What Is a Fishing Boat?

Krystel Schley

In its most basic sense, a fishing boat is any boat used, designed, or even just intended to facilitate the removal of fish from some waterway. There are a wide variety of examples, many of which are made specifically for nuanced circumstances. Commercial fishing rigs and boats intended for deep sea fishing often look nothing like those used by casual sportsmen on shallow lakes and rivers, for instance. Boats designed with a lot of high-tech features like on-board aquariums and rod holders are similarly quite dissimilar from simple wooden shells used by traditional fishermen both today and in ancient times. Humans have been capturing fish for food and sport for centuries. The earliest models were often designed around the available materials and the approach, for instance spear fishing and the use of nets. People still use simple boats and techniques in many tribal communities, developing countries, and hobby groups, but most of the modern versions are designed with more active technology. Anyone interested in purchasing such a vessel usually has a lot to choose from, and, with the right amount of time and flexible enough budget, can usually get something ideally suited for any circumstance.

Mahi-mahi, a popular type of sport fishing fish.
Mahi-mahi, a popular type of sport fishing fish.

Small and Traditional Models

On some level, any sort of boat can become a fishing boat provided it is used for fishing. Just the same, certain features usually make a vessel more suitable for this purpose than others. People have been fishing as a way of life and survival for hundreds if not thousands of years, and have often used small boats to further these purposes. Most of the earliest examples are made of wood, usually whatever wood was available in the region; most were also powered by paddle, and sometimes also wind and sail.

Fishing boats are designed and used for catching fish in both salt and fresh water.
Fishing boats are designed and used for catching fish in both salt and fresh water.

Most of the more modest examples are little more than canoes or small craft, and they may not have any special fish-related features. Many have hooks for nets, and it’s also common to find anchors for poles or spears. The smallest boats typically have room for but one fisherman, but others are much larger, often with room to hold ten or more people. A lot depends on the specifics of the waters and the fish being caught, as well as the dynamics of the society in which the vessels are used.

Some commercial boats are equipped with nets or traps that can catch a large number of fish at once.
Some commercial boats are equipped with nets or traps that can catch a large number of fish at once.

More Advanced Features

Many contemporary boats have innovative features that are designed to keep both fish and bait alive and healthy. Livewells, similar to baitwells, are tanks that vary in size and are pretty common. These tanks, not unlike aquariums, house captured fish and bait in an oxygenated environment. They usually incorporate pumps to allow fresh or salt water to be re-circulated to keep the atmosphere fresh and the fish in an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible. This feature is particularly useful in "catch and release" fishing tournaments, where there are strict penalties for bringing back dead fish. These wells can hold many, many gallons of water, depending on the boat type. In some cases, smaller fishing boats may be equipped with battery-powered baitwells, which are portable and allow for ease of use in a boat with limited space.

Other fishing boat features include fishing rod, or pole, holders. These are mounts that can hold a pole when a fisherman has stepped away from his or her pole, for instance to clean a fish or to tend to other lines. In a recreational boat, these mounts are often designed to be removable so that the vessels can also be used for non-fishing excursions.

Commercial Operations

Commercial vessels are usually a category unto themselves. These are often used to capture aquatic animals for resale, or, more commonly, to catch fish that will be sold as food. Commercial boats tend to be quite large and are usually equipped with professional fishing supplies. Most have space to house crew, as fishing journeys often last a number of weeks. They usually have space to clean and pack fish, as well as an area to freeze them and keep them frozen. Fish that are to be delivered alive normally require large tanks as well. Many vessels also have sonar or other technology to map the likely locations of fish in the water.

Tournaments and Competitions

Another type of boat is known as a sport fishing vessel, and can be utilized for fishing tournaments and competitions. The sport of angling, or fishing, is a very lucrative business in many places. Boats designed for these purposes are usually made with both speed and volume of catch in mind.

Commercial fishing boats are used for deep sea fishing excursions.
Commercial fishing boats are used for deep sea fishing excursions.

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Discussion Comments

@pleonasm - It isn't that difficult to find out. If you have no one in your life who goes fishing (and you probably do, you just might not know it) then I would just hang around an area where people dock their boats and start asking questions. There will probably be marine officers or whoever the local law enforcement are out there who can weigh in on regulations and any random fisherman is going to be happy to talk about his or her catch if you don't get in their way or anything.

There are plenty of books and things out there as well and probably pamphlets on local information. The thing to remember is that a lot of not very smart people go fishing, so the information has to be as clear as possible. As long as you are safe (wear a lifejacket! take a first aid kit!) and smart about it there's no reason to worry about being a first timer on a fishing boat.

If you're really nervous, try a couple of fishing boat charters with a captain on board and ask him or her all your questions.


@pastanaga - I've always wanted to get a used fishing boat for that reason. Fish can be so very expensive and it's difficult to find a place on the coast and near the city that isn't already swarming with fishers.

I always thought it would be cheaper to save up and spend a couple thousand on a boat and catch my own fish, but I have no idea how to use a boat or about any of the regulations or anything like that.


My stepfather has a sea fishing boat that he bought with about four or five of his friends and they take it in turns to take it out and go fishing. It's actually a fairly good investment, because I think he has made back the money several times over in the amount of fish he manages to catch each year. They keep a lot of it in the freezer to tide them over the winter when he doesn't like going out in the boat.

I mean, I don't think he actually bought it in order to save money, I think he just likes fishing.

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