Chesapeake Bay deadrise

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File:Deadrise workboat capt colby stern shot.JPG
Deadrise workboat Capt. Colby at Tyler's Beach near Smithfield, VA.

The Chesapeake Bay deadrise is a type of work boat used in the Chesapeake Bay. Watermen use these boats year round for everything from crabbing and oystering to catching fish or eels. Traditionally wooden hulled, the deadrise is characterised by a sharp, curved bow that quickly becomes a flat V shape as you move aft along the bottom of the hull. There is a small cabin structure forward and a large open cockpit and work area aft.

The deadrise design was developed around the 1880s for sailing vessels such as the skipjacks of the Chesapeake Bay. "Deadrise" refers to the line rising upward horizontally from the keel rabbet (the point where the top of the keel connects to the hull) to the chine (or sideboards). It rises on each side of the keel in a straight line, or "dead rise," creating the flat V shape of the bottom of the hull. A V-bottom is easier to build than a round bottom. It also has a shallow draft of two to three feet, making it ideal for the shallows of the Bay as well as being very forgiving when the Bay turns rough. Though earlier types such as skipjacks shared a similar hull form, the term "deadrise workboat" is generally understood to refer to more recent engine-powered vessels. The average deadrise workboat is 35 feet (11 m) to 45 feet (14 m) long with a beam of nine to twelve feet. The deadrise can use almost any engine, from a 455 Oldsmobile, 460 Ford, or from a 671 Detroit to a John Deere 6-cylinder. Today diesel engines are preferred over regular gasoline because of their reliability.

The design and construction of deadrise workboats evolved from the sailing skipjacks. The bottom of the hull is planked in a herring bone pattern with planks running diagonally from keel to chine. The sides are planked longitudinally. One of the first types of purpose-built small powered fishing boats to appear on the Chesapeake Bay were the Hooper Island draketails of the 1920s and 1930s. The Hooper Island draketails featured construction similar to the sailing skipjacks, but were narrower as stability was not needed to carry a sail and a narrow hull made best use of the limited power from the available gasoline engines. As higher power engines became available, hulls became wider. Higher powered engines permitted higher speeds, which required sterns that were wider and flatter under the waterline to prevent the stern from squatting down in the water at higher speeds.

The Chesapeake Bay Deadrise is the official boat of the Commonwealth of Virginia.


Howard I.Chappelle, “American Small Sailing Craft”, W. M. Norton & Company, 1951.

Paula J. Johnson, “The Workboats of Smith Island”, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.