Dhoni or Doni (Dhivehi: ދޯނި pronounced Dōni) is a multi-purpose sail boat with a motor or lateen sails that is used in the Maldives. It is handcrafted and its use within the multi-island nation has been very important. A dhoni resembles a dhow, a traditional Arab sailing vessel.
The traditional dhoni is one of the oldest known sea vessels in the Maldives. Many of these traditional sailing vessels were, of necessity, built using coconut palm timber. The sailing dhoni was used in earlier days by Maldivian fishermen. During the industrial revolution many fisherman changed to a mechanized dhoni.
In 1995 there were 1,674 registered fishing vessels in the Maldives. Of these, 1,407 were motorised pole and line craft (masdhoni) for tuna fishing in coastal waters, 5 were sailing masdhoni, 48 were mechanised vadhudhoni, 209 were sailing vadhudhoni and 5 were row boats used for trolling in reef waters.
Based on a US$3.2 million loan from the International Development Association(IDA), most of the boats were mechanized in the course of the 1980s. Although the addition of motors increased fuel costs, it resulted in doubling the fishing catch between 1982 and 1985. Moreover, the 1992 catch of 82,000 tons set a record; for example, in 1987 the catch was 56,900 tons.
It is a plank-built craft traditionally built with coconut wood, although imported wood from Southeast Asia is increasingly used. Originally sailing craft, nowadays these boats are usually fitted with motors. The main site for building dhonis is in Alifushi Raa Atoll. This boat building is a traditional craft in the Maldives, and young apprentices are trained by skilled craftsmen. Boats crafted from timber take 60 days to complete.
Contemporary dhonis are often built using fibreglass. Many motorised dhonis are now capable of high speed and come equipped with a steering wheel, fully furnished chairs, and benches.