Boat Facts & History: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Have you ever wondered who invented boats? Would you believe it wasn't a person? Read this lesson to find out where the first boats were developed and how they've changed since that time.

Built by Apes?

You might know that humans have been using boats for a long time but believe it or not, historians think the first boats were built by apes! Homo Erectus, which is pronounced ''HO-mo ee-REK-tus,'' was a smart ape that first developed almost two million years ago in Africa.

These pre-humans figured out how to travel from Africa to Asia. They had to have used some kind of boat to travel as far as they did because they traveled across many large bodies of water. So, the first boats were invented about 600,000 years before humans appeared on Earth!

World's Oldest Boats

Since many ancient boats were built of wood or plants, there's nothing left of them for scientists to discover. How do we know they existed? Carvings and pictures on bowls show boats! One rock carving shows a boat made out of reeds, which are thick-stemmed plants. The carving is about 12,000 years old.

People continued to use reed boats for thousands of years. Remains of a reed boat that is about 7,000 years old were found in the country of Kuwait. The ancient Egyptians also used reed boats.

The oldest boat ever found is called the Pesse canoe, which was about nine feet long and built about 10,000 years ago. It's a dugout canoe, which means it was made from a tree. People would cut down a tree and then dig out the center to make a place for them to sit.

Pesse Canoe

Framed Boats

As people developed more kinds of tools, they were able to build different kinds of boats. Here are some other important kinds of boats:

Skin-Covered Boats

With tools, people were able to build a frame out of wood and then stretch animal skins over the frame to make a boat. One type of skin-covered boat was called a coracle (pronounced ''KOR-uh-kull'').


Coracles were made with a frame like a basket. Skins or fabric were stretched over the frame and then covered with tree sap or something similar to make them waterproof.

Canoes are another type of early boat that had a frame. Some canoes were covered with tree bark instead of skins or cloth. These early frame boats were moved along by people-power! Those inside the boat had to use paddles or oars to make them move.

Moving Faster

Soon, instead of just using oars, many ships had sails. Sails were made of cloth or skin and were used to catch the wind. A boat with a sail could move along much more quickly than one with just oars. Most sailboats also carried oars so that if the wind died down, the boat could still travel along.

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