There is no way we will ever know what the first ‘boat’ was—or who ‘invented’ it. Most likely, it was just a tree trunk that someone held onto and floated across or down a river. From there, it would have been just a small step to building a raftt by tying a few logs together. A tree hollowed out by lightning or fire may have been the way people found out you could ride in a boat as well as on it!
These ‘boats’ would have only been able to drift with the current or tide. Soon, people wanted a way to make boats go where they wanted them to go. At first, they probably just push their boats through shallow water with long poles. After that came paddles, and then oars.
But for deep-water travel, someting else was needed. Sails were invented—probably not by any one person, but by many people at about the same time in different countries. By now, the floating log ‘boat’ had grown into the hull shape we know today—pointed at the bow and with a rudder for steering. Ways to keep the boat stable, such as outriggers or heavy keels, were also added to deep-water boats.
For many hundreds of years, large boats were made from one material —timber. Highly-skilled shipbuilders spent years handcrafting the finest wood into ships to explore the world. But ship with timber was slow and expensive.
Eventually, steel took over as the main building material. There were a number of reasons for this: steel is easier to work with; it is much faster to build with; it is far stronger (meaning ships can be larger) and it can be made easily into many shapes. Its biggest weakness — rust — can be kept under control by careful maintenance.
In recent times, people have been able to afford boats simply for relaxation and leisure. This boat can be made from a variety of material, but fibreglass and aluminium are by far the most popular. It may be a canon, a simple open runboat, a cabin cruiser, a ski boat, a fishing boat, a yacht or trailer sailer, or a millionaire’s luxury launch. It can be powered by good old human muscle, the wind, outboard engines, inboard engines or inboard/outboard engines!
Some ‘boats’, like the sailboard, are about as simple as you can get: one person, the wind on a sail, the sea and a board that floats. Some, like the experimental boats that actually ‘fly’ above the waves and need computers to help control them, are about as complicated as you can get. But somewhere—way, way back in time—they all owe their existence to those people who realised that something which floated could carry something(or someone) else.