Skin on Frame Boats - A Type of a Prehistoric Boat

Skin on Frame Boats - A Type of a Prehistoric Boat
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We have learnt a lot about various types of ships and we also know that apart from giant sized ships, there are relatively smaller vessels such as ferries, hovercrafts and boats as well. In this article we will take a look at the boat that uses skin on its frame, hence know as skin boats.

Skin boat is a type of prehistoric boat that was used by the ancient people. An easy to make boat, a skin boat is made by covering wood or skeletons with animal hides, which were dried, stretched and specially treated.


It is said that the first skin boat was made by the prehistoric hunters when they found that they can use the parts of the animals which they did not eat. The hunters used animal skins to cover a wooden framework or skeletons to make a floating boat. These boats were very helpful for the hunters to carry one or two people up and down the rivers. Moreover, the boats turned out to be an excellent tool for the hunters, especially for fishing activity.

Types of Skin Boats

As time passed many boats were made on the same concept as that of skin boats. One example of such boat is Inuit Kayak. Kayak is a traditional boat made by stretching seal skins over a wooden framework or a whale skeleton and then coating it with animal fats. The main advantage of kayak is that it is sleek and has a pointed bow and stern, which facilitates faster speed and easy maneuvering. A kayak could easily carry two people at a time.

One more example of skin boat is umiak, which is similar to kayak in every aspect except the shape. An umiak is a round version of kayak. In the ancient time, it was usually used by women for transporting of goods from one place to another.

Some other examples of skin boats are coracle and qaffa. Coracle is a boat exactly round in shape and can be paddled in any direction. Qaffa is also a round skin boat but with a larger diameter. Generally measuring up to 18 feet across, a qaffa can easily carry 20 passengers on it. One of the ancient boats of all times, qaffa was often seen in the rivers of Tigris and Euphrates. Qaffa is still used in Iraq and some parts of India and China.

launching-the-umiak 5892


Technically, a skin boat is nothing but a frame with a covering. Earlier made from animal skins, skin boats were simple and easy to make. However, the modern skin boats are made from aluminum tubing instead of wood or skeletons. Also, instead of animal skins, modern skin boats have canvas or other synthetic material to cover the framework. At some places fibers such as nylon or polyester are also used to form a cover.

Nylon is an excellent material for covering a boats framework as it has high elasticity and water resistance qualities. However, nylon is affected by the ultraviolet rays from the sun and it also loosens up because of atmospheric moisture.

Polyester is another good option for covering boat frames, but it is less used because of its lack of elasticity. However, it has a good resistance against UV rays and is not affected by atmospheric moisture.

As far as frame covering is concerned, canvas is supposed to be the best option as it is cheaper and has all the qualities needed for a boat cover. Canvas can also be easily coated with normal paint to give it extra shielding. Canvas shrinks with moisture; however it is considered a good trait as it holds the covering tight at one place.

Also, in the ancient days, animal fats were used as a covering to provide water resistance qualities to the boat. However, the fats used to get dried up or rot in few weeks. In the modern skin boats, the boat’s cover is coated with waterproof material such as urethane rubber or other chemicals.

Thus, skin boats are both helpful and easy to make boats, which have also been an inspiration for many boats that we see today. The shape of a skin boat is flexible and depends on the shape of the frame. However, as skin boat is considered light and unstable it is not suitable for sea water.

skin boat skeleton

skin boat making

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