Are all crafts that travel on water considered "boats," even barges, yachts, canoes, rafts, etc?

Are all motor vehicles considered "automobiles," even trucks, semis, and motorcycles?


No in both cases. A "boat" is something small in size compared to a barge, ship, freighter and implies an appropriate form of propulsion. Certainly not steam, as with a large vessel, and probably not with a pole (or high hopes), as with a raft. Informally, I hear some people use boat to mean any sort of vessel. I usually wonder if the speaker doesn't know the difference or perhaps is making a small joke.

An automobile is personal, passenger-oriented transportation, also something small relative to other types. The term doesn't include busses, trucks, or motorized bicycles. "Vehicle" is the all-encompassing term.

  • 2
    "I hear some people use boat to mean any sort of vessel. I usually wonder if the speaker doesn't know the difference or perhaps is making a small joke." I don't think these people are making a joke. Most people just happily call all sea vessels boats informally.
    – Kosmonaut
    Apr 10 '11 at 0:06
  • I disagree. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steamboat foe example
    – jsj
    Apr 10 '11 at 8:30
  • @trideceth12 - fair enough. Having been born quite a few years after the last steamboat was made, I didn't think of one.
    – mfe
    Apr 10 '11 at 12:21

Depends who you are asking - to a sailor there are a huge range of distinctions, especially when it comes to sailing (wind powered).

In the navy everything is a ship except submarines which are boats.

  • 1
    In the Navy not everything but a sub is a ship. There is also the launch or motor launch.
    – Robusto
    Apr 9 '11 at 21:15
  • But they don't have names so they don't count
    – mgb
    Apr 10 '11 at 2:06
  • Just to clarify, would the navy consider -eg- a prindle/hobie cat, a laser, an optimist or similar light craft/dinghies a ship? It doesn't feel correct to do so (at least to me).
    – Basic
    Sep 21 '12 at 22:54
  • @Basic- I think if you can't put guns on it they don't care about it!
    – mgb
    Sep 21 '12 at 23:01

In general, a boat is defined as a vessel which can be carried by a ship - So boat covers everything from small dinghys through some yachts - but this can be quite subjective. An oil tanker could never be considered a boat and a dinghy could never be considered a ship - In between is a somewhat grey area.

There are also special considerations eg hovercraft - which use the same navigation lights as an aircraft and are neither ships nor boats.


This is a good question. It has a definite answer (no) because not EVERYTHING that is a sea going craft is a boat. Hovercraft, water-skis, wind-surfing boards, sea-planes, etc., whilst able to move on water are definitely not boats. Motorcycles, semi-trailers, etc., are also not automobiles which are small enclosed passenger vehicles. However the categories seem not to be very clearly defined (for example is a small goods-van an automobile?). I feel like this is an area of English taxonomy that is lacking.

On a related note, there is a lack of English words to describe the operators of categories of vehicles. "Motorist" applies only to drivers of automobiles (I am not aware of any catch-all term for operators of road vehicles), and "pilot" can refer to people operating planes, ships, even cranes. In aviation a pilot is the "driver" of the aircraft, in shipping a pilot is a guide, on rail a pilot prevents collisions. There are obviously no clear cut categories.

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