From Rafts to Regattas: All About Boating

The sun on your skin, the wind in your hair, and the reflection of the water melting your cares away — what could possibly be better than a day spent boating?

From sailing on the open seas to motoring a fishing boat around your local lake, there are so many unique ways to get into this worthwhile and rewarding hobby.

The Early History of Boating

As Browning Hemric has noted, boating has been around for pretty much as long as humans have, since we have always been fascinated by the water and driven to find ways to navigate it. One of the earliest boats ever discovered is the Pesse Canoe. It was discovered in the Netherlands in 1955 and is believed to date back all the way to the early Mesolithic period, roughly 8000 years B.C. It was made when early man used sharp stone tools to dig out space in the trunk of a pine tree. 

Primitive rafts made from tied together floating objects like reeds, logs, or bamboo followed soon after. Such rafts could be used for transportation but they also served as platforms for activities like fishing or trading. Some operated the rafts by paddling while others used early forms of sails. Later, coracles were the first boat vessels to be waterproofed since they used a form of pitch or resin to coat the outside or wrapped the boat in a durable cloth or leather. Coracles were popular in England and Wales but were also common in the Eastern world, such as in India, Tibet, and Vietnam. Similarly, the birch bark canoes popular with indigenous peoples in North America involved a wooden frame that was then waterproofed by a patchwork covering made of bark.

Recreational Boating Over Time

As Formula Boats mentions in “The History of Recreational Boating,” some of the earliest forms of recreational boating were royal regattas on the Thames River in England in the 1600s. This period also saw the advent of early sailing clubs, like the yachting club started by King Charles II.

The advent of motorboats towards the end of the 19th century permanently changed the nature of recreational boating by creating the opportunity for boat racing, a tradition that is still beloved today. The Harmsworth Cup in 1903 was the first known international boating race. In 1910, with the invention of outboard motors, motorboating became all the more economical for even the average person.

In modern times, recreational boating has seen a number of inventions and development that have helped make boating as popular as it is today. These developments included mass production of boats in the 1920s and 1930s, the invention of fiberglass boats during the WWII era, the establishment of boating safety standards in the 1950s, and rapid technological developments that helped contribute to greater boating speed starting in the 1970s.

Boating Today

Today, you can find boating in just about any coastal city and in any city near a major body of water like a lake or river. It is one of the most widespread activities not only in the US but also abroad because of its universal appeal — everyone likes to experience what it’s like to get off the land for a change!

Some of the places in the United States most famous for boating include the Florida Keys, coastal cities like Marina Del Rey, CA, and Charleston, SC, and cities bordering the Great Lakes such as Chicago and Detroit. There are also many who participate in what is called America’s Great Loop, a path that utilizes the Mississippi River and the Erie Canal to make a circle around the Eastern seaboard of the United States. The Great Loop is a bucket list style boating experience that takes anywhere from 6 months to 2 years and is an inimitable way to see the US from a different perspective than most.

Boating is something that anyone can do with a boat and a bit of effort to learn the ropes of navigating, so the barriers to entry are pretty limited. Because of the freedom and joy that boating brings, it’s likely to continue being a popular pastime for centuries to come.