Since the end of the age of sail a ship has been any large buoyant watercraft. Ships are generally distinguished from boats based on size and cargo or passenger capacity. Ships are used on lakes, seas, an drivers for a variety of activities, such as the transport of people or goods, fishing, entertainment, public safety, and warfare. Historically, a “ship” was a vessel with sails rigged in a specific manner.
Ships and boats have developed alongside mankind. In armed conflict and in daily life they have become an integral part of modern commercial and military systems. Fishing boats are used by millions of fishermen throughout the world. Military forces operate vessels for combat and to transport and support forces ashore. Commercial vessels, nearly 35,000 in number, carried 7.4 billion tons of cargo in 2007.
Ships were a key in history’s great explorations and scientific and technological development. Navigators such as Zheng He spread such inventions as the compass and gunpowder. Ships have been used for such purposes as colonization and the slave trade, and have served scientific, cultural, and humanitarian needs. After the 16th century, new crops that had come from and to the Americas via the European seafarers significantly contributed to the world’s population growth. Maritime transport has shaped the world’s economy into today’s energy-intensive pattern.
Ships can usually be distinguished from boats based on size and the ship’s ability to operate independently for extended periods. A commonly used rule of thumb is that if one vessel can carry another, the larger of the two is a ship.