Minnesota's Inland Shipwrecks
Vessel Types on Minnesota's Inland Waters

Wind-, water-, hand-, or horse-powered vessels

Bark Canoes

Narrow, light, shallow-draft bark boats moved with paddles. Canoes were developed by North American Indians and later adopted and modified by European Americans for use in trade, exploration, travel, and, most recently, recreation. Paddlers and passengers usually faced in the direction of travel. Larger canoes were run with specialized crews; in some cases, on big water, they were equipped with make-shift oarlocks to facilitate rowing. Canoe sails, some as simple as holding up a blanket or mat, were also used.

Wood Canoes

Other than simple floating rafts, wooden dugout canoes may have been the earliest form of water craft in Minnesota. They have likely enjoyed the longest use; they were still around during post-contact times.

Skin Boats

Uncommon in Minnesota

Felucca or longboat

A poorly-known vessel type said to be long and narrow; it moved by sailing with lateen sails or by rowing. Hull construction is uncertain. A felucca was used by the French trader-explorer, Pierre Charles Le Sueur, during his expedition to the Blue Earth River, in southern Minnesota, in 1700.

Bateau or Bateaux

A variety of keelless, often flat-bottomed, plank boats made with pointed ends and straight flaring sides. High, pointed ends were also common, and some had rounded sides, lapstrake planking, and endposts, "knees", or other framing elements. Bateaux were typically propelled by rowing, poling, and water currents, or they were sailed with the wind. Smaller bateaux were sometimes called "the white man's version of the canoe," though they were more durable and difficult to portage.


Craft of plank construction with interior frames built over a keel. Typically equipped with masts, sails, rudders, and large oars, or moved upstream by poling or, early on, by steamboats.


Strong, box-like boats with flat bottoms, perpendicular sides, and upturned ends. They sometimes were covered throughout their entire length. They were constructed to float with the current and steered by large oars or sweeps placed at the ends. Most flatboats never returned after descending the river; often, they were dismantled and used or sold for lumber at their downstream destination.


Rafts are any of a variety of floating platforms serving as transport or utility craft or as vehicles for conveying their material parts.


These vessels were used to shuttle people, goods, and other cargo across narrow bodies of water, such as rivers or streams. There was a simple canoe ferry in operation at Mendota in Minnesota's pre-territorial days. Larger, more traditional ferries had open main decks that allowed patrons or vehicles to board on one side and leave from the other. Most of Minnesota's ferries were probably simple, wooden flatboats with aprons on either end and siderails on the deck. According to a study of ferries on the Lower Minnesota River Valley, the ferry boats there were "usually home made affairs capable of carrying across the river up to two cars or wagons at most." The ferries often were guided to and fro by a rope or cable, and were originally propelled by the currents or by human or animal power. One of the last current-driven ferries (i.e., a swing ferry) to operate in Minnesota and on the Mississippi River was at the Clearwater crossing in central Minnesota.

Pontoon Bridges or Wharves

Pontoon bridges or wharves are any of a class of floating structures attached or connected in some manner to one or more shorelines or riverbanks, and on or over which people, cargoes, or vehicles could move. A 1500-foot pontoon bridge constructed across the St. Croix River at Stillwater in 1876 went out of service in about 1931.


Rowboats are any of a class of small, multi-use vessels that might be propelled by oars. They usually have built-in seats. Later models might have square sterns with transoms of sufficient strength to admit the use of gasoline-powered outboard motors. Rowboats are now common family craft and are kept by many Minnesota resorts to accommodate fishing and recreational activities. Rowboats also find use as auxiliary or emergency craft on larger vessels.

Miscellaneous Vessels

These vessels include various types of sailboats, sculls, pontoons, kayaks, glass-bottomed boats, ice boats, ice yachts, or other miscellaneous water craft not listed above.

Fuel-powered vessels


General service vessels that travel regular routes moving passengers, freight, and mail. Minnesota packets typically were stern- or side-wheel steamboats and ranged from large floating palaces making extended runs to lesser "tubs" keeping local schedules. The better packets served food and liquor, had staterooms and sleeping cabins, and often, live music.

Tramp Steamers

These are vessels, in a similar range of sizes and designs as packets, with no regular schedule that picked up and hauled cargo and passengers wherever they may. In the heyday of steamboating on the Upper Mississippi, such vessels - also called "wild" boats - often would secure cargoes on the Ohio River or at St. Louis and take them to St. Paul. A number of tramp steamers also operated on the Mississippi between Aitkin and Grand Rapids in the latter decades of the 19th century until after World War I.

Log Rafters, Raft Boats, Towboats, Bowboats, or variants

These are boats that pushed, towed, or directed barges, log rafts, or log booms. Originally, they were almost exclusively stern-wheel steamers; later, some were propeller-driven. Such vessels were rather short and were furnished with large boilers and powerful engines to ensure control and maneuverability even in high winds or currents.

Channel-Maintenance Vessels

These are vessels used primarily for the maintenance of boat traffic lanes and ports, including snagboats, dredges, and light tenders.

Launches and variants

Launches and variants were steam- or motor-driven vessels used for moving people, supplies, mail, and the like. Launches, many with cabins and canopies, have long been used on northern lakes like Mille Lacs and Leech as for-hire recreational fishing boats. Mail launches also ran on many lakes. Steam-launch, passenger shuttle service on Lake Minnetonka complemented a land-based, mass-transit, streetcar system of which it was a part.

Excursion Vessels

Excursion vessels are any of a variety of steam- or motor-driven vessels primarily used for transporting people on sightseeing, holiday, or party excursions.


Ferries powered by steam or gasoline engines, sometimes a modernization or replacement of an older ferry at the same location. Some 20th-century ferries in Minnesota had steel hulls. One steam ferry in operation on the Mississippi River at Winona from 1865 to 1878 had two hulls, 70 feet long, with a paddlewheel mounted between the hulls. (See Ferries, above.)

Miscellaneous Vessels

These are various types of motorized sailboats, pontoons, speed and racing boats, sea-sleds, submersibles, or other miscellaneous steam-, gasoline-, alcohol-, naptha-, or battery-powered water craft not listed above.

Adapted from the "Shipwrecks of Minnesota's Inland Lakes and Rivers" report by: Wes Hall, Douglas Birk and Sam Newell.

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