Boating, Power

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While the earliest dugout tree trunks used as boats 20,000 years ago no doubt offered exhilaration, their primary role was transporting goods and people for reasons of surviving, discovering, conquering, and waging battle. It was not until the boat was coupled with another invention—the portable gas engine—in the early twentieth century that pleasure was added to boating's purposes. In the early 2000s, millions of people owned boats just for fun. In fact, boats are often called "pleasure craft."

The earliest powerboat was steam-powered. After steam, electrical power was harnessed in 1881 when Gustave Trouve of France successfully propelled a boat using bichromate-potash batteries. This provided a clean and quiet motorized boat, but this first outboard motor (that is, a motor attached to the back of the boat) was in constant need of recharging, making its operation cumbersome. In the 1890s several mechanics were tinkering with a portable outboard gasoline engine for boats, and the German engineer Gottlieb Daimler was the first to produce one for the personal "autoboat." It wasn't until the commercial success of Ole Evinrude's outboard motor and Johnson Motors' inboard motor (located near the center of the boat's hull) in the United States in the early 1920s, however, that recreational power boating really caught on.

Since that time, the excitement of using powerboats for fishing, waterskiing, cruising, sunbathing, swimming, scuba diving, racing, partying, and even full-time living, has spawned a large world of specialty magazines, clubs and associations, retailers, marinas, and annual shows. Ambitions and curiosities about powerboating have also led to a wide array of different crafts—from motor yachts, cruisers, and houseboats to pontoons, runabouts, jet skis, and bass boats. As more lakes, rivers, bays, and inlets host faster, both larger and smaller, and more agile powerboat craft, the more nonprofit associations and governmental agencies have joined in efforts to keep powerboating safe and nonpolluting. Such organizations as the United States Power Squadrons, the United States Coast Guard, and state departments of natural resources provide boat handling and navigation instruction, registration programs, and safety regulations. Motorized recreational watercraft must abide by numerous and wide-ranging law-enforced rules covering speed, sound, lights, passengers, sanitation, ventilation, communication, anchoring, towing, signaling, distress, alcohol consumption, and weather. This is because powerboating, readily accessible to anyone who can start an ignition and steer, requires extended practice and knowledge to perform responsibly.

In situations where power-driven boats are not enjoyed responsibly, problems and controversies have resulted. For example, rooted vegetation in waterways does not develop in the pathways of outboard engines, disturbances to the nesting areas of waterfowl by boaters results in the birds' significant decline, and wave action by high-speed boats erodes the shoreline.

See also: Fishing, Freshwater; Fishing, Saltwater/Deep Sea; Sailing and Yachting; Water Skiing


Armstrong, Bob. Getting Started in Powerboating. Ragged Mountain Press, 1995.

Beebe, Robert P., and James F. Leishman, eds. Voyaging Under Power. Ragged Mountain Press, 1994.

Lindsey, Sandy, and Molly M. Gross, eds. Power Boating: A Woman's Guide. Ragged Mountain Press, 2000.

Ruth Russell