) but as a first officer on watch (I WO). The next higher Disziplarvorgesetzte in this case is the commander of the squadron .

See also

Web links

Commons : Boats  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Boot  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b Duden online: Boot. Retrieved June 15, 2015 .
  2. ^ Meyer's Large Conversational Lexicon . tape 3 . Leipzig 1905, p. 211-213 ( online).
  3. a b A. Brix: Boat building . Practical shipbuilding. 7th edition. Wilhelm Ernst & Sohn, Berlin 1929, ISBN 978-3-89225-382-2 , p. 1 (reprint of Edition Maritim, 6th edition, 1990).
  4. a b Joachim Schult: Segler-Lexikon . 13th edition. Delius Klasing, Bielefeld 2008, ISBN 3-7688-1041-0 (article on “boat” and “ship”).
  5. ^ Meyer's Large Conversational Lexicon . tape 17 . Leipzig 1909, p. 765-768 ( online).
  6. Jürgen Börms: factory knowledge of the shipbuilder . Boatbuilding and wooden shipbuilding, specialist knowledge - specialist drawing. 1st edition. Verlag für Bootswirtschaft GmbH, Hamburg 1960, ISBN 3-920988-10-8 , p. 5 (2nd reprint of the 1st edition, 2000).
  7. Jesse, Henning: Was ist ein "Schiff" ?, VersR 2014, 670 (671f.); Paschke, in: Oetker (Ed.) Commercial Code Commentary, 4th edition, CH Beck, Munich 2015, § 476 HGB, Rn. 2; see. BT print. 17/10309, p. 123.
  8. BGH, judgment of December 14, 1951 - I ZR 84/51, NJW 1952, 1135.