A lobster boat is a seagoing vessel outfitted for catching lobster. Although their specific design may vary somewhat, most lobster boats generally have a large open deck, a shelter in the forward portion of the boat, and a trunk cabin with crew quarters for longer trips. Lobster may not be caught without a license, which generally limits the number of traps, or pots, that can be set out. Recreational licensees and start-ups often use smaller boats, generally ranging from 12 feet (3.66 m) to 22 feet (6.71 m); licensees with larger pot limits will use boats of up to 45 feet (13.72 m) that can accommodate more equipment.
Siderails sloping downward from bow to stern reduce the distance from the rail to the water in the rear portion of the boat, where the pots are hauled from the water. The smaller boats can be powered by outboard motors, but the larger boats generally have inboard engines, either gasoline or diesel. Older lobster boats may have solid wood construction, but modern boats often have fiberglass-coated hulls. Lobster boats are working boats and depend on sturdy construction for stability; some even flood the keel with seawater while in the water to enhance that stability.
A lobster boat is outfitted with special equipment to facilitate its work. A hydraulic trap hauler is a necessity on a busy lobster boat, as is a livewell where hundreds or even thousands of pounds of live lobster can be stored until the boat returns to port and the catch is sold. Storage bins are also required for the bait, usually a fish like herring. Larger boats may start their runs with hundreds of pounds of bait.
Lobsters aren’t caught like fish — rather, specially designed traps are baited and placed on the ocean floor. They’re specially constructed cages that make it easy for lobster to enter and difficult to exit, although undersized lobster must be able to leave easily through the cage’s openings. A number of pots are linked together with rope and their location marked with buoys at either end. When checking the pots, a marker buoy is lifted into the lobster boat and the rope attached to the hydraulic trap hauler, which winches the pots aboard. Each pot is emptied, with legal lobster stored in the livewell and illegal lobster — both undersized and oversized — returned to the ocean alive and unharmed.
Once emptied, lobster pots are stacked on the deck until the entire string of pots, called a trawl, has been emptied. The pots are re-baited and the trawl, which can weigh hundreds of pounds when the pots are all empty, is then returned to the water. The boat is driven forward while the end buoy and the first pot are dropped into the water; the remaining pots are “pulled” into the water by the weight of the falling trawl. This procedure must be managed by crew members and can be dangerous, with hundreds of feet of rope rapidly snaking along the deck. Some lobster boats manage trawls of about 40 pots over a space of up to 1 mile (1.61 km) between the two marker buoys.