From Simple to Powerful: The Epic Journey of Fishing Vessels

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History of Fishing Boats: Throughout history, a wide variety of boats of all shapes and sizes have been put to use as fishing vessels, whether they were operating in the ocean, a lake, or a river. Even in this day and age, there are still quite a few traditional fishing boats in operation.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), there were around 4 million vessels in the world’s fishing fleet by the end of 2004, with 2.7 million of those boats being undecked, also known as open boats.

Only one-third of the fishing boats that did not have decks were motorized, and the ones that were propelled often had outboard motors. However, nearly all of the decked vessels were mechanized. The remaining 1.8 million boats were traditional crafts of many different varieties, and they were powered by sail and oars.

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History of Fishing Vessels (Fishing Vessels)


The Pesse canoe is thought to be the oldest boat ever found and is definitely the oldest canoe. Carbon dating shows that the boat was made between 8040 BC and 7510 BC, during the early Mesolithic. The Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands, now has it.

The boat is a type of canoe called a dugout. It is 298 centimeters (117 inches) long and 44 centimeters (17 inches) wide. It was made out of a single log of Scots pine. There are marks in the hole, which were probably made by flint or antler tools.

It was a good way to get around for people who spent a lot of their time hunting and fishing in marshes, creeks, and lakes. This is proven by the fact that graves from between 5500 and 5000 BC were found near the big rivers Maas, Rhine, and Waal. Based on the food remains near the grave, the group lived on the safe river dunes and caught pike in the river with their canoes. They also shot birds with flint arrows and gathered fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

History of Fishing Boats – Preface: History of the fishing vessels (Fishing Vessels)

The very first boats were made from tree trunks and were mainly canoes. The further evolution of this has ultimately led to our contemporary boats. It is widely believed that the first boat makers were in the North Sea area, followed by the Romans, the Vikings, the whalers, and the English innovators. And at the end, you get the ultramodern, super-fast competition rowing boat made of high-quality and feather-light material.


The inhabitants from the North were hunter-gatherers and initially only moved on land. They hunted land animals such as deer, moose, bears, etc … They used these for their food supplemented with vegetable food.


The first sign that fish was also being consumed was found in England (Northumberland) and dates back to around 8500 BC. The so-called tree trunk boats were used for this purpose and the hunters went in search of fish, shellfish, edible water plants (such as the water chestnut), water birds, and collecting eggs. Everything was used exclusively for personal consumption.

History of Fishing Boats

The first time a boat was used for other purposes was for transport because at that time there were no other means of transport. There were no roads yet and there were only a few fords and here and there a walkable plain. Later excavations also revealed fish traps, nets, hooks, and paddles. The fishermen had a special technique to lure the fish: they lit a fire in the boat. When excavating such boats, one could still see the marks of fire.


Present-day Denmark would have been the first country where the first boats were made. These tree trunk boats are also called log boats. Around 3000 log boats have been found in northwestern Europe. The two oldest boats were between 3000 and 4000 BC. That period was called the New Stone Age or the Neolithic. At that time, the people who lived in permanent places became the first farmers.

History of Fishing Vessels – Preface: The very first boat builders (Fishing Vessels)

The log boats were only suitable for inland waterways because the trees in northwestern Europe are relatively small in size. The waterway may not be turbulent but very quiet. And yet the boat was a great discovery in the evolution of man. Because as soon as one could get on the water, they eagerly looked at other distances and the accompanying new food sources.


Obviously one had to choose thick trees with straight trunks to make such a logboat. These were then worked with flints on a deer antler. To get the tip of the boat, the boat builders had to chop around the trunk of the tree until the tree fell over. Iron tools were also found in later excavations.

History of Fishing VesselsOnly for inland waterways (Fishing Vessels)

However, little cargo could be transported because those first boats were very low on the water. From then on many techniques were devised to also be able to use the log boats in larger and less calm water areas. This is how the expanded logboat was created: a boat that was treated on the sides with water and fire in order to soften the wood and then stretch it, as it were. Ribs were further attached to hold the shape. This “stretching” made the wood thinner and thus the boat became lighter. And therefore easier to transport overland.

The Hasholme Logboat, Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull, England. The boat dates back to between 700 and 340 BC, the Iron Age. The 13-meter long boat is constructed from a hollowed-out oak, the edges are raised with planks that are attached to the hull with dowels. Photo: Robert Nash. From: From tree to boat

The disadvantage that one got after the “stretching” was that the boat came to lie even lower. This was solved by raising the sides with shelves. So the boat was already a step further in its evolution. A long time later, wood was used to serve as stabilizers on the outside of the boat.

These stabilizers cannot be older than the fourteenth century, because only then was the Kentmere boat found in England. Julius Caesar writes in his “De Bello Gallico” how he saw two log boats attached sideways to increase stability. However, no historical finds of such combinations were ever found.

So the very first boats just remained hollow logs with paddles. The sea was still very far away! And yet log boats were still made in Europe until the twentieth century. It was mainly oaks that were used to make the boat.

History of Fishing Vessels – The next step: traveling overseas (Fishing Vessels)

In a further development, there was a lot of movement around Ireland and Scotland, especially around 4000 BC. People began to journey to the Isle of Man and to the Isles of Sicily. From the DNA of plants and animals, it could be concluded that agriculture in the British Isles originated from France, and thus it was known that there was already contact between the two countries.

It was assumed that the trips between England and France also happened with log boats but in very calm weather. According to others, hide boats would have been used. The construction of those hide boats consisted of a framework of eg. willow twigs. With skin around it, they were kept reasonably waterproof. This could handle a time span of 12 hours.

Longer journeys were already made from 2500 BC. The so-called “bell cups” are proof of this. Since bell cups were tied to the country or region and were made from the local clay, people knew that not the bell cups traveled but the people. Such bell cups were found in France, Germany, England, the Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, North Africa, and Eastern Europe.

History of Fishing Vessels: Nowadays (Fishing Vessels)

Today people already use the terms boat and ship interchangeably. This is because the border is very vague. The term boat is now used for a small size usually used for pleasure. A ship, on the other hand, is more common in commercial shipping. However, this is not always the case, because offices on a houseboat or ships are only used for recreational purposes.

The confusion was already noticeable in the Dutch language of the nineteenth century. Then people spoke of steamboats as well as steamships. A steamboat was described as a small ship with a steam engine on board to generate power. Later the steam engine was also integrated into sailing ships that were then called steamboats or steamships. These steam-powered boats/ships were mainly used for long distances.

Furthermore, so-called bottoms were also used for trade and warfare, and from then on the term ship became commonplace. So the Dutch term was “bodem” and comes from the English: bottom. What they also say in the Netherlands is the following: “A ship can take a boat on board, but a boat cannot take a ship on board.” In fact, you can say that every ship is a boat, but not every boat is a ship. Do you understand?

Finally (Fishing Vessels)

Hopefully, I have been able to please you with this explanation and you have learned something from it. And I wish you a good boat trip when fishing! (or ship sailing?)

History of Fishing

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