Boat vs. Ship

Holland America Line's ship, ms Rotterdam - Port of San Diego/flickr Creative Commons

Holland America Line’s Rotterdam – Port of San Diego/flickr Creative Commons

What is the difference between a boat and a ship?  I like calling cruise liners boats, but should I be calling them ships?

You would not think this a serious question.  After all, call it a boat, call it a ship, what’s the difference? Funny enough, usually it is the people who live and work on ships that get their feathers ruffled by hearing their vessel called a boat.

There is no difference between a boat and a ship – at least, not officially.  Unofficially, it’s generally accepted within mariner circles that anything larger than 60 feet in length is a “ship.”  Since most cruise vessels exceed this figure by a considerable amount, they’re called ships, and anything less is a “boat.”  Using “ship” instead of “boat” can be seen as a sign of respect towards mariners and the vessel itself, although one would not be incorrect to use “boat.”

Just please, if you bump into the Captain at dinner, don’t ask, “If you’re here, who’s driving the boat?”  They HATE that!


  1. Gary Knox says:

    Steve – on your defination of a “boat” versus “ship” – according to US
    Coast Guard customs, not official in any way, a ship is defined as capable of carrying a boat on board. A boat cannot carry a ship.
    Really like your site.