What is a Dory?

Dale Marshall

A dory is a flat-bottomed wooden boat that generally measures between 15 and 22 feet (about 5 and 7 m) from bow to stern. The boat's widest part, the beam, is about a fourth to a third of its length. A dory's sides, gunwhales, pronounced "gunnels," are relatively high, and the bow is raked, or angled forward from the waterline. As the gunwhales approach the stern, they taper back toward each other, in the manner of a canoe, but they don't actually meet — the stern of a dory is usually squared off in a narrow transom. Dories are shallow-draft boats — that is, the keel, or the line from the bow to the stern that runs on the outside bottom of the boat, is never far below the waterline, which makes the dory much more maneuverable.

In 1876, Alfred Johnson, a fisherman, sailed his 20-foot dory from Gloucester, New Brunswick to Albertcastle, England.
In 1876, Alfred Johnson, a fisherman, sailed his 20-foot dory from Gloucester, New Brunswick to Albertcastle, England.

Dory boats have been built in the Western hemisphere since the early 1700s, but evidence exists of their use in Europe since as early as the fourth century AD. Lightweight and versatile, these boats are designed for use not only in rivers and lakes, but also in the ocean, and can easily be launched into the surf.

Dories have a great deal of room on board and can carry a good amount of baggage, equipment or fish. While they can be used for transportation, perhaps their most popular use over the years has been as fishing boats, both as adjuncts to larger fishing boats, as well as on their own. Their shape makes them appear unstable, but the fact is that while they're easily tipped a few degrees side-to-side, they're actually difficult to capsize, a critical feature in a boat frequently used on the ocean.

Dories, in fact, are exceptionally seaworthy, a fact driven home in 1876, when Alfred Johnson, a Grand Banks fisherman, sailed his 20-foot (6.1 m) dory from Gloucester, New Brunswick to Albertcastle, England. That dory was “gaff rigged,” or equipped with a sail, and many dories today are similarly equipped. Traditionally, though, dories are most commonly rowed.

There are several types of dories made with specific features and benefits. For example, beach dories, the earliest type made in the New World, are used in beach-launched fishing operations, with a narrow flat bottom, widely rounded gunwhales and a narrow, tapered transom. This fishing dory is very stable and can stand up well even in rough ocean conditions.

"Banks dories" appeared in the early 19th century and were used primarily to accompany larger fishing boats on their journeys. In fact, with their removable seats, or thwarts, two or three could easily be nested on the deck of a fishing boat. Once in the fishing grounds, the dories would be separated, the thwarts installed, and they'd be launched right from the deck of the fishing boat.

Other common types of dories include the river dory, designed more for use on rivers and rapids, and the sailing dory, which is equipped with a sail or sails and is used as much for recreation as for any other purpose. Other types of dories are named after the town or area in which they were first built, generally in the New England states of the US, but the differences between these dories are often minimal and immaterial to their handling and use.

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