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Research boats and you’ll find a dizzying number of types, options, classifications and prices. It can get a little confusing, or a lot confusing, for a novice looking to dip into the joys of boating.

There are three main types of vessels, and the categorization has to do with how they’re propelled: Unpowered (relying on the movement via those on board, such as skiffs, dories, kayaks, and canoes), sail-powered, and motorized. Many boats combine all three.

The Dory

An East Coast icon, these stalwart vessels are instantly recognizable for their double-bowed appearance. They’ve long been a workhorse of inshore fishermen throughout the region, now replaced as working fishing vessels with the advent of larger, reliable motor-propelled boats. Among the most famous of dory makers are those in Lunenburg, NS, and Shelburne, NS. Each year, thousands turn out on the waterfront in Lunenburg for fierce dory races featuring competitors from Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Nova Scotia.

The skiff

A catch-all term for a variety of small boats, used as inland or coastal pleasure vessels. Usually distinguishable by their flat stern and pointed bow, they’re propelled with oars, sails, or motors, depending on the purpose for use. Larger vessels, such as sailboats or lobster boats, often carry them on the stern. Sailing skiffs are especially popular for beginners who want to learn sailing skills, as they’re usually inexpensive and easy to transport. 

The Cape Islander 

Arguably one of the most famous of East Coast boats, known as the workhorse of the lobster and whitefish industry. Originally developed on Cape Sable Island on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, they’re extremely seaworthy with a big, flared bow, and are often used as pleasure or touring vessels as well. Smaller versions, known as Cape Island skiffs, are especially popular with pleasure boaters. Originally wooden boats, the vast majority are now fibreglass.

The Sailboat

There are an astonishing number of classes of sailboats — if it’s a watercraft and you can mount a mast and sail to use as assisting in propulsion, you’ve got a sailboat. Theyrange in size from small dinghies and dories to elegant racing sloops, ketches, and schooners.

The Sailing Yacht

As the name suggests, these vessels use sail as their primary means of propulsion. Think of the original Bluenose, or her namesake replica, and you’ve got the quintessential larger sailing vessel. Originally used as workhorses for trade and fishing, today they are primarily for teaching or for pleasure vessels, often for racing, as in the tall-ship competitions.

The Motorsailer

Combining what some would say is the best of boating worlds, a motorsailer is a sailing yacht equipped with a motor or engine to help power through the water. These vessels are often used for longer trips, and don’t rely on the mercies of the wind. Quite often they have comfortable, even custom, interior spaces and amenities.

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