One of the oldest human activities that we are aware of is fishing, with specialised fishing vessels being used for almost all commercial fishing that currently takes place around the world. Although any boat can be used for fishing, catching greater amounts of fish typically requires larger boats that are suitable for carring heavy amounts of cargo. There are an estimated 4.6 million commercial fishing vessels around the world, with 75% of them estimated to be in Asia along. Although attempts have been made to calculate the number of non-commercial fishing vessels, due to the nature of smaller boats to be able to be used for numerous purposes, it has been impossible to even obtain a rough estimate of how many boats are used primarily for fishing in a non-commercial context.

Some of the earliest fishing vessels were little more than rafts or canoes, many of which would likely never have been designed for use in open ocean, but rather for lakes and rivers in-land, with many canoes having been designed for use in slim jungle rivers. These early boats were almost exclusively made from wood and covered in bark or animal hide to create a water-resistant coating for the craft. Some of the earliest archaeological boat finds have been dated back to the Neolithic preiod of around 7,000 – 9,000 years ago.

Boat technologies have typically evolved in tandem with one another, with the technology for fishing vessels being developed at roughly the same rate as technology for boats used in war or exploration all progressing at the same pace. It is unknown when the first sails began to be used in boat construction, but it likely pre-dates the invention of textiles, with some of the earliest boat sails being constructed entirely out of animal skin.

The Ancient Egyptians were one of the first civilisations to make use of the boats as a major part of their economy. Around 4,000 B.C. the Egyptians were building narrow boats there were designed to be rowed by several oarsmen. They continued to develop boat technology and made a number of advances to boat design that rapidly spread around both the Egyptian empire and the world at large. With the invention of cotton, the Egyptians were able to create sails that reduced the need for oarsmen in many circumstances, although many were still needed. These early sail-boats were large enough and sturdy enough to be able to cross oceans and were extensively used for trading purposes.

The vikings made a number of advances in boat construction and were one of the first peoples to began to make use of metal during boat construction, this allowed their boats to be far more durable and less prone to damage when striking ground.