Types of Ships, how many exist, what they are, their uses

There are many types of ships, not only for holidays at sea, but also indispensable for the realisation of countless commercial and military activities. On this occasion, we invite you to get to know a wide variety of these marvellous ships that allow mankind to move across the oceans.

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How many types of boat are there?

A boat is basically a means of transport that has a concave bottom and many other elements, including its deck, which can be made of wood, metal, fibreglass or any other element that allows it to stay afloat on the currents of bodies of water, be they rivers, lakes or seas.

The term “boat” is a generic one, used to designate both light craft and huge cruisers, since its classification is based on its specific physical characteristics and on the function for which it is intended, in order to be able to carry out its displacement on any body of water.

The list of ship types is very long and could start with the medieval bajel, the 13th-century Bergantín sailboat, the ship of great solidity or resistance, and include the cruisers or yachts for pleasure cruises.

But there are also large ships, represented by oil tankers, bulk carriers or the ships of the naval forces of each country. For this reason, we will make a tour within the general classification of the types of ships that exist in the world, through the following points, and in this way we will be able to know at least most of them correctly.

Recreational craft

The vessels classified in this category are all those which, regardless of their means of propulsion, have the basic purpose of providing human beings with a means of transport, either for sporting purposes or as an element of leisure, which includes recreation, considered by many people to be a form of enjoyment or rest.

This is one of the types of boats that are dedicated to activities that provide pleasure, whether they are for profit or not, given the fact that many of them are hired out to people for the transport of goods or passengers.

What are they used for?

Among the vessels included in the recreational categories are those dedicated to the leisure of people, by means of which they travel on the surface of bodies of water for the sole purpose of amusement.

These categories also include boats used for sporting purposes, such as sailing, sailing competitions, regattas, kayaking or simply fishing competitions.

What should be clear is that, in general, they should not carry more than twelve people, have a length from bow to stern of between 2.5 and 24 metres, regardless of how they are propelled, but always for recreational or sporting purposes.

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What are pleasure boats?

Now that we have learned how pleasure boats are identified, it is appropriate to point out that there are several types of boats, among which the following can be mentioned.

Beach boats

This group of boats includes all those that are used for human recreation, for carrying out nautical activities, such as the use of canoes with sails, kayaks or canoes that are usually moved by paddles or small boats equipped with pedals that operate some flaps that drive the boat.

However, this group also includes sailing or gliding boards, with or without a motor, inflatable boats, surfboards and anchored floating installations.

Jet Skis

These are the well-known jet-skis, identified as aquatic or nautical; light vessels whose principle is basically similar to that of motorcycles, but with an internal propeller due to the fact that they are powered by turbines.

These are generally of the jet-ski or runabout type, and their power can vary from 50 to 350 hp. However, they are often used to travel on the surface of the water as if they were on land.

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Sailing boats are characterised by the fact that they are propelled by the action of the wind on their rigging, which consists of a set of masts, poles, cables and sails that catch the wind and move the boat.

Generally, this type of boat is used in places where there is sufficient wind, although some of them also have the possibility of using oars or an engine to facilitate their displacement when there is no strong or constant air.


The catamaran is generally a type of boat with two parallel hulls of the same size, characterised by being quite light and propelled either by sails or by the force of an engine.

This type of boat is generally used to transport tourists or simply for recreational or sporting use by individuals. They are relatively new designs to which many sailors, attached to their old traditions, have become accustomed.

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Dinghies are small vessels that can be propelled by sail, oar or motor. They can be carried on board ships, used as a lifeboat, or used to reach the shore on an island without a deep harbour.

These boats are equipped with a rudder that allows them to be steered in any direction, so that they can avoid coastal areas; they also allow fast displacement, ideal for water sports such as sky diving, fishing or tubing, where an inflatable dinghy is towed with people inside.


This is a type of boat considered luxurious, which allows a greater use of activities on the part of its crew, since it is possible to make navigation to great distances, to know islands, archipelagos and all a series of routes, by virtue of the fact that they are ships provided with motor, rudder and a series of comforts so that people can lodge in them as if it were a small floating flat.

On the other hand, they are usually expensive boats, but desired by lovers of sailing, a real luxury that is worth experiencing for those who have it within their reach; since many of these yachts are of large dimensions and equipped with hulls suitable for crossing any ocean, a recreational luxury.

Passenger vessels

This type of vessel is considered to be part of the merchant navy, but its main function is to transport people, either from one place to another, or by making trips around certain areas of the sea.

Their uses

Passenger ships are those designed to carry passengers from one place to another in the world, either from one continent to another or specifically within the same nation. Their purpose is to carry passengers, and some of them are very large, with capacity for thousands of people, including a whole range of comforts, thanks to which they have cabins that serve as accommodation for several days or even weeks.


Within the subcategories representing the types of vessels used for passenger transport, the following are among the most important.

Ocean liners

One of the traditional means of passenger transport is the transatlantic liner, a ship built to cross the Atlantic Ocean from one side to the other.


Ships formerly known as steamers, which were the main means of intercontinental passenger transport from the middle of the 19th century until almost 1960, when the aeroplane began to be used as an alternative means of transport for the same route.

One of the advantages of this type of ship is its ability to carry a large number of people with all the comforts afforded by its size, and also to sail for a certain number of days, or even weeks, without having to stop at any coast that is not representative of the final destination.


Cruise ships are ships that generally carry passengers, but where they are transported with the purpose of providing them with pleasure, through itineraries that last several days or weeks, but in this case also stop in various ports as part of their programmes and itineraries of guided tours.

Many of these cruise ships are used for tours of the Mediterranean or as part of a tour of the Caribbean. For example, the world’s largest cruise ship, identified as Symphony of the Seas, with a capacity of 6780 passengers and a crew of 2100, is truly impressive.


Ferries, also known as ferryboats, are vessels that generally carry passengers between two pre-established points, for example between a port on the mainland and a port on an island, and vice versa.

In most cases, ferries also carry the vehicles in which their passengers will travel when they reach the mainland, including buses and other collective means of transport.

In general, ferries or ferryboats have pre-programmed schedules for their departures and arrivals, which is why they can be considered part of the public transport system in some cities.

It is worth mentioning that there are places where the ferry is considered a means of transporting passengers from one bank of a river to the other, such as the Orinoco River in Venezuela, where this boat is nicknamed the Chalana.


Rafts are smaller vessels that can be used to transport people. In most cases, they are used as life rafts on large ships, especially in emergencies or when it is necessary to reach a coast where the depth of the sea is very shallow and it is not possible to reach the port with the ship.

Some of them can be automatically inflated in case of emergency; others are solid and mounted inside the big boats so that in case of emergency they can be easily lowered to the sea, even with their passengers inside, but it is important to point out that their capacity to carry people is reduced.

This type of boat can be made of different materials, some are rustic, with rods and moorings, and long poles are used to propel them in shallow rivers, but they can also be made of wood or even synthetic materials such as PVC.

Merchant ships

Merchant ships can be identified as those with the capacity to carry large quantities of cargo, generally represented by products such as oil, bulk carriers or container ships. They carry everything from heavy cargo to grain, liquids or soft drinks.

They can be known by other names, including coasters, freighters or simply merchant ships. They are responsible for crossing seas and oceans around the world during different months of the year to supply or handle all international trade.

Which are the most used?

It is interesting to know which are the most used merchant ships in this order, because as we have seen, the economic development of many nations in the world depends on them; because they offer the possibility of supplying each nation with the commercial resources it needs, as is typically the case with oil.

Oil tankers

These are tankers specially designed to carry crude oil or any petroleum derivative. They are built with a double hull to ensure their safety and prevent accidental spillage of their precious contents.

They are considered to be the largest ships in the world and only a few ports are suitable for their arrival, as most of them cannot pass through the Suez or Panama canals, as they usually have a transport capacity of 500,000 tonnes and can be up to 400 metres long.

On the other hand, they are the only means of transporting large quantities of crude oil from one place to another, where it is necessary to meet fuel needs, although they sometimes cause ecological disasters of considerable magnitude when their hulls break or they sink at sea.

Bulk Carrier

Another of the largest ships in the world, bulk carriers are used to transport dry bulk cargoes. They can carry cargoes of up to 200,000 tonnes deadweight and are three hundred metres long, but generally travel at low speed.

They can generally be recognised by the fact that they have a continuous deck with several hatches, where the cargo is in the form of grain or cereals, which are transported without packaging or wrapping. An example of this is the transport of wheat or soya, but also the transport of minerals such as coal, iron, bauxite or ferro-alloys.

Large bulk carriers can also carry chemicals, resins, fertilisers or elements such as salt. These ships are known as bulk carriers and, as you can see, they are other large merchant ships.

Container Ships

One of the most common ships to be seen in the main ports of the big cities is the container ship, which has the task of transporting containers from one place to another in the world.

A container is a container used to store certain types of cargo that are sent from one port to another, in a safe way, as these units are made according to a series of standards to protect the goods contained in them, identified as ISO, International Organization for Standardization.

The ships have enough space to carry the containers stacked in rows and columns and are equipped with diesel engines for their displacement; where, generally at the level of the wheelhouse, there is accommodation for the crew, given that they make quite long voyages.

According to some statistics, more than half of maritime trade involves the transfer of goods inside container ships, some of which are now automated to facilitate rapid loading and unloading of containers on arrival at port.

General cargo vessels

These are another type of ship, characterised by the fact that they are specifically designed to carry goods, some with chemical products, others with holds equipped with refrigeration or thermal insulation.

There are some that are used to transport pieces and objects of great weight and volume, as in the case of cranes, platforms or locomotives. Others can be systems for transporting liquids, similar to oil tankers, known as tankers.

Within this type of vessels, we can mention those that transport vehicles as part of their goods, as well as lorries, buses or mobile homes destined for subsequent sale.

Other types of boats

As indicated at the beginning of this tour of the types of boats that exist in the world, the variety is enormous, so after our passage through some of the most important, we still have material left to meet some other types that are equally interesting.

Military ships

This type of ship is built to perform military functions, and is very different from those considered tourist or commercial. This is due to the fact that they are specially conditioned to withstand a certain amount of damage and are equipped with systems that allow them to be fast and sufficiently manoeuvrable.

On the other hand, they are equipped with weapons, ammunition, and equipment for housing and feeding the crew; they belong to the navy of a particular country.

Within the group of warships, it is possible to appreciate several types of them, as in the case of the ships with sails, the frigates and corvettes also equipped with sails; but also many others, among which are the brigantine, the schooner, the battleship, the cruiser, the steamer, the torpedo hunter, the destroyer, the minelayer, the gunboat, among others.

It is worth mentioning that in the service of the defence of each nation, among its military ships, it is possible to find the incredible aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships, destroyers and many other indispensable ships for the attack and defence of the sea, among which the hospital ships.


These are ships that remove sediment from the bottom of harbours to increase the depth or draught so that heavy ships can enter without running aground on the sand.


Tugboats are vessels used to assist in moving ships that have become stranded in the middle of the sea for various reasons.

Tugboats usually assist by pushing or pulling the vessel to ensure that it reaches its destination safely.

These vessels are equipped with powerful diesel engines that can produce between 750 and 3000 horsepower. However, there are some that are specifically designed to operate in deep water and have up to 25,000 horsepower, which is truly incredible but very useful at sea.

Cattle boats

These are vessels specially designed for the transport of animals, with equipment inside to ensure that their cargo does not run short of food, as they can be used to transport cattle, horses, pigs and some others.

Some are even equipped with open-air pens, but these are properly enclosed to ensure the safety of their cargo.

As we have been able to observe during the tour we have made through the types of ships; there is one of them for every taste or need, but where we are going to realise is that they are truly indispensable and for all those people who are afraid of getting on a plane; by means of one of the transatlantic ships they can arrive safely at their destination, while enjoying the wonder of crossing the ocean.

If the content of this article has allowed you to know the types of ships that can be found in the world, we suggest you read the following topics.

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