A whaleboat was a boat that was used by early whalers to harpoon and capture the precious beasts. But whaleboats aren't just for whaling; after just a short while any tender type boat on merchant ships started to be called whaleboats. Henry Dana calls the boats he had to row, whaleboats in Two years Before The Mast and so did Joshua Slocum in his book Spray.

So, just what is a whaleboat? Simple, a whaleboat is a medium sized skiff that is powered by two or more sets of oars. They had rudders to steer and were powered by men and oars. They were wooden up until the 1960's when fiberglass became the norm, well that's if you could find one anymore. They sorta disappeared after the outboard revolution in the 1930's. Design wise a whaleboat is a sturdy craft that was usually pretty wide and could displace quite a bit when loaded but not become unsafe. The rails were pretty low, making it easier to row and pull things up over the side since they are very close to a fishing dory. The bow was higher than a normal skiff of the size would have, allowing it to punch through short chop and shorebreaks. The bow was also higher because at one time it was the platform for the Harpooner to throw from.

For most people a whaleboat is a thing of the past, now you rarely see them unless they are modified for a motor or are being rowed by a bunch of people aboard a historical or replica ship. It just doesn't make sense anymore, most people want cheap and easy tenders or skiffs that come off the shelf. I had one when I was about 10, well it wasn't a real one, but a 13ft version of a Bristol Bay fishing skiff from the 1920's. It shares the same form factor and is based on the same set of principles. It had a sail and only one set of oars due to its size, and the fact that a ten year old me and his 7 year old little brother weren't up to or willing to row where ever they wanted to go in the harbor or around the beaches. It was a little throw back from another era, an era when things weren't based on commodity but things were still pretty easy if you knew how.

So what is a whaleboat? A whaleboat is a small sturdy skiff, and a throw back from another era. It's alive too, something that's endangered and on it's way to extinction. It's something that we should preserve, just like the great ships of old; it's a part of our past. If someone hadn't of thought of them, we wouldn?t have had a use for those Clipper Ships that we learn about because we would not have had a way to get things to shore safely without ruining them.

Whale"boat` (?), n. Naut.

A long, narrow boat, sharp at both ends, used by whalemen.


© Webster 1913.

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