North Carolina has a rich boating history, particularly in terms of fishing. The business of boat building developed in the late 1800s, but the economies of the counties up the long and winding North Carolina coast have long depended on navigating the waterways. Families in this part of the state relied on boats to provide food and transportation. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that commercial fishing started to grow as an industry, resulting in more boatyards and shipbuilding enterprises along the coast.

The rise of the shad boat

One boat that was vitality to the fishing economy of the North Carolina coast was the shad boat. In fact, the boat was so important it was designated as North Carolina’s official state historical boat in 1987. The design, named for the type of fish it was used to catch, came to being on Roanoke Island and was crafted to navigate the shallow water and rapidly changing weather conditions that are common on the coast of the state.

dory boat

Shad boats stopped being made during the 1930s. However, you may still see one on the water, because some were so well built that they have lasted for close to 100 years. The Roanoke Island Maritime Museum has one of the last known shad boats in existence built by George Washington Creef, the inventor of the style. Named the Ella View, it was built in 1889.

Other important boat styles

The shad boat isn’t the only fishing boat to have an impact on the coast of North Carolina. The mullet skiff was a style of flat-bottom work skiff that was inexpensive and easy to build. They were common in the state until the late 1980s, when demand for mullet decreased and better fishing methods were developed.

Another boat style native to the Outer Banks is the beach dory. A small boat, a beach dory is 16 to 18 feet long and is launched from the ocean shoreline into the surf. This style of boat was traditionally used to catch weakfish, spotted seatrout, bluefish, striped mullet, striped bass and Atlantic croaker.

shad boat

During the 1950s, fisherman along the Outer Banks joined the shrimping industry, and shrimp trawlers came into use. Residents of the coastal communities actually considered shrimp pests, which may explain why they were so late in including shrimp in the local fishing industry.

North Carolina is home to more than 300,000 registered boating vessels. From lake and ocean fishing to recreational water sports to pontoon boats, the state’s love affair with water continues to this day. Over the years, the coast has changed, as have the boats. Many boat builders focus more on recreational craft than those for commercial fishing, but there is no doubt that traveling the water is still vital to the future of the area.

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