What Do You Call a Flat Bottomed Boat?


A flat bottom boat

Flat bottom boats are very popular for inland waterway use all over the world. The flat bottom hull design make these boats excellent for use in shallow water. But what do you call a flat bottom boat?

A flat bottom boat is often referred to as a shallow draft boat or sometimes as a shallow water boat. A boat with a flat bottom usually has a low freeboard and shallow draft that allows it to easily access very shallow waters. Jon boats, scows, drift boats, flat bottom skiffs, dory boats, canal boats, narrowboats and rafts are common flat bottom boats.

What is flat bottom boat called?

A flat bottom boat is usually called a shallow draft boat because of its unique hull characteristics.

Because these type of boats sit very high in the water they are said to have a shallow draft. Shallow draft simply means the lowest part of the boat does not sit too far away from the waterline.  Where a deep draft boat, used in the ocean and turbulent water, sits very deep in the water, a shallow draft boat sits shallowly in the water.

This gives a flat bottom boat the unique capacity to be used in very shallow areas. Jon boats, for example, can be used in areas that have only a few inches of water.

For these reasons a flat bottom boat is also sometimes called a shallow water boat.

Most river boats are shallow draft and most will have a flat bottom.

14 Types of flat bottom boats

Below are the most common types of flat bottom boat along with their uses.

  1. Barge.
  2. Bateau.
  3. Canal boat.
  4. Dory boat.
  5. Drift boat.
  6. Flat bottom skiff.
  7. Gondola.
  8. Jon boat.
  9. Narrowboat.
  10. Punt.
  11. Raft.
  12. Sandola.
  13. Scow.
  14. Sled boat.

Barge

A barge is arguably the most well known flat bottom boat. It is a working boat used on rivers and canals for the transportation of heavy goods and sometimes people.

A flat bottomed river barge
A flat bottomed river barge

Barges have changed little since they were first developed back in ancient Egypt though a modern barge takes advantage of the internal combustion engine. Though some barges are fitted with their own motors most have no form of propulsion and are towed or pushed by towboats (which can also have a flat bottom but not always).

Today some canal barrages are still horse drawn though this is mostly for tourism purposes. The horse walks along the adjoining towpath as it pulls the barge on a canal.

Back before the invention of the railways it was canal and river barges that were used to transport heavy goods and without them the industrial revolution could never have taken place.

Bateau

The bateau is a flat bottomed boat that dates back to at least 1650.

Bateau boat
Bateau boat on calm river

This unique flat bottom boat was used all across the American continent during colonial times mostly for transporting fur for trade.

Originally a bateau boat had a hull that was pointed at both ends but over time the boat was modified and today there are a wide variety of different styled bateau boats available.

You may have guessed that name bateau is French. It simply means boat.

In some southern states, especially in Cajun communities that maintain their French heritage, the term bateau is used to refer to a wide variety of different flat bottom boats, including Jon boats, and they are still very popular today.

Canal boat

In the USA, Canada and some parts of Europe a canal boat can be any type of shallow draft vessel used in canals.

A canal boat
A typical European canal boat

As canals in these areas tend to be wide and deep not all canal boats will have a flat bottom but most of them do.

It is a different story in Ireland and Britain though where they use flat bottom narrowboats (more on those later) due to the very narrow and shallow nature of the canals in their canal network.

Dory boat

The ocean dory boat is a flat bottom fishing vessel that was historically used in bays and ocean shorelines.

Modern Dory boat
Modern Dory boat

The ocean dory was launched from a larger vessel, usually a schooner, and used to fish ocean waters. It would bring its catch back to the main ship and head back out again for several trips before being hauled back onboard for the inward journey.

Dories were notoriously unstable because they are flat bottom, shallow draft boats that were effectively being used in ocean waters. Many fisherman died on these boats.

Drift boat

The drift boat evolved from the ocean dory.

A drift boat at bank
A drift boat

Ocean dories were first used in the turbulent waters of Oregon’s McKenzie and Rogue rivers. It wasn’t too long until these boats were being modified so they could better handle these turbulent inland waters. Hence the drift boat was born.

As you can see if you compare the picture of the drift boat with the picture of the ocean dory boat that the drift boat has more rocker making it more capable of riding the rapids of Oregon’s notorious rivers. For an explanation of rocker read our article why are drift boats curved or for a quick explanation see this.

Drift boats are such a huge topic that I cannot possibly go into the details of these amazingly versatile and beautiful boats here.

We have a detailed article about drift boats here and you can read what they are used for and why it is a good idea to buy one. I have also previously covered why these boats are so expensive and whether you can put a motor on one or not.

Flat bottom skiff

A flat bottom skiff is a popular inland waterway fishing vessel.

flat bottom skiff
A flat bottom skiff

A flat bottom skiff has a powerful outboard motor mounted on it with a central control on the boat. It offers a lot of deck space for equipment and catch.

Not all skiffs have a flat bottom. Skiffs are mostly used in large bodies of water such as large rivers or lakes.

Gondola

A gondola is indicative of Venice although it is also used in other parts of the world (including The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas).

Gondola in Venice
A gondola in Venice

A gondola is a flat-bottomed boat propelled by type of long paddle. This unique flat bottom vessel was designed specifically to traverse the Venetian lagoon on which the city of Venice sits.

The gondolier both propels the boat and steers the gondola via the unfastened rowing oar. You can read more about the gondola in this article.

Jon boat

Jon boats are probably the most popular flat bottom boat in America.

Grizzly 2072 Sportsman bowfishing Jon boat
Bow fishing from a Jon boat

These amazingly versatile inland vessels are cheap, lightweight and can be used for just about anything from fishing and hunting to boat camping and transportation.

You can read more about the humble Jon boat here and discover the many uses of this utility boat here. However, Jon boats are such a huge subject that we have an entire section of this website dedicated to them.

Narrowboat

The narrowboat is most commonly seen on the narrow, shallow canals of Ireland and Britain.

Canal boat narrowboat
Narrowboats in English canal

These totally unique boats are like no other boat on the water.

They were designed specifically to navigate the very narrow man-made canals of the British Isles. You can find out more about these boats in our canal boat experience article or discover the many benefits of taking a canal boat vacation here.

Punt

Anyone who punts in the shallows on a skiff or Jon boat will recognize where the name “punting” comes from when they see this boat.

A Cambridge punt
A Cambridge punt

A punt is a flat bottomed vessel that is pushed, or punted, by a pole.

Although these boats still exist in some areas punting is now mostly used on Jon boats, skiffs and other flat bottom vessels when fishing or hunting in shallow waters. Punting is used for stealth and as a way of navigating extreme shallow waterways.

Raft

A raft needs little explanation.

Traditional raft and modern raft
Traditional raft and modern raft

Although modern rafts are made of rubber traditional rafts were made of bamboo, or some similar buoyant material, lashed together with vines. Both types have completely flat bottoms.

Sandola

The sandola is very similar to a gondola but with some key differences and is also native to Venice.

sandolo in Venice
Sandolo in Venice

A sandola is smaller and also lighter than a gondola and can be fitted with a sail.

Scow

A scow is a flat bottom sailing boat

Scow
Scow

The scow was designed to navigate inland bodies of water that are shallow.

The scow may look like a typical sailing boat but its shallow draft and flat bottom make it unsuitable for ocean sailing.

Scows were used for transportation along rivers and in bays.

Sled boat

A sled boat is a motorized flat bottom boat used on inland waters.

A sled boat
A sled boat

Not all sled boats have a completely flat bottom. Some are semi-v, though they are still considered flat bottom boats. To understand why this is, you can read the article about Mod V Jon boats (mod v and semi-v are used interchangeably and mean the same thing).

Read this for the advantages a semi-v flat bottom boat offers over a traditional flat bottom boat.

You can learn more about a sled boat in our article what is a sled boat.

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