Dhow (Arabic داو dāwa Marathi "dāw") is the generic name of a number of traditional sailing vessels with one or more masts with settee or sometimes lateen sails, used in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean region. Historians are divided as to whether the dhow was invented by Arabs or Indians.[1][2] Typically sporting long thin hulls, dhows are trading vessels primarily used to carry heavy items, such as fruit, fresh water, or other heavy merchandise, along the coasts of Eastern Arabia (Arab states of the Persian Gulf),[3] East Africa, Yemen and coastal South Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh). Larger dhows have crews of approximately thirty, smaller ones typically around twelve.


The exact origins of the dhow are lost to history. Most scholars believe that it originated in India between 600 BC to 600 AD. Some claim that the sambuk, a type of dhow, may be derived from the Portuguese caravel.[4]

The Yemeni Hadhrami people, as well as Omanis, for centuries came to Beypore, in Kerala, India for their dhows. This was because of the good timber in the Kerala forests, the availability of good coir rope, and the skilled carpenters who specialized in ship building. In former times, the sheathing planks of a dhow's hull were held together by coconut rope. Beypore dhows are known as 'Uru' in Malayalam, the local language of Kerala. Settlers from Yemen, known as 'Baramis', are still active in making urus in Kerala.

In the 1920s, British writers identified Al Hudaydah as the center for dhow building. Those built in Al Hudaydah were smaller in size, and used for travel along the coasts. They were constructed of acacia found in Yemen.[5]

Captain Alan Villiers (1903–1982) documented the days of sailing trade in the Indian Ocean by sailing on dhows between 1938 and 1939 taking numerous photographs and publishing books on the subject of dhow navigation.[6][7]

Even to the present day, dhows make commercial journeys between the Persian Gulf and East Africa using sails as their only means of propulsion. Their cargo is mostly dates and fish to East Africa and mangrove timber to the lands in the Persian Gulf. They often sail south with the monsoon in winter or early spring, and back again to Arabia in late spring or early summer.

For celestial navigation, dhow sailors have traditionally used the kamal, an observation device that determines latitude by finding the angle of the Pole Star above the horizon.[8]


  • Baghlah (بغلة) – from the Arabic language word for "mule". A heavy ship, the traditional deep-sea dhow.
  • Baqarah or baggarah (بقارة) – from the Arabic word for "cow". Old type of small dhow similar to the Battil.[9]
  • Barijah – small dhow.[10]
  • Battil (بتيل) – featured long stems topped by large, club-shaped stem heads.
  • Badan – a smaller vessel requiring a shallow draft.[11]
  • Boum (بوم) or dhangi – a large-sized dhow with a stern that is tapering in shape and a more symmetrical overall structure. The Arab boum has a very high prow, which is trimmed in the Indian version.[12]
  • Ghanjah (غنجة) or kotiya – a large vessel, similar to the Baghlah, with a curved stem and a sloping, ornately carved transom.[13]
  • Jahazi or jihazi (جهازي). A fishing or trading dhow with a broad hull similar to the Jalibut, common in Lamu Island and the coast of Oman. It is also used in Bahrain for the pearl industry.[14] The word comes from jahāz (جهاز), a Persian word for "ship".[15]
  • Jalibut or jelbut (جالبوت). A small to medium-sized dhow. It is the modern version of the shu'ai with a shorter prow stem piece. Most jalibuts are fitted with engines.
  • Pattamar, a type of Indian dhow.
  • Sambuk or sambuq (صنبوق) – the largest type of dhow seen in the Persian Gulf today. It has a characteristic keel design, with a sharp curve right below the top of the prow. It has been one of the most successful dhows in history.[16] The word is cognate with the Greek σαμβύκη sambúkē, ultimately from Middle Persian sambūk. [17]
  • Shu'ai (شوعي). Medium-sized dhow. Formerly the most common dhow in the Persian Gulf used for fishing as well as for coastal trade.
  • Zaruq – small dhow, slightly larger than a barijah[18]

The term "dhow" is sometimes also applied to certain smaller lateen-sail rigged boats traditionally used in the Red Sea, the eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf area, as well as in the Indian Ocean from Madagascar to the Bay of Bengal. These include the feluccas used in Egypt, Sudan and Iraq, and the Dhoni used in the Maldives, as well as the tranki, ghrab and ghalafah.[19] All these vessels have common elements with the dhow. On the Swahili Coast, in countries such as Kenya, the Swahili word used for dhow is "jahazi".[1]

See also


  1. Briggs, Philip. "Dhows of the Swahili coast". Zanzibar Travel Guide. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  2. "The History & construction of the dhow". Nabataea. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  3. "Arab Dhows of Eastern Arabia". 1949.
  4. Taylor, James. "Traditional Arab sailing ships". The British-Yemeni Society. Archived from the original on 15 July 2012. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  5. Prothero, GW (1920). Arabia. London: HM Stationery Office. p. 99.
  6. Villiers, Alan, 1903-1982. (2006). Sons of Sinbad : an account of sailing with the Arabs in their Dhows, in the Red Sea, round the coasts of Arabia, and to Zanzibar and Tanganyika; pearling in the Persian Gulf; and the life of the shipmasters and mariners of Kuwait. Facey, William, 1948-, Ḥijjī, Yaʻqūb Yūsuf., Pundyk, Grace., Markaz al-Buḥūth wa-al-Dirāsāt al-Kuwaytīyah (Kuwait). London: Arabian Pub. in association with the Centre for Research and Studies in Kuwait. ISBN 0954479238. OCLC 61478193.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. Villiers, Allan (15 October 2018). Monsoon Seas the Story of the Indian Ocean. Creative Media Partners, LLC. ISBN 9780343245221.
  8. "Ancient Sailing and Navigation". Nabataea.net. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  9. "The Traditional Dhow". Oman: Ministry of Information. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  10. Hourani, George Fadlo; Carswell, John (1995), Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times, Princeton University Press.
  11. "Dhows", China, Facts & details.
  12. "Dhow Ship – Types", Marine engineering, Bright hub.
  13. "Ghanjah", Cog and Galley ships.
  14. Dhow sailing in Kenya, UK: Diani beach, archived from the original on 24 July 2012.
  15. Agius 2008, p. 316.
  16. Oman, a Seafaring Nation, Oman: Ministry of Information, 1979.
  17. Agius 2008, p. 314.
  18. Xavier, Sandy. "Zaruq". CA: Sympatico. Archived from the original on 5 October 2003. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  19. Abdullah, Thabit AJ (2000), The Political Economy of Trade in Eighteenth-Century Basra, Social and Economic History of the Middle East, SUNY, ISBN 978-0-7914-4808-3.


Further reading

  • Bowen, Richard LeBaron, Essay on the tradition of painting eyes, known as oculi, on the bows of boats among mariners and fishermen from ancient times to the present. Found particularly in the Indian Ocean region.
  • Clifford W. Hawkins, The dhow: an illustrated history of the dhow and its world.
  • Anthony Jack, Arab dhows.
  • Kaplan, Marion, Twilight of the Arab dhow.
  • Martin, Esmond Bradley, The decline of Kenya's dhow trade.
  • ; Martin, Chryssee Perry, Cargoes of the east : the ports, trade, and culture of the Arabian Seas and western Indian Ocean, foreword by Elspeth Huxley.
  • Henri Perrier, Djibouti's dhows.
  • A.H.J. Prins, Sailing from Lamu: A Study of Maritime Culture in Islamic East Africa. Assen: van Gorcum & Comp., 1965.
  • A.H.J. Prins. The Persian Gulf Dhows: Two Variants in Maritime Enterprise. Persica: Jaarboek van het Genootschap Nederland-Iran, No.II (1965-1966): pp. 1–18.
  • A.H.J. Prins. The Persian Gulf Dhows: Notes on the Classification of Mid-Eastern Sea-Craft. Persica: Jaarboek van het Genootschap Nederland-Iran, No.VI (1972-1974): pp. 157–1166.
  • A.H.J. Prins. A Handbook of Sewn Boats. Maritime Monographs and Reports No.59. Greenwich, London:: National Maritime Museum, 1986.
  • Tessa Rihards, Dhow building : survival of an ancient craft.
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