What are Pump Boats?

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  • Written By: Harriette Halepis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2019
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Pump boats are sailboats that belong in the outrigger canoe category, since they include side lateral support floats. These boats are small in size, and they usually come with gasoline or diesel engines. Pump boats are extremely popular in Hawaii where they are used in sailboat races. Even though outrigger canoes were originally invented for practical purposes, today's boats are designed for speed and endurance.

Within the Philippines, pump boats are used as a main mode of transportation from one island to another. While many of the boats used for transportation purposes in the Philippines do not have motors, most modern pump boats do include larger motors that make travel more efficient. Tourists who visit the Philippines will often find that island-hopping includes taking a ride in a pump boat or two.

Outrigger canoes that do not include motors also tend to be a cheaper way for tourists to move from one island to another. Since motorless boats are powered by oars, money is not needed in order to fuel these boats. These boats can generally accommodate anywhere from one to six people, though most islanders prefer to use two passenger boats, since they are quicker than larger boats.


Originally, pump boats were used to transport Austronesian-speaking people to Polynesia and New Zealand for migration purposes. Today, these boats are still mainly used amongst the Austronesian population. Outrigger canoes that are specially made for fishing are widely used in Sri Lanka as well.

These sailboats are both sturdy and quick, making them ideal race boats. In fact, pump boats are the boats of choice when it comes to sailboat racing in Hawaii. Outrigger canoe racing in Hawaii has been favorite pastime for many centuries, which is why outrigger canoe racing is now the official state sport of the Hawaiian Islands.

Modern racing boats are made from glass that has been reinforced by sturdy plastic, while older boats are made from traditional materials. In Hawaii, the Koa tree is often used to form the body of a pump boat. Some recent boats are also outfitted with durable Kevlar®, which is lightweight material that helps the boats to withstand rough seas.

In contrast to traditional boats, modern racing boats include rudders that are controlled by foot pumps. Older boats do not contain rudders, since they rely strictly upon manpower. A recent addition to the pump racing boat is a type of aluminum closure that can be fastened and unfastened quickly. These boats are extremely popular with serious pump boat racers.


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Post 3

I'm very interested in the pump boat racing idea. When they race the boats, do they have different kinds of competitions? Maybe some with motorized boats and some with one or two people paddling them?

What size of motor is usually put on them, and how fast can they go at top speed?

Post 2

@jcraig - An outrigger just describes the support floats that are on either side of the boat. They can be put on anything from a pump boat to a kayak or yacht. They basically just add stability so that the boat resists tipping. If you have ever seen any of the Rambo movies, a pump boat is the typical boat with a cloth roof that they take between destinations.

I have been to the Philippines, but I couldn't tell you exactly how far the islands are apart. There are tons of tiny islands that aren't on most maps, and some of those can be less than 10 miles apart. That is definitely a manageable distance for one person. With some of the currents, it would probably be hardly any effort at all.

Post 1

What does the article mean when it talks about a pump boat being in the outrigger canoe category? I've heard the term before in passing, but I don't really know what it means.

For the boats that are used in the Philippines without motors, what types of waters can they be used in? I'm not familiar with the Philippines, but how far away are the islands, and what are the waters like? How far can one or two people travel on average?

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