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Difference Between a River Boat & a Sea Boat

Updated July 19, 2017

Traditional river boats and sea boats were very much alike for a time. It was the success of the river boat and its steam-powered engine that led the way for modern sea ships.

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Sailing Ships

For a long time, maritime vessels were built with networks of spars, ropes and sails to carry cargo. Winds carried them toward their destination, while meticulous calculations navigated their journeys. Toward the end of the 19th century, steam engines virtually conquered sea ships. By World War II, sailing ships were commercially extinct.

River Boats

River waters, in contrast to the oceans and seas, are relatively safe. Not many sails were placed on river boats because inland winds are broken by land features, which weren't good for sail-use, but tolerable for paddling with oars. This is why during the rise of the steam engine, river boats utilised the paddle wheel for executing propulsion.


For a while into the 1830s, riverboats and some sea ships were very much alike-- powered by steam engines and paddle wheels. But because of giant waves, using paddle wheels became inefficient for seafaring.The year 1836 ushered in the screw propulsion-design (propellers) for use to thrust sea ships. Once again, the two boat types became distinguishable.

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About the Author

Jin Machina

Jin Machina began writing professionally in 2010. His main writing interests are film, literature, boxing and martial arts, automotive and performing arts. Machina has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Washington, where he completed two majors: anthropology and comparative history of ideas, a discipline focused on culture, literature and the self.

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