Sewn boat

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Halsnøy boat, detail of the bow.

A sewn boat is a type of wooden boat which is clinker built and planks sewn, stitched, tied, or bound together with tendons or flexible wood, such as roots and willow branches.[1] Sewn boat construction techniques were used in many parts of the world prior to the development of metal fasteners, and continued to be used long after that time for small boats to reduce construction costs where metal fasteners were too expensive.[2]

Name and similar techniques[edit]

Although well established, the sewn boat name is somewhat misleading since it suggests textile or leather skin construction, as often found in kayaks. Some have proposed to use laced boats (Ge. geschnürte Boote) instead. A modern plywood construction method that resembles sewn boats is the stitch and glue method; in this technique plywood panels are stitched together, often with wire, and the seams are reinforced with fiberglass composite; the stitching may then be removed or may remain in place. Also related is the treenailed boat.


Sewn boats start with the construction of the skin of the boat, rather than the frame, resulting in a monocoque type of structure. Carefully shaped planks are connected at the edges, usually in the clinker style, with overlapping sections which are sewn together. As the planks are placed together, the skin begins to bend into the desired shape. The resulting structure is highly flexible. Internal framing may be added to the planks after they are sewn in, providing additional rigidity.

While wooden pegs (often called treenails) can be used to fasten thicker clinker planks, this technique only works if the planks are thick enough to hold the pegs. Because of this, large ships were often built using pegs, while smaller boats would use sewn planks.[3]


Sewn boats were widespread throughout Asia and may have pre-dated marine boatbuilding.[4] The earliest known example of a sewn boat is the 40+ metres long "Solar" funerary boat on show near the Gizeh pyramid, in Egypt; it dates back from 2600 BC. The sewn construction was a natural step when coming from raft or reed boatbuilding, which dates from some thousands of years before that. In other parts of the world, the oldest sewn craft comes from North Ferriby, where one sample (called F2) carbon dates to 1930-1750 BC. Later finds include some early Greek ships. The oldest Nordic find is the Hjortspring boat in Denmark (c 300 BC). In Finland, Russia, Karelia and Estonia small sewn boats have been constructed more recently, until the 1920s in poor areas of Russia.[5]

The best known boats built with sewn construction are the various forms of the Austronesian "proas" of the Indo-Pacific (which also used the lashed-lug techniques)[4] and the Middle Eastern and South Asian dhow native to the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Indian Ocean.[6][7] Despite their proximity and similarity, they differ markedly from each other, indicating that they developed independently. Austronesian boat-sewing techniques are discontinuous and are only visible from the inside surfaces of the hull, while South Asian and Middle Eastern boat-sewing techniques are visible in both the exterior and interior of the hull and are continuous.[8]

Examples of sewn boats[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A.H.J. Prins, 1986. Handbook of Sewn Boats: The Ethnography and Archaeology of Archaic Plank-Built Craft. Maritime Monographs and Reports No.59. Greenwich, London: The National Maritime Museum.(187 p’s)
  2. ^ McGrail S. and Kentley, E., 1985. Sewn plank boats: Archaeological and Ethnographic papers based on those presented to a conferences at Greenwich in November 1984. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
  3. ^ McCarthy, M., 2005. Ships' fastenings: from sewn boat to steamship. Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 1-58544-451-0
  4. ^ a b Horridge, Adrian (2006). "The Austronesian Conquest of the Sea - Upwind". In Bellwood, Peter; Fox, James J.; Tryon, Darrell (eds.). The Austronesians: Historical and Comparative Perspectives. ANU E Press. pp. 143–160. ISBN 9781920942854.
  5. ^ e.g. Litwin, J., 1985. Sewn Craft of the 19th Century in the European part of Russia. In McGrail S and Kentley: 253-268.h
  6. ^ Ralph K. Pedersen. "Traditional Arabic watercraft and the ark of the Gilgamesh epic: interpretations and realizations." Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabic Studies 34 (2004) 231-238, p.231.
  7. ^ Jett, Stephen C. (2017). Ancient Ocean Crossings: Reconsidering the Case for Contacts with the Pre-Columbian Americas. University of Alabama Press. pp. 196–205. ISBN 9780817319397.
  8. ^ Pham, Charlotte Minh-Hà L. (2012). Asian Shipbuilding Technology (PDF). UNESCO. ISBN 978-92-9223-414-0.

External links[edit]