Chesapeake Bay Workboats
Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network

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Whether it's a deadrise or skipjack, a pungy or a bugeye, classic Chesapeake workboats are anchored in tradition. Early log-built canoes, sleek schooners and versatile sailing skiffs all inspired builders to craft variations that matched hull shapes, sailing rigs and other features to the promise and perils of working the Chesapeake Bay.

From the beginning, mariners needed maneuverable, shallow-draft vessels suited to the narrow inlets and shoal waters of the Bay and its tributaries. In the 1800's, exploding demand for Chesapeake oysters drove the evolution of larger, faster boats that could work far from shore in all kinds of weather. New technology supported many changes: sawmills cut lumber for boatbuilders, refrigeration and canning methods improved, and roads and rail lines promised ready access to distant markets. And while small operations continued with traditional gear - hand tongs, dip nets and hand seines - with time, increasingly efficient scrapes, dredges and fishing apparatus became available to help watermen maximize their catches.

The Workboats
Click on each boat image to learn more about its history, features and use.

[ Dugout, Bateau, Log Canoe, Brogan, Bugeye, Pungy, Skipjack, Deadrise, Draketail, Tonger ]

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The Builders
The Builders Harvesting the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay has always required sturdy, highly maneuverable vessels. Learn how boatbuilders custom-crafted workboats to match the Bay's challenges.
Working the Water
Working the Water Back-breaking toil and hard-won knowledge of Bay conditions were part and parcel of working the shallow, often stormy Chesapeake. Learn more about the lives and lore of Chesapeake Bay watermen.
Oyster Boom
Oyster Boom In the late 19th century, demand for Bay oysters drove a short-lived, fiercely competitive Oyster Boom. Learn more about the rise and decline of oysters as the Bay's key commercial species.
Changing Times
Changing Times Overharvesting, pollution, and disease have challenged the survival of the Chesapeake's historic fisheries. Learn more about the history of Bay fisheries and today's efforts to restore and sustain the Bay.
Explore Bay Boats
Explore Bay Boats Many Chesapeake Bay Gateways offer a chance to see classic workboats and learn more about the watermen's way of life. Find out where you can see Chesapeake Bay Workboats up close, sail on a skipjack, or watch a boat-building demonstration by using our map of workboat locations.
Information and photos for this section provided by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. All illustrations are by John Damm. Workboat key based on Annapolis Maritime Museum illustration.
Pungy Skipjack Deadrise Draketail Tonger / Dredge Dugout Bateau Log Canoe Brogan Bugeye

Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network - Comments or Questions: Call: 1-800-YOUR-BAY