A more acceptable typology based on differences in design and construction classifies boats into bainkata and flat-bottomed types. The bainkata usually has a golui fore (protective head made of solid WOOD) and aft and a spoon-shaped hull. A group of bainkata boats do not have golui but have the spoon-shaped hull. The flat-bottomed type of boats is so named because they have neither golui nor spoon-shaped hulls. The boats with golui are the most numerous in type and include the ghasi, jong, gachari, dorakha, kathami, mallar, paloani, patam, panshi and bedi. The general name applied to boats without golui is kosha. These are represented by types like the bhudi, raptani, and the military kosha.
Apart from being a private means of transport and an essential carrier for shallow or deepwater fishing, boats constitute an important economic link in the life of the people. The owners/operators of boats earn their livelihood and/or conduct businesses, in which profitability depends upon tariff, efficiency, and capacity utilisation. The cargo carried by country boats arriving at and departing from 6 major and 10 secondary river ports was about 10 million tons per annum in 1963. The volume, however, declined in later years with improvement in ROAD TRANSPORT as well as increased difficulties in river navigation in dry season, mainly because of siltation. But country boats continue to play a significant role in local and regional cargo movement, especially in the eastern, central and southern parts of the country. Most hats in these regions are located on the sides of rivers and channels. The income of boatmen depends on carrying capacity of boats and the number of trips made in a day. But it is relatively stable as the seasonal fluctuations are negligible and the income from freight trips (carrying according to fixed tariff) and business trips (sharing profit gained from selling the cargo) varies little.
The boat owners, operators and builders have become an essential part of the society and economy of the country since time immemorial. Boats are also important as vehicles of sports and entertainment. The nouka-baich (BOAT RACE) is a major attraction in most parts of the country, especially during the rainy season. Boatmen have their own songs with typical lyrics and rhythm, mostly bordering on melancholy and devotional themes because of the threats posed by sudden storms and tidal surges. Life of the boatmen and their relationship with rivers and the sea naturally fascinate poets, writers and artists.
Boat making At one time, people carved fat logs to get a solid contour with blank rounded space inside and floated them in the water as boats. Later, boats were made of bundled CANE and BAMBOO, leather and wood. Modern day boat-building materials include such manufactured materials as ferocement and fibre-glass. However, wood continues to be the material preferred for boat making in the country for centuries. Commonly used TIMBER species are jarul (dipterocarpus turbinatus), sal (shorea robusta), sundari (heritiera fomes), and Burmese teak (tectons grandis). Seasoning of timber is important in boat making. Boats made with properly seasoned timber are expected to last longer and require fewer repairs. Two methods of seasoning are used in Bangladesh: (i) sun drying and (ii) immersion in water. Mechanical seasoning is not in practice although recently, seasoning is being done with electric heating at some enterprises. The fixing materials used are staples, iron nails, wire nails, etc. Usually, one end of the staples is flat and the other is pointed. Due to increased price and non-availability of the right quality timber, steel is becoming popular in making boats. In fact, more than 80% of boats above 25 tons capacity are now built by steel. Electric welding is applied for fabrication. The frames are made of steel angles. In some small kosha boats the bottom planks are sometimes placed transversely. The transverse structural elements consist of baka (the floor), quina (the bilge frame), gocha (the side frame) and gura (the deck beam).
In the past, the people of Bangladesh in general, and the boatmen and boat makers were not very efficient in wood treatment and preservation. But they had a good knowledge of how to season wood and apply coal tar coating for resisting the penetration of water and protect the wood from decay. Wooden boat making was historically done by carpenters, who did not have formal training but acquired the skill by apprenticeship in the profession which was mostly hereditary in nature.
Boat making is still not an organised industry in Bangladesh and the profession of boat making has become quite rare. Most people making boats are non-professional and boats are not made in the standard types and shapes, and with the decoration used in the past. The decay in the boat making industry has taken place largely because of the high cost of boat making materials, especially, wood and because of the fear that the boats made may not be sold in economic lots. In most cases, boats are now made on piecemeal order basis. According to government sources, the number of boat making industry units in the country was 4,508 in 1991. The major boat making places of the country are Barisal, Patuakhali, Bhola, Madaripur, Gopalganj, Jhalokati, Pirojpur, Bagerhat, Khulna, Faridpur, Shariatpur, Chandpur, Comilla, Dhaka, Narsingdi, Munshiganj and Chittagong. Some coastal areas and islands like Cox's Bazar, Hatiya, and St Martin also have carpenters for making and repairing boats. [S M Mahfuzur Rahman].