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What is a Coracle?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A coracle is a type of primitive boat which many people associate with Wales and traditional Welsh culture. In fact, coracles can be found all over the world, including in places like India, Vietnam, and North America, and the Welsh may have borrowed the design from the Irish; they certainly borrowed the word corwgl from the Irish curach. Coracles can be seen in active use in many regions of the world for transport, fishing, and novelty.

The design of the coracle is very basic. It consists of a frame made from willow, wicker, or similar materials lashed together, with a waterproof material stretched over the frame. Skins were used historically, while modern coracles may use various fabrics, plastics, and other material. The boat is typically just large enough to accommodate a single person who handles the operation of the coracle, which may be powered with one or two oars, depending on the region and the preference of the boater.

Coracles lack a keel, with steering being managed by manipulating the oars. The shape of the boat varies, depending on the region. Some are almost round, while others are more ovoid, with blunt noses. Many look look rather a lot like half a nut shell, with a bowl-like design. The sides of the boat sit high in the water when the coracle is empty, giving the boat some room to settle when people and goods are loaded inside. The boat may also have structures designed as handles to make it easier to transport.

Archaeological evidence shows that many cultures developed boats of this design. The lightweight simplicity of the coracle makes it easy for a single person to handle, and the boat can also easily be carried over portages and carried home at the end of the day. While the boat may not accommodate passengers or a heavy load, the convenience can make up for this.

Many coracles are used on inland waterways such as lakes and streams. Some fishing cultures utilize these boats for fishing, both recreational and commercial, and these boats are also used to move lightweight loads around, and as a form of transport. Some regions have abandoned the use of the coracle for transport, but may use these boats as a novelty. In Wales, for example, demonstration boating with coracles may be a part of Welsh history celebrations and tourist events which are designed to spark interest in Welsh culture.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WikiMotors researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By nony — On Feb 14, 2012

@allenJo - They are simple boats; that’s why. I’ve seen pictures of these things and they look like things you could build yourself quite easily.

More importantly, they would be perfect if you’re one of those “lonely planet” types, who is always looking for hiking trails and places to go that are off the beaten path.

The coracles are simple to get in and row to your next destination. Plus, you can use them to go fishing. Imagine going on a trip and catching your own fish for dinner rather than spending money in the local restaurant.

That doesn’t quite fit me, but like I said, there are some people who like to do that sort of thing.

By allenJo — On Feb 13, 2012

@SkyWhisperer - I can see how the simplicity of the design makes it ideal for many local cultures in developing countries as you said. I don’t understand why people would make a novelty out of these things however.

I know some people will go on a coracle ride, but why not just get into a regular canoe instead? It seems like a canoe is more appropriate for joy riding if that’s what you really want to do.

By SkyWhisperer — On Feb 12, 2012

I saw some of these fishing boats when I lived in Indonesia. They do look like canoes from the distance but they are coracles. They were abundant because so many people made their livelihood from fishing, especially in the coastal regions, and they couldn’t afford larger boats.

These vessels were sufficient enough to enable them to bring in a haul of fish and quickly sell it off to the local market. We were on a beach for a weekend and saw the fishermen pull off their haul, dump it on the beach and begin selling the fish right on the spot. That’s the way that a lot of locals made their living.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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