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There is no binding definition of the term "boat"; watercraft were and are named differently in the various areas of transportation in the respective eras and in regional linguistic usage. In addition, organizations or jurisprudence develop their own definitions when it seems appropriate. If we refer to the boat as a "small ship", we can see that the basic structure of these vehicles as well as designations of the respective construction and equipment parts are similar. Just as there are different types and classes of ships, there are types and classes of boats.

The difficulties of differentiation can be made clear by comparing several fishing vessels. While a catboat such as the Brek Marshall may undoubtedly be classified as a boat despite a small foredeck, this is more difficult for a vessel such as the Catarina. With a length of 16 meters, it can still be classified as a boat. She does have a cockpit, but in fact she is considered to be covered. It is also not designed to be rowed with a crew of maximum three people. Another source defines that small sailboats are called "boat", but larger sailboats, which usually require a hired crew to operate, are called "sailing ship".