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Who Invented the Boat? & When? (History and Facts)

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

who invented the boat

From day cruising and watersports to fishing, shipping, and commerce trips, boats have many purposes that we now enjoy. Many years back, they took on simple forms that evolved throughout the years. But have you ever wondered who invented the boat? When was it made, and what did it look like?

In this overview of the history of boats, we explore how the Egyptians were believed to be the pioneer builders who created boats. They constructed the water vessels with simple materials found in nature like papyrus reeds. They paddle these canoes by rowing them.

Other communities followed with their own versions to fit their needs. Read more to find out.

Origins of the Boat


About 6,000 years ago, the Egyptians were who made the first boats. They primarily used them as a mode of transport–for people and for goods.

Early sailboats and dugout canoes were found as well. Egyptians rowed them but eventually, they learned to be dependent on the winds to move the sails.

There are also fossils of boats found to be dated around 7,000 to 10,000 years old. The Pesse Canoe is an example. It is believed to be the first boat ever made. It is built with the trunk of a Scots Pine tree. A space was carved in to make room for seats.

Some other early boats were made with reeds, skinned plants, and stronger branches of flora.

When were ships invented? The Greeks and Phoenicians were also thought to be among those who created the first boat. They had flat ships used by merchants for trading purposes.

Why were boats invented in the first place?

Boats have varying purposes, especially for their different sizes, shapes, and materials. The primary reasons are as follows: for the transport of people, for shipping goods to trade them, for waging wars to settle issues and mark territories, for colonizing countries, islands, or communities, and for leisure travel or exploration.

Boats Across the World

Different continents reveal varying proofs and fossils of boats. With diverse shapes, sizes, and materials, it is fascinating to unearth how creative early people are.

1. Asia


In Asia, the history of boats began with floatation devices made of natural materials. These include vegetation, animal skins, plant skins, and pottery vessels.

Eventually, they developed rafts and also adopted the dugout style. These rafts are what helped Austronesians and Australoids to sail to Southeast Asia.

The dugout boats in the Neolithic era were found in the Zhejiang province of China. These dates around 6,000 BCE.

2. Europe


In Greece, the island of Crete revealed tools and artifacts that date around 130,000 years ago. As the island has been secluded for many years, there is no way for people to get there except via a water vessel.

Who invented the ship? The early ships Europeans had were small and had one mast. But eventually, they developed Mediterranean galleys in the 5th century BC and the Drakkar or Viking warships. They are dependent on oars that move together with the wind.

In the religious context, the first ship in the world is Noah’s Ark from the Christian story. It is the same with Muslims–Prophet Sayyiduna Nuh who also guided people to the right path but only a few listened. This is believed to be who invented the ship in the Islam context.

3. North America


Similar to Europe’s history, there are artifacts found on the island of Cedros in Mexico that prove people came there by boat. It dates back to 11,735 to 9,520. One of these artifacts is a fish hook. The hook is made out of a mussel shell. This discovery proves a coastal-entry approach for Americans.

Another piece of history is that people from the Bering Strait (used to be called Beringia) traveled as far as Chile around 14,500 years ago. This helps prove how people spread out across North America.

4. Africa


In 1987, a canoe was discovered in Dufuna which is north of Nigeria. Carbon dating shows the canoe is more than 8,000 years old.

In Egypt, the Khufu Boat belonged to an Egyptian Pharaoh named Khufu. His mummified remains, together with the 144-foot-long boat, are sealed off in a tomb at the Pyramids of Giza. This was around 2,500 BC.

Some historians claim the boat is placed there to carry the pharaoh into the afterlife. No matter the purpose, the craftsmanship of among the first boats in history is excellent. The Khufu builders used conifer wood and didn’t use any nails. Instead, they “sewed” the boat with adjacent planks with mortise-and-tenon joints.

How Early Boats Looked Like


What is the first boat made out of? Evidence shows that those who invented boats and ships used simple materials found in nature. These include but are not limited to skins of plants and animals, reeds, and branches.

Eventually, people learned to carve out tree trunks to turn them into simple canoes. They also used trunks for creating oars and paddles. Meanwhile, simple rafts were made out of tree bark and logs of wood. These were used for transport to short distances.

The Oldest Boat on Earth


The Pesse Canoe is believed to be the oldest boat in the world. It is found in the Netherlands. The fossils or pieces of evidence date back between 8200 and 7600 BC.

The canoe has a length of three meters and 44 centimeters wide. It looks like a simple log but it best describes the dugout style that was found in the earliest boats of Egyptians. It seems a hard tool was used to carve out the tree trunk of a Scots Pine to make room for seats in the middle.

The canoe was discovered by a farmer in 1955. It was found in a peat bog while the A28 motorway was being constructed.

Who Invented Other Boats and Boat Parts?

While boats were invented in different timelines and different ways, a similar goes with its parts. Boats have gone a long way from adopting the dugout style.

The boats of today have many crucial parts and features that allow us to use them in our various activities. Take a look at the first ship invented across time.

Boat Type or Parts

Who invented it?

When was it invented?

Sailboats – primitive vessels were long and thin Egyptians 4,000 BC
Seagoing Vessels – the first ships made that were robust and perfect for long voyages The Vikings 8th-11th century
Dutch Yachts – hunting boats for shallow waters Dutch Navy 14th century
The Motor Boat was invented – used a combustion engine running on gasoline Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach 1886
Steamboat John Fitch (his version in 1787 was unsuccessful)

Robert Fulton (invented the ship’s engine which voyaged for eight hours)

Boats with rudder The Chinese (unlike the Mediterranean who created fixed sails, the Chinese were the first to develop moving sails) Han Dynasty
Screw Propeller John Ericsson 1839


“Who invented the boat?” has many answers, given its history of invention varied from one continent to another. However, it is believed it is the Egyptians who had the first ships built in their primitive form.

From creating floatation devices using Papyrus reeds to developing dugout-style canoes, the Egyptians pioneered water vessels. Eventually, other people across the world followed with their own versions.

No matter the size, shape, and materials, boats have definitely become an important invention to the world today.

Read more: Who invented moomba boats?

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