Ship's Boats

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On HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, now residing in glory at the Portsmouth Naval Dockyard, there is a sign which reads:

Ship’s Boats
According to the Carpenter’s Expense Book dated September 1805 the Victory carried 6 boats comprising as follows;
Launch – 34 foot (10.4 m). For storing & watering ship, anchor work, landing assault parties ashore and general use.
Pinnace – 32 foot (9.75 m). For conveying the ship’s officers to and from shore and general use.
Barge – 28 foot (8.54 m). For conveying the admiral, high ranking officers and other dignitaries to and from ship. [Recognised by its distinguished green paint along the plank sheer].
Cutter – 25 foot (7.62 m). Used as a ship’s boat for conveying personnel to and from the ship; inshore survey & general use.
Yawl – 25 foot (7.62 m). Used as a sea boat for conveying personnel to and from the ship; inshore survey work & general use.
Cutter – 18 foot (5.48 m). Small sea boat for conveying personnel to and from the ship; survey use & general use.
The launch, barge and pinnace were generally stowed on the skid beams fitted across the waist of the ship whereas the sea boats; the cutters and/or yawl were generally kept hanging in the quarter davits ready for immediate launching.


There were other small craft used as ships’ boats during the age of sail; some of which can be considered interchangeable with the above. For example:

  • A jollyboat, the equivalent of today’s “skiff” can be described as any of the last three above – a small workboat for ferrying personnel to and from shore or other ships and general maintenance duties on the outer hull etc.,
  • On a more specialised note the whaler began as a whaleship’s boat – the small oar-powered boat with a harpoon firer on the “bow” (the whaler usually had two “pointy-ends") in which the hunters did their work. This design with added simple rig, became a standard ship’s boat in the Royal Navy.