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Building cheaply and simply: flat-bottomed boats with cross-planked bottoms around the world

Krzysztof Zamościński
p. 383-385


En Pologne et dans quelques autres pays du monde, différents types de bateaux à bordés transversaux ont été et sont encore construits. L’auteur s’est employé à établir leur chronologie, leurs lieux et leurs techniques de construction et, sur la base de ces informations, à enquêter sur la question des liens potentiels entre des exemples individuels. De cette recherche émerge le processus continu de diffusion de l’idée de bateaux à bordés transversaux. Tout indique qu’elle a commencé dans la seconde moitié du xviiie siècle en Amérique du Nord et a été adoptée dans différents types d’embarcations – nouvelles ou préexistantes – et d’activités. Les avantages en sont son faible coût et sa facilité de construction.

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Texte intégral

1Lake fishermen in the vicinity of Gdańsk, Poland, have long used boats with cross-planked bottoms, built upside-down. In this method, transverse bottom planks were nailed after the first side strakes, held apart by a midship transom, were secured to stem and stern elements: then the whole frame was inverted and the second strakes added. These boats were believed to be an independent invention, but how do we account for boats with a similar construction that are known from other countries? Is there any connection between them, and could this explain the distribution of this construction method in many places?

Fig. 1: Cross-planked bottom boat from Black Lake, Kartuzy District, Poland, 2014

Fig. 1: Cross-planked bottom boat from Black Lake, Kartuzy District, Poland, 2014

(photograph K. Zamościński)

1. Materials and methods

2The author conducted ethnographical investigations in Poland, as well as in published works (Chapelle 1951; Rudolph 1966), articles (Parry, McGrail 1989; Rodgers, Corbin 2003), boatbuilding manuals (Paddlefast 1876), FAO reports, and the Australian register of historic vessels. Archival and contemporary photographs of boats, magazine illustrations and paintings found on the internet were also used.

3Ethnogeographic (Pokropek 1981) and historical (Topolski 1984) methods were applied. The former was used to fix ranges of boat occurrences, the latter to determining chronology.

2. Results

4The first cross-planked bottom boats (a punt type with L-shaped chine girders) were discovered in South Carolina, United States, in the 1980s and were dated to the second half of the 18th century (Newell 1996). The wreck of a cross-planked flatboat with straight chine girders from the beginning of the 19th century was found near the Ohio River in 2000 (Wagner 2015). The first scow schooner was recorded in 1825 on Lake Erie. Its hull construction attests that the flatboat was the inspiration for this type of vessels. The next step was the adoption of this construction in some classes of small boats in northeast USA. From the 1870s numerous publications for amateur boatbuilders started to disseminate the idea in the USA and abroad.

5In Canada, this construction type appeared from the second half of the 19th century in some types of boats: bateau and double-ended skiff (St Lawrence River), skiff (Prince Edward Island), scow (British Columbia), punt (Nova Scotia) and also in the dory. In Cuba, skiff type canoas from the Rio Guarabo (DWW 2000, p. 111) and boats at Tunas de Zaza indicate American roots. The design of the cross-planked fishing zapato chalanas from the Peruvian Pacific coast was presumably introduced by foreigners, or else they were constructed according to plans published between the 1920s and 1940s (Edwards 1967, p. 369).

6Designs of skiff, scow (known as punt) and garvey are found on the east coast of Australia. Scow design is connected with the development of the Australian oyster industry in the second half of the 19th century. The idea of the scow schooner was introduced to New Zealand directly from North America in 1873 (Hawkins 1965).

7The cross-planked bottom was introduced to Great Britain before the 1850s in narrow boats and Worsley starvationers. The Tredunnock boat belongs to this group and is dated to the middle of the 19th century. In the 1870s and 1880s cross-planked punts on the Thames are shown in pictures, illustrations in magazines and books.

8The technique appears in France on the north coast of Brittany and in the Morbihan on its southern coast, as well as on the French west coast (Vendée, Charente-Maritime, Gironde estuary) (Beaudouin 1975, p. 85, 356). The introduction appears to be connected to the transplantation of American oyster industry experiences to the French seacoast in the 1860s and the sharpie design in yachting. In the Gorges du Tarn (southern France) the reason was the development of tourism in the 1870s: in Haute-Vienne it was sand dredging. These boats presented scow or punt designs. In the Netherlands, a cross-planked type of schouw was used (DWW 2000, p. 516).

9In Spain, on the west coast of Galicia, one can find gamelas with a cross-planked bottom and skiff type chalanas. The Sil River also has a skiff type. Simple scow designs appeared on the Minho River probably in the second half of the 19th century. One can also find the batuxo type on the Portuguese length of this river.

10In the middle of southern Norway, punt and scow designs (pram) were introduced at the beginning of the 20th century (Gjestland 1983). In southeast Norway (Oslo Fiord) one could find a design called doris. The punt forms (flateka, pram) (Skanske et al. 1983, p. 122, 128) were introduced to southern Sweden at the beginning of the 20th century, and the doris from Newfoundland at the end of 19th century along the coasts of Bohuslän and Halland. Cross-planked proomu were used in southwest Finland in the 1940s.

11The cross-planked bottom was introduced to punt design in Spreewald around the 1860s and at Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the 1910s, as well as to Western Pomerania (Dievenow) and Eastern Pomerania (Hammerstein, Radaune River), and the inland lakes of Brandenburg (Rudolph 1966, p. 111, 114). Knowledge of sharpie yacht design is attested in Germany in the 1880s.

12In Poland in the 1930s, cross-planked boats were introduced to the Kashubian Lake District in Eastern Pomerania (Litwin 1995, p. 244), and as sand dredging boats on the Wisłoka River in the southeast of the country. The punt design was introduced after 1945 into some ponds of collective fish farms.

13Cross-planked skiffs are sometimes built in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus following plans based on an American design publi­shed there for the first time in 1973 (Антонов 1973).

14Cross-planked boats of the Adriatic region usually have the form of the American skiff: batana in Senigallia near Ancona, Italy (Bonino 1981, p. 135, fig. 4C), batana salvorina in Istria, batello on Rab and sandula on the Vis Islands, Croatia. Descriptions of Croatian boats from 1903 do not mention this design (Lorini 1903, p. 53-64), but the punt form has been used at least from the 1930s on the Kupa and Korana Rivers1 (Karlovac 2020). In Albania, there are skiff type boats on Lake Ohrid and on the Tirana Artificial Lake.

15Programmes of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) caused the introduction of this construction type to the following countries in Asia and Africa after 1973: Nepal, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, and Malawi. In the Dhaka region of Bangladesh, the cross-planked bottom was introduced recently to the kosha boat type.

16Besides the technique described above, a chronologically earlier technique has been identified of building flat-bottomed boats right-side up at first, and then upside-down only for the cross-planked bottom ends. It was known in Europe before the 19th century. In some central Italian lakes this technique can be traced back to medieval times (Gambini 2015). In southwest France it was known (together with L-shaped chine girders) on the Adour River in the 18th century (Beaudouin 1970, p. 43-53).

3. Conclusions

17All the evidence indicates that the whole cross-planked bottom technique was invented on the southeast coast of North America in the second half of the 18th century and this invention was inspired by the partly cross-planked bottom introduced there by French Huguenots (Harris 2014) from the Adour River.

18Constructional traits, chronology and direct testimonies prove that the technique was applied in transport, work, canal, sport, and recreational types of boats or barges and it spread throughout the United States where it underwent its most comprehensive development. It was then disseminated in different forms to Europe, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Central and South America, and finally to Asia and Africa. This process of diffusion still continues. It is directly confirmed in some places, in others it remains the most probable hypothesis (in those cases convergent evolutions should also be considered). The simplicity and cheapness of the technique have supported it. It was often introduced into already existing boat types with longitudinally planked bottoms.

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2000 A Dictionary of the World’s Watercraft: From Aak to Zumbra, London, Chatham Publishing.

Антонов Д.
1973 Гребная лодка-скиф, Катера и Яхты, 42.

Chapelle H. I.
1951 American Small Sailing Craft, New York-London, W.W. Norton and Company.

Beaudouin F.
1970 Les bateaux de l’Adour, Bayonne, Musée Basque.

Beaudouin F.
1975 Bateaux des côtes de France, Grenoble, Éditions des 4 Seigneurs.

Bonino M.
1981 “Rafts and dugouts in central Italy. The primitive phase of local inland boatbuilding,” The Mariner’s Mirror 67.2, p. 125-148.

Edwards C. R.
1967 “Commercial Sail and Small Fishing Craft of Western South America,” The Mariner’s Mirror 53.4, p. 357-370.

Gambini E.
2015 “Le grandi imbarcazioni tradizionali in uso al Lago di Perugia nella pesca dei ‘tori’ tra Quattro e Cinquecento,” Gentes. Rivista di Scienze Umane e Sociali, II, 2, p. 18-24.

Gjestland G.
1983 Innlandsbåter i Vest-Agder, Rapport fra Registering av innlandsbåter i Lyngdal kommune, Fylkeskonservatoren i Vest-Agdar consulted 31/05/2019

Harris L. B.
2014 Patroons and Periaguas: Enslaved Watermen an Watercraft of the Lowcountry, Columbia, South Carolina, University of South Carolina Press.

Hawkins C. W.
1965 “The New Zealand Scow,” The Mariner’s Mirror, 51.3, p. 221-231.

Litwin J.
1995 Polskie szkutnictwo ludowe, Gdańsk, Marpress.

Lorini P.
1903 Ribanje i ribarske sprave pri istočnim obalama Jadranskog mora, Beč, C.k. Naklada školskih knjiga

Newell M. M.
1996 The Historic Working Small Craft of South Carolina. A General Typology with a Study of Adaptations of Flatboat Design, PhD Thesis, University of St. Andrews

1876 “How to Build Cheap Boats,” Scientific American Supplement, Vol. I, No. 25, June 17, p. 397; Vol. I, No. 26, June 24, p. 410; Vol. II, No. 29, July 15, p. 359-460.

Parry S., McGrail S.
1989 “The Tredunnock boat,” IJNA 18.1, p. 43-49.

Pokropek M.
1981 “Metoda etnogeograficzna,” in E.Z. Szulc (ed.), Metody etnologii, p. I, Warszawa, Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, p. 61-85.

Rodgers B. A., Corbin A.
2003 “Mud box – filled with stone: the wreck of the scow schooner Dan Hayes,” IJNA 32.2, p. 210-224.

Rudolph W.
1966 Handbuch der volkstümlichen Boote im östlichen Nieder­deutschland, Berlin, Akademie-Verlag.

Skanse P., Andersson B., Claesson S.
1983 Båtar i Blekinge, Skärhamn, Batdokumentationsgruppen.

Topolski J.
1984 Metodologia historii, Warszawa, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe.

Wagner M. J.
2015 The Wreck of the “America” in Southern Illinois: A Flatboat on the Ohio River, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press.

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1 See photographs at (consulted 06/04/2020).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: Cross-planked bottom boat from Black Lake, Kartuzy District, Poland, 2014
Crédits (photograph K. Zamościński)
Fichier image/jpeg, 902k
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Krzysztof Zamościński, « Building cheaply and simply: flat-bottomed boats with cross-planked bottoms around the world »Archaeonautica, 21 | 2021, 383-385.

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Krzysztof Zamościński, « Building cheaply and simply: flat-bottomed boats with cross-planked bottoms around the world »Archaeonautica [En ligne], 21 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2022, consulté le 06 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Krzysztof Zamościński

National Maritime Museum, Gdańsk, Poland

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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