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What’s The Difference Between A Ship And A Boat?

In the world of cruising, there is an unwritten rule that you should never refer to a cruise ship as a boat. In fact, this is a sure-fire way to show yourself as an inexperienced cruiser and is bound to be corrected by anyone who regular takes holidays at sea.

Having said that, it is an easy mistake to make and one that is sometimes still made by those in the know. This is largely because there seems to be no official rules that govern whether a vessel is classified as a ship or a boat. However, there are a few general rules of thumb to go by.


Symphony of the Seas

Many naval institutions use the adage ‘a ship can carry a boat but a boat can’t carry a ship’. This obviously refers to the fact that ships are generally larger than boats and often carry vessels such as lifeboats and Zodiacs on board.

Different figures are given in terms of how large it needs to be to become a ship, but a general consensus indicates 500 tonnes to be the cut-off point – anything more than this and you’re definitely dealing with a ship. One exception to this is the submarine. These are usually referred to as boats, no matter how big they are.


Cruise Ship Captain

Any cruiser will tell you that the crew are an integral part of making sure you have the best holiday possible. These large numbers of dedicated staff ensure you want for nothing whilst on board and look after everything from the food to the waste disposal.

This is, therefore, another key sign that a vessel is a ship. Whilst boats have small crews who don’t tend to live on board, ships have a permanent crew which always includes a captain controlling them.

Area Of Operation

New York

The fact that cruising nearly always takes place on the open ocean should point you to the fact that these are ships. In general, boats tend to stick to shallow waters or inland waterways and rarely undertake extended operations out at sea.

As usual, there are some exceptions. Many of the smaller cruise ships have now started offering itineraries along rivers such as the Seine or Elbe, but this doesn’t change their designation. Also, some fishing boats can spend days at a time out to sea.


Royal Clipper

In the grand old days of sailing, a ship was a vessel that had at least three square-rigged masts and was powered by the wind. Nowadays, things have been turned on their heads and it is normally boats that use wind power as a form of propulsion.

These rigged vessels are now commonly called sailing ships, but nearly all other ships have dedicated engines and are propelled by diesel or, as is becoming more common, LNG (liquefied Natural Gas).

See. Clear as mud.

So What Is A Cruise Liner?

Queen Mary 2

To confuse things even more, there is a third term often used to describe cruise vessels – ‘liner’. In the days when ocean travel really took off, liners became the preferred mode of transport across the Atlantic and this is what defines them. Usually built higher and to a better standard than ‘ships’, liners were made to spend many days crossing vast oceans and so have more storage space for fuel and food. In fact, there is only one cruise liner still in operation today and this is Cunard’s Queen Mary 2.

So, the next time you hear someone mistakenly call a cruise ship a boat or a liner, you know how to put them right.

If you would like to put your new knowledge to the test amongst other seasoned cruises, our team can help you find your perfect itinerary. Call us on 0808 301 6442 or click here to submit an online enquiry.

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