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What is a Jersey Skiff?

By Sonal Panse
Updated May 23, 2024
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The New Jersey Skiff is a fast, stable boat that is mainly used for fishing, cargo transportation and sports racing. It can be launched through the surf, can be easily navigated through choppy waters and is capable of achieving very high speeds. A small crew can handle this boat without any inconvenience.

Structurally, the Jersey Skiff boat has a wine-glass shaped stern, rounded sides and a flat, narrow bottom. The boat's flat bottom gives it its much-touted stability out on the water. It also makes the boat easier to pull up and park on a beach.

These boats were first developed for fishing purposes along the Southern Jersey shore in the 1800s. The early Jersey Skiff boats were made of wood and ranged in size from 16 feet (4.8768 m) to 20 feet (6.096 m). Larger Jersey Skiff fishing boats, ranging in size from 20 feet (6.096 m) to 42 feet (12.8016 m), made their appearance in the 1900s.

Apart from fishing activities, the Jersey Skiff boats began to find widespread use in coastguard rescue operations, as lifeguard boats and for salvaging wrecks. They were also used during Prohibition to smuggle in rum from the Caribbean to the United States. Another version of the Skiff, the Sea Bright Skiff, was especially favored by the rum smugglers as, easily launched and fast, it could evade the Customs patrol boats.

It was also during the Prohibition era that boatmakers started making Jersey Skiffs for recreational purposes. The hulls became flatter, motorized engines were added and the boats became even speedier. Holidaymakers and boat enthusiasts used them for sailing, water-skiing and racing.

The racing factor caught on majorly and the first Jersey Speed Skiff with a speed of 20 mph (32.13 kmph)was built. Further improvements in boat design and engine capabilities followed and soon speeds of 40 mph (64.36 kmph) to 80 mph (128.72 kmph) became the norm in Jersey Skiffs. It is quite likely that there will be even faster Jersey Skiff boats in the future.

Jersey Skiffs first featured in the special events section in the National Sweepstakes Regatta in 1941, and in the Regatta's probationary class in 1946. In 1948, they were given an official APBA (American Power Boat Association) class sanction. Since then Jersey Skiffs, now with fiberglass hulls, have regularly appeared in speed boat racing and have remained popular in boat racing circles all around the world.

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