Boats, Boats, Boats!

The world is a watery place. Almost three-fourths of Earth's surface is covered with water—rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans. Until people learned to build boats, all this water was a barrier. People might wade across a shallow stream or use a fallen log as a bridge, but they just couldn't cross rushing rivers, large lakes, or wide, wild oceans. They were stuck on land.

Thousands of years ago, people started building boats to help them explore the watery parts of the world. Boats let people find new hunting grounds and discover new lands. They carried people and goods farther than they'd ever gone before.

The earliest boats were probably logs that people sat on as they floated downstream. Later, people made these logs more useful and comfortable by burning and scraping away the insides to make dugout boats and canoes.

People experimented with different kinds of floating boats. They tied logs together to make rafts. They wove reeds and branches to make tidy little boats that are still used in many parts of the world today. They sewed animal skins together and filled them with air—like a float you might use in a swimming pool. They used paddles, poles, and oars to help steer, or to move upstream.

Boats like the Greek trireme were big and heavy and hard to steer. It took hundreds of rowers to move a boat like that.

Soon people figured out how to use sails to catch the wind. Early sailboats might only have had one or two sails. But more sails meant more power, and fast tall ships could have dozens. People still use sailboats today, for cruising and racing.

When steam engines were invented almost 250 years ago, boating became easier than ever. Ships with steam engines could sail long distances, even if there was no wind. As engines got bigger and better, so did boats.

Over the years, boats have been used for fishing, for fighting, for carrying goods, for fun—even for living on. Boats have turned the world's waterways into highways.


  1. Why do people build boats out of wood?
    Answer: People build boats out of wood because wood floats.
  2. What other things do people use to build boats?
    Answer: People also use reeds, branches, and animal skins filled with air.
  3. Why do you think some boats sink? What might happen to the boat to make it sink?
    Answer: Answers may vary but could include that some boats sink because they get holes in them and this lets water into the boat. The boat becomes too heavy and sinks.