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Boats imageShips and boats are the oldest types of transport. The first ships were built thousands of years ago. Ships and boats are used for travel, by the armed forces for our defence, for fishing, for transporting cargo between countries, and for leisure, sport and relaxation.

Three quarters of all goods carried from country to country must cross oceans and seas in ships and boats. Here is a timeline that shows some major developments in the building of ships and boats.

Many thousands of years ago, a raft made by tying several logs together with creepers, was the first kind water transport that a person could steer. In this photo you can see that rafts are still used today, to carry people and goods across rivers and lakes.

Later, people made the first real boats by hollowing out logs. In this photo you can see a boat that has been made by hollowing out the middle of a log. A frame boat, built like a basket and covered with animal skins was another very early boat. A coating of tar kept the boat watertight.

4000 BC: Boat builders in ancient Egypt used reeds to build what were probably the first sailing boats. The Egyptian reed boats had a mast and sails and were used on the river Nile.

By 2500 BC the Egyptians were building wooden boats that could sail across oceans.

Viking longboats

These ships had sails as well as up to 60 oarsmen who rowed the ship. The longboats were long and narrow so were able to travel on the open sea, as well as along rivers.

1100 AD Chinese junks were sailing boats with a rudder for steering the boat, battens on the sails to give them greater strength, and watertight compartments long before western ships had them. They were fighting and transport ships.

1450 onwards: Three and four masted sailing ships were in service for several centuries. These wooden ships were used as battleships, and by explorers and as trade vessels, carrying cargo from country to country.

In the 1800s, fast sailing ships called 'clipper ships' were built. They had long, slim hulls and tall masts.

1819 The first steamships to cross the Atlantic combined steam and wind power.

1845 The first ocean-going liners made of iron and driven by a propeller were being built from this time.

1880s Some steam driven river boats had rear paddles and were called stern wheelers, others had paddle wheels on either side.

1910 Coal burning sailing ships were converted to diesel power, using oil instead of steam.

1955 Hovercraft float abovethe waves on cushions of air and are capable of high speeds of up to 140 km an hour.

1959 The N.S. Savannah, one of the first nuclear powered cargo ships, was able to sail for three and a half years without refuelling.