My attempt to count all the watercraft on display at The Mariners’…
How many boats and ships does The Mariners’ Museum and Park have on display? This question has intrigued me since I came aboard the Museum team more than three years ago. So, I decided to be somewhat ambitious and try to count all the boats and ships we have on display. But this question also brings about another question – what is the difference between a boat and a ship?
I consider my knowledge of maritime history to be at the novice level. I assumed boat and ship could be used interchangeably. However, in February 2020, I presented for Christopher Newport University’s Lifelong Learning Society on the infamous pirate Blackbeard. During my presentation, I referred to Blackbeard’s ship as a boat more than once. Once my presentation concluded, a Lifelong Learning Society member told me that Blackbeard had a ship, not a boat. He also stated that I worked at a maritime museum and should know the difference. Believe me, this was duly noted! So, this blog is to help anyone out there struggling to differentiate between a boat and a ship. Then, I’ll attempt to give a solid estimate of how many boats and ships The Mariners’ Museum and Park has on display.
According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, a boat is a small vessel for travel on water. 1 A ship is a large seagoing vessel, and a sailing vessel having a bowsprit and usually three masts, each composed of a lower mast, a topmast, and a topgallant mast.2 But then, what is a vessel? Merriam-Webster defines a vessel as a watercraft bigger than a rowboat.3 What about a watercraft? A craft is a boat, especially of small size.4 With four slightly different definitions, one can understand the frustration when talking about a ship…errr…boat?…vessel?
According to Dictionary.com, “In casual use, the word boat is often used to refer to any water-going vessel, regardless of its size or how it is powered. However, large ocean-faring watercraft — those that use multiple sails or engines — are more properly called ships.”5 If we use the above definition, can a surfboard be a boat? What about a paddle board? Paddle boards are water-going vessels, small in size, and powered by a paddle. Is it a boat? What do you think? I’m not sure.
Let’s move past the official definition and focus on other differences between boats and ships. Apparently, size matters when it comes to boats and ships. The website Marine Insight states, “Technically speaking, a mode of water transport that weighs at least 500 tons or above is categorized as a ship. In comparison, boats are stipulated to be quite compact in their structural size and displacement.”6 The many websites I read through continued to explain that ships are larger than boats. This is not the exact wording, but something to the effect of “a ship can carry a boat, but a boat can’t carry a ship.” But then, what about a tugboat? Is a tugboat a boat or a ship? I realize it has the word ‘boat’ in the name. However, tugboats can push ships out to sea – ships weighing megatons.
Another difference I found between a boat and a ship was how they operate. Again, Marine Insight states, “Ships are vessels that are operated in oceanic areas and high seas…. Boats, in contrast, are operable in smaller/ restricted water areas.”7 If this is true, what about thrillseekers who try to cross the oceans on kayaks or paddle boards? Look it up! People have tried and succeeded. Do we make an exception that a kayak is more of a boat than a ship unless you are trying to cross an ocean? I think I have more questions than answers.
OK, let’s get back to the real question here: how many boats, ships, vessels, and watercraft does The Mariners’ Museum and Park have on display? I started with what we here at the Museum call “the square donut” – the Ship Models Gallery and exhibits, including Speed and Innovation and Toys Ahoy. My research and documented findings follow. Enjoy!
In the Miniature Ships of Augustus Crabtree Gallery there are 13 miniature ships and three smaller vessels housed in a single case. In all, the Crabtree Gallery has 16 watercraft on display.
Speed and Innovation has three watercraft on display. The most obvious is the impressive AC-72 catamaran, suspended from the ceiling. There is also a ship model and a diorama of the AC-72 racing against another catamaran. In total, there are three watercraft on display. This does not include the many images of the AC-72 on the various panels. Who has time to count every picture?
The International Small Craft Center has 58 watercraft on display. The International Small Craft Center is probably my favorite gallery. Representing 42 countries, there are so many interesting stories to be found in these watercraft. The one that really resonates with me is the Towy River Coracle. It is a very lightweight boat that can be carried on one’s back, similar to a backpack. This boat is totally convenient since I commute to The Mariners’ Museum and Park from Portsmouth, VA. This means I have to go over the James River Bridge or the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge Tunnel. On any given day, congestion on the bridges can be a nightmare. With the Towy River Coracle, I could easily row across the James River. It’s bound to be much faster than sitting in endless traffic or waiting for the blocked tunnel to reopen. Anyway, back to counting.
With the 16 watercraft in Crabtree, the three in Speed and Innovation, and the 58 in the International Small Craft Center, we’re now at a total of 77 watercraft. The Ship Model Gallery has a total of 28 models, not including the Steamship Kaiser Wilhelm II Among the Pyramids oil painting or the multiple travel posters. The Ship Model Gallery also has 26 models on display next to the Modelmaker’s Stand. This brings the total to 131 watercraft. The Museum’s newest gallery, Exploration Reimagined, has one Mediterranean-style boat that visitors are welcome to board. We’re now at 132.
I began counting all watercraft in Defending the Seas. This gallery includes models, engravings, lithographs, posters, oil paintings, a diorama, a pitcher, a plate, and medallions, among other objects. In my first attempt at counting, I recorded 46 objects. I went back to recount a second time and recorded 49 objects. So … I will say there are roughly 48 watercraft in some form in Defending the Seas. This brings the total to 180.
The Museum also has a few playships; one in the Main Lobby, one in Defending the Seas, three in the USS Monitor Center, and a rowboat in Toys Ahoy. The count is now 186. The Museum also houses a full-scale replica of USS Monitor and two other watercraft outside the International Small Craft Center. The new total is 189.
The exhibit Seizing the Moment was easy to count because all the watercraft pictured are photographs or prints. Seizing the Moment has 47 objects, which brings the total watercraft to 236.
Next, I moved on to the Toys Ahoy exhibit. Here, I counted all watercraft objects, including toy models, games, and books. I did not count text panels or reproduction prints that displayed watercraft. Toys Ahoy has 82 watercraft on display, bringing the total to 318.
I wanted to be ambitious and record all the watercraft in the USS Monitor Center, but I may save that for another blog. Also, the Monitor Center has many replicas and interpretations of USS Monitor and CSS Virginia. Therefore, do I document all variations or not? Again, more questions than answers.
Circling back to my objective for this blog, I set out to record how many watercraft The Mariners’ Museum and Park has on display. The journey was challenging at times, especially when I got distracted by talking with visitors and docents and forgot to write down the current number I was on. But, I persevered and spent time in different areas of the Museum, trying to be as precise as possible. So, is my final count accurate? I think it is safe to say, “No!” After checking my numbers multiple times, the galleries and exhibits mentioned in this post have approximately 318 different watercraft. Ships, boats, vessels, whatever you want to refer to these watercraft as, there are certainly enough to keep one occupied for a day. I challenge you to stop by The Mariners’ and tally how many watercraft you see. How many boats and ships does The Mariners’ Museum and Park actually have on display? A lot!
1. “Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America’s Most-Trusted Online Dictionary,” Merriam-Webster (Merriam-Webster), accessed December 28, 2022, https://www.merriam-webster.com/.
5. “‘Boat’ vs. ‘Ship’: Chart a Course to Understand the Difference.” 2022. Dictionary.com. June 17, 2022. https://www.dictionary.com/e/boat-vs-ship/#:~:text=In%20casual%20use%2C%20the%20word.
6. Raunek. 2019. “7 Differences between a Ship and a Boat.” Marine Insight. June 18, 2019. https://www.marineinsight.com/types-of-ships/7-differences-between-a-ship-and-a-boat/.