Chinese Junk Sail Boat Explained

Chinese Junk Sail Boat Explained
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Junks are ancient Chinese sail boats that are still widely used in many countries around the world. Having minimum of two to three sails, Junks are known as one of the most successful ancient ship types in the maritime history (Read about other types of ancient boats such as rafts, dugouts and cogs). It is said that junks were first made during the Han dynasty in China. Initially, Chinese people made small sized junk sail boats but as the popularity of junks increased, boats of hundred and fifty meter sizes were also made. In ancient time, Junks were generally used for transporting cargo and played an important role in Asian Trade during the nineteenth century.

Later on, junks were constructed and being used in most of the parts of Asia such as India, Sumatra etc. However, junks were mostly commonly found in China, especially Hong Kong. Junks are still used in India and many parts of China.


The salient feature of Junks was that they were easy to identify with their two masts and unusual square sails. These sturdy ships were one of the most technically advanced ships of that time. Made from wood, junks were boats with flat bottoms. The square rigged sails were mounted on bamboo poles that can be closed together. The sails were considered the main part of the boat, which also facilitated the boat with great speed.

However, unlike other types of boats, junks don’t have any keel (flat bottom). Though this feature makes the boat a bit difficult to maneuver, the peculiar stern mounted rudder helps to eradicate this problem. This large central rudder would thus help the boat to maneuver smoothly through the waves. Junk’s rudders were manually operated and needed at least three crew members to control it in bad weather condition. Rudders were known as the strongest part of the junks.

Moreover, the sails of junks were strategically located. This means that if there were four sails on a boat, they did not face directly to the forward but were placed obliquely to direct the wind into the sails that were placed right behind them. In this way all the sails were able to profit from the pressure of the wind. This unique arrangement helped the boat to use the most strongest of the winds and weather and thus not get affected by it.

Traditional junks were usually made of softwood such as teak and had several compartments connected to each other with the help of ladder and hatches. The great robustness of the junks can be attributed to huge internal braces known as bulkheads. The bulkheads helped in dividing the hollow hull into several watertight compartments that made junks virtually unsinkable. It is this design of traditional junks that is adopted in all the construction processes of modern ships.

Thus, it was the simplicity, reliability and easy handling of the junks that made them one of the most famous and successful boats in the ancient times.

Image Credits

Jericho Sailing Centre Association, Canada