Whaleboats are small boats which were originally designed for hunting whales. The design was later adapted for other small scale rowing and sailing boats, since the design of a whaleboat is highly maneuverable and efficient. Whaleboats can also be easily manipulated in shallow water, since they are designed with a shallow draft and they can move forwards or backward with equal ease. Several examples of historical whaleboats along with whaling equipment can be seen in whaling museums, which modern variations on this classic design are sold in many parts of the world.
Several things set a whaleboat aside from other small boats. The first is the fact that a whaleboat is pointed at both ends. The double ended design allows a whaleboat to be quickly and rapidly turned. A whaleboat is also equipped to be rowed or sailed, depending on the conditions, with a detachable sailing rig kept in a storage compartment until it is needed. Finally, a whaleboat has what is known as a centerboard trunk, a type of retractable keel which allows the boat to be operated in very shallow water.
Traditionally, whaleboats were carried on board a larger whaling ship. Crews of six to eight would launch their whaleboats for a day of whale hunting and then return to the central ship to process their catch. Working on a whaleboat would have been very dangerous, as it required seafaring skills, strength, and good strategizing abilities to hunt down and capture whales. These boats were also extremely cramped, since they carried equipment like knives, harpoons, floats, and rope in addition to their crews.
The simple design of a whaleboat is also very easy to repair, which was convenient during the era of whaling, since these boats were often damaged during the course of daily operations. Most whaling ships also kept several spare whaleboats aboard, in case a whaleboat was irreparably damaged. Many ships also painted their whaleboats in bright, easy to recognize colors so that they could be spotted quickly while they were out on the ocean.
Although whaling is no longer practiced on a large scale by most nations, the design of the whaleboat has endured since it is easy to build, efficient, and pleasant to handle. Many people enjoy using whaleboats for rowing and light sailing in shallow areas, and they are sometimes used in rescue situations as well. For work near beaches and in the surf zone, whaleboats are often employed.