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A whaleboat or whaler is a type of open boat that is relatively narrow and pointed at both ends. It was originally developed for whaling, and later became popular for work along beaches, since it does not need to be turned around for beaching or refloating. The term "whaleboat" may be used informally of larger whalers, or of a boat used for whale watching.
Today whaleboats are used as safety vessels aboard some marine vessels. The United States Coast Guard has been using them since 1791. Their simple open structure allows for easy access and personnel loading in the event of an emergency. Currently, some USCG whaleboats are used as lifeboats, with standardized equipment such as a hatchet, compass, sea anchor, emergency signal mirror, drinking water, first aid kit, jack knife with can opener, bilge pump, and other emergency provisions.
On modern warships, a relatively light and seaworthy double-ender for transport of ship's crew may be referred to as a whaleboat or whaler. Many have fuller hulls with more capacity, but far more drag.
The Tancook Schooner descends from whaleboats through the tancook whaler, a double-ended design optimized for sail.
Whaleboats were also extensively used in warfare. Colonel Benjamin Church is credited with pioneering their use for amphibious operations against Abenaki and Mi'kmaq tribes in what is today Maine and Acadia. His troops, New England colonial forces and Native allies from southern New England, used them as early as 1696 (during King William's War). Others in the Northeastern borderlands followed suit and they were used throughout the imperial conflicts of the early 18th century, and extensively used by both British and colonial troops during the French and Indian war. Units that made extensive use of whaleboats were the 7th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment at the siege of Louisburg in 1745, often referred to as "the whaleboat regiment", and Gorham's Rangers, formed in 1744, initially a company of Indians mainly from Cape Cod, many of whom were employed as whalers, and which later evolved into a British Army ranger company in the 1750s and 1760s.John Bradstreet's Bateaux and Transport service, a corps of armed boatmen tasked with moving supplies on inland waterways during the French and Indian War also used whaleboats extensively. In 1772, American colonials used whaleboats to attack and destroy the Gaspee in Narragansett Bay. During the American Revolutionary War, there were many whaleboat raids, including one with 230 men led by Return J. Meigs, Sr. to sack Sag Harbor on Long Island in 1777. On December 7, 1782, two fleets of whaleboats fought a bloody battle on Long Island Sound known as the Boats Fight. During the desperate hand-to-hand conflict, every man involved was either killed or injured.
The whaleboat was originally a lapstrake design, clearly in the Northern European building tradition that created the longship and the yole. Its "superior handling characteristics soon made it a popular general-purpose ship's boat". In the first half of the 20th century, many navies carried whaleboats on their warships, such as the 27ft whalers used in the Royal Navy. Whaleboats generally used a dismountable mast for distance work or for towing a carcasse, but depended on oars for close-in work. Boats used strictly for whaling often used only a long steering oar, while those used as ship's boats often had dismountable pintle-and-gudgeon rudders as well. A main sail, and occasionally a jib were used. After 1850 most were fitted with a centreboard.