What is a Whaleboat?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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Whaleboats are small boats which were originally designed for hunting whales. The design was later adapted for other small scale rowing and sailing boats, since the design of a whaleboat is highly maneuverable and efficient. Whaleboats can also be easily manipulated in shallow water, since they are designed with a shallow draft and they can move forwards or backward with equal ease. Several examples of historical whaleboats along with whaling equipment can be seen in whaling museums, which modern variations on this classic design are sold in many parts of the world.

Several things set a whaleboat aside from other small boats. The first is the fact that a whaleboat is pointed at both ends. The double ended design allows a whaleboat to be quickly and rapidly turned. A whaleboat is also equipped to be rowed or sailed, depending on the conditions, with a detachable sailing rig kept in a storage compartment until it is needed. Finally, a whaleboat has what is known as a centerboard trunk, a type of retractable keel which allows the boat to be operated in very shallow water.


Traditionally, whaleboats were carried on board a larger whaling ship. Crews of six to eight would launch their whaleboats for a day of whale hunting and then return to the central ship to process their catch. Working on a whaleboat would have been very dangerous, as it required seafaring skills, strength, and good strategizing abilities to hunt down and capture whales. These boats were also extremely cramped, since they carried equipment like knives, harpoons, floats, and rope in addition to their crews.

The simple design of a whaleboat is also very easy to repair, which was convenient during the era of whaling, since these boats were often damaged during the course of daily operations. Most whaling ships also kept several spare whaleboats aboard, in case a whaleboat was irreparably damaged. Many ships also painted their whaleboats in bright, easy to recognize colors so that they could be spotted quickly while they were out on the ocean.

Although whaling is no longer practiced on a large scale by most nations, the design of the whaleboat has endured since it is easy to build, efficient, and pleasant to handle. Many people enjoy using whaleboats for rowing and light sailing in shallow areas, and they are sometimes used in rescue situations as well. For work near beaches and in the surf zone, whaleboats are often employed.


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Post 5

I am wondering how effective whale boats actually were. I am imaging a giant Sperm Whale trying to be killed by men in these little boats and wondering how in the world they would be able to do this.

I guess the sleek design of the boats allowed them to move around and live, but with one a few men in the boat I would think that there would not be a lot of success in killing the beast and that the boat would tip over quite a bit.

It seems like a whale boat has a great design for its purpose, but it does not seem like the acts that it would be used for would be very effective

and would require a much larger boat.

It could be that I do not know much about whaling, but then again, it sounds somewhat laughable to think that men actually killed giant fish when in little boats hardly bigger than dinghies.

Post 4

@jcraig - I do fins it amazing like you, but with the new moves towards environmentalism whale boats, like the ones described in the article, are a thing of the past.

Whale boats were designed in such a way that it would be perfect for a small group of people to hunt whales and gather them for whatever it was they provided. It is quite amazing looking at the past, but nowadays the whale boats provide a much better use.

Whale boats nowadays make very good little boats to use when sailing in the water, if someone does not want to go too far out. I cannot see these as being good boats out in the middle of the ocean, but these whale boats do make very good dinghies and could allow for a very enjoyable experience out of the ocean.

Post 3

@titans62 - Yeah that is pretty amazing. Despite what reservations people may have against whalers, one has to keep in mind that times were much different in the days of whaling and that the whalers back then that utilized whale boats were very brave men to do what they were doing.

I find the design of the whale boats quite interesting simply because it is such a small boat and they have to do something nearly impossible, which is stab the whale to death with harpoons. I feel like this is quite amazing and feel that the sleek design of the boat, being built for maneuverability, allowed for the sailors to actually live through their jobs.

Post 2

Whenever I think of whale boats I immediately have images of Captain Ahab from the book Moby Dick. The image I have is a bunch of gruff sailors climbing into a very small boat and trying to kill a giant beast with harpoons in the most simplistic way of all.

It amazes me to think that back then that is how they went after whales and that only a few men in a boat would be trying to kill this giant beast. I would have to imagine whoever was steering the boat was an incredible sailor and could move quickly to avoid getting swallowed up by the wake of the whale once it descended to the depths of the ocean or if it shot up out of the water to attack.

Post 1

Why do whale boats have five or seven oarsmen rowing the boat?

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