If you’ve ever wondered if it would be correct to say “in the boat” versus “on the boat”, there are some specific times that each phrase is actually correct.
Grammar can be tricky, and boating terms, trickier still. Learning the difference between bow and aft, or the difference between stern and prow…the wording can sometimes sound almost like a foreign language, even to someone who knows their way around a boat! Learning the difference between when to use “in the boat” versus when to use “on the boat” can seem daunting, but it’s really not that hard, once you learn a few basic rules.
It is grammatically correct to say “in the boat” when you are referring to a smaller craft, like a lifeboat, canoe or kayak, to say “on the boat” when you are referring to a larger craft, like a speed boat, sailboat or cruise ship.
Learning the correct lingo for any situation can be challenging, especially when the nuances are so small, like the difference between one tiny word, like “in” or “on.” And though no one is going to berate you, or misunderstand you for using one instead of the other, it’s nice to feel like you have a strong grasp of the language when you are referring to something that is true interest of yours, and you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about.
There are two things that I’m really passionate about…linguistics and boating. I find both language and boating to be interesting, and I love studying some of the interesting verbiage that surrounds the boating experience. Stick with me, and you’ll never again say “in the boat” or “on the boat” in the wrong context, I promise!
Do You Say “In the Boat” or “On the Boat”?
Grammar rules can often not only be tricky to master but also just downright annoying. It seems as though when a rule is applied in one instance, it isn’t always applied in another.
Right when we get the hang of how to write or say something in a grammatically correct way, it seems there is always an exception to that rule that pops up, making us confused all over again.
Prepositions particularly, can be tough to tackle. Even if you’ve been a native English speaker your whole life, understanding the difference between prepositional words like “in” or “on” can fool even the most linguistically gifted English speakers.
Usually coming right before a noun, prepositions help define how that noun is going to relate to other words in a sentence.
In the case of these two phrases – “in the boat” or “on the boat” – understanding how to use them correctly and why they are used becomes easier to grasp once we explore the meaning of each.
Boating language can be tricky, too. How we refer to different parts of a boat often depends on the size of the craft, whether it's motorized, sailed or hand-paddled and if it is simply a vessel for transportation, or serves more purposes than that.
Understanding the English language is sometimes a challenge, but boating language sometimes feels like a language all its own.
Yes, you could use either phrase when talking about any boat, and people will understand what you are saying. But, if you want to be technically correct, there is a right and a wrong way to use both these phrases. Let’s delve deeper into how to do it and why.
1. When To Use “In the Boat”
The proper use of this phrase can best be explained by thinking about a boat and the physical design aspects of it.
When you are referring to any sort of boat or watercraft that is smaller in nature and open to outside elements, you will use the phrase, “in the boat.”
Some of the types of boats that would apply to this phrase are kayaks, canoes, rafts, open fishing boats, and lifeboats.
For example, let’s say you are going to take your canoe out for a paddle around the lake. You have a few friends coming along, so you call them up and announce, “Hey everyone! Let’s plan on being in the boat by noon today!”
The idea here is that the boat is not an enclosed structure. It doesn’t serve as a sleeping quarters, or have a kitchenette or sun deck. It is simply a water craft that floats and gets you from Point A to Point B. You sit “in” it. You don’t really do much else.
Therefore, it would make sense that you and your friends are going for a paddle around the lake “in the boat.”
2. When to Use “On the Boat”
On the other hand, the phrase “on the boat” can be used when we think about larger boats. A boat that transports large amounts of cargo or people at one time would need the phrase, “on the boat.”
For example, if you are boarding a cruise ship that is going to sail at 4 pm, you might say to your family, “We need to be at the dock by 2 pm in order to be on the ship by 4 pm.”
Another example would be, “My shipment still hasn’t arrived and I think it’s on the boat that’s stuck in the middle of the Mediterranean.”
In both these cases, large vessels are doing the transporting and therefore use the preposition “on” when referring to the boat.
One way to remember this is to think of the preposition “on” as referring to something that is larger than normal – something that is on a grander scale. So, a cruise ship, ocean liner, large cruiser cabin or yacht would all qualify for the use of the preposition “on”.
“In” is for boating, which is a casual experience. “On” is used for boating on a grander scale.
Remember, no one is going to misunderstand you if you use these phrases interchangeably. But for the true boating enthusiast, it will give you some nods of respect if you know the difference between “in the boat” and “on the boat.”
About THE AUTHOR
I have a deep love of houseboating and the life-changing experiences houseboating has brought into my life. I’ve been going to Lake Powell on our family’s houseboat for over 30 years and have made many great memories, first as a child and now as a parent. My family has a passion for helping others have similar fun, safe experiences on their houseboat.Read More About Brian Samson