Although many inexperienced with the art and sport of sailing often describe the two of being the same, there are actually stark differences between a boat and a ship. For decades, the US Naval Institute defined a boat as any watercraft vessel that can be placed aboard a larger one, while any vessel that had the ability to carry a smaller one was defined as a ship.
However, ask any current or retired naval serviceman and you’ll soon discover that their differences are not solely defined by their size, but by how each are uniquely designed to operate.
For example, although both boats and ships are built to stay afloat on top of any water surface, boats tend to be used in coastal and inland waterways, such as rivers and lakes, while ships are used for transporting people or cargo across long and deep oceans. Whereas the changing currents and depth of an ocean does little to steer a ship off its course, boats must turn and navigate around the smallest of floating debris, making sailing across an ocean literally impossible without capsizing.
Another example of the difference between boats and ships is that while both require captains, both do not require crews. Due to the growing complexity of most ships and their navigational systems, several experienced and trained engineers are required for its voyage, whereas boats have fewer tools and engine parts in need of management, which is why most need only one captain or sailor aboard. From the changing of sails to the lowering of anchors, a boat’s smaller size enables a captain to be self-reliant, while a ship cannot. It requires a crew.
One last difference between boats and ships, and perhaps the most interesting, is how each must move when changing direction. While boats often turn inward when changing direction, ships turn outward. This is because each have different centers of gravity due to their size and require different propulsion speeds to turn effectively. While a boat tends to make sharp and sudden turns, a ship cannot, no matter how large the iceberg ahead appears to be.
Why are these differences so important to understand? Simply because as leaders, each of us are also uniquely designed and skilled to sail differently.
While some leaders are built to navigate the deepest of oceans, others are more suited for small lakes and rivers. There are leaders who are capable of navigating through difficult waters by themselves, and others who rely heavily on a crew of other leaders to assist them. And while there are leaders who prefer to change direction by making sharp and sudden turns, there are many who do not.
Knowing what kind of leader you are will ultimately determine if the organization or team you lead will float or sink once it leaves its port every morning. The wind and waves around you, or the current of the water beneath you are far less important than the boat that’s inside of you.
So know it.