The kayak was the traditional craft that we used to travel and hunt marine mammals and sea birds. We used it on the open water of summer and to travel through the moving ice in winter and spring.

The frame is constructed from small pieces of carefully selected driftwood or sometimes whalebone and covered with the scraped skin of seal. In earlier times, they were made waterproof by rubbing blubber or animal fat into the skin. Seams were made waterproof by sewing them with a special stitch.

Since it was completely covered, a skilled hunter was able to travel in wind and waves. Kayaks could be carried and launched from the edge of the sea ice and maneuvered through moving ice. They had special equipment that was used by the hunter and in earlier times the hunter would wear a waterproof shirt sewn from the intestines of the seal.
The kayak was the traditional craft that we used to travel and hunt marine mammals and sea birds. We used it on the open water of summer and to travel through the moving ice in winter and spring.

The frame is constructed from small pieces of carefully selected driftwood or sometimes whalebone and covered with the scraped skin of seal. In earlier times, they were made waterproof by rubbing blubber or animal fat into the skin. Seams were made waterproof by sewing them with a special stitch.

Since it was completely covered, a skilled hunter was able to travel in wind and waves. Kayaks could be carried and launched from the edge of the sea ice and maneuvered through moving ice. They had special equipment that was used by the hunter and in earlier times the hunter would wear a waterproof shirt sewn from the intestines of the seal.

© 2000, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Kayak

Kayaks were used to hunt almost all species of marine mammals. The float is made from a ringed seal.

Courtesy W. Kemp.

© W. Kemp


Woman sewing Kayak

Making skin kayaks requires a wide range of skills.

Photo by Eric Loring

© Eric Loring


The umiak was the large open skin boat used in earlier times but within the living memory of many elders. A large umiak could hold as many as 20 people, but more often they were not this large.

Typically, umiaks were made of walrus skins lashed over a wooden frame. They were propelled by wooden oars when hunting or in calm weather. On longer trips when conditions were right, umiaks were sailed using a square front sail.

Umiaks were commonly used in hunting large sea mammals, especially whales and walrus. They were also used when traveling in open water to trade or to visit relatives. If the situation arose an umiak could be turned upside-down and used as shelter.
The umiak was the large open skin boat used in earlier times but within the living memory of many elders. A large umiak could hold as many as 20 people, but more often they were not this large.

Typically, umiaks were made of walrus skins lashed over a wooden frame. They were propelled by wooden oars when hunting or in calm weather. On longer trips when conditions were right, umiaks were sailed using a square front sail.

Umiaks were commonly used in hunting large sea mammals, especially whales and walrus. They were also used when traveling in open water to trade or to visit relatives. If the situation arose an umiak could be turned upside-down and used as shelter.

© 2000, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Umiak

The frame of an umiak.

Courtesy of W. Kemp.

© W. Kemp


In the 1920s when Inuit could make a good living because of the high price paid for fur, many families bought large wooden boats that we still refer to as "Peterheads" or "Whale Boats." They were about 35 feet long and had a sail. Elders talk about going "all over the place" in these boats, and indeed they would often use them to travel many miles offshore. In the 1950s, Inuit began to add small engines to the Peterheads which made them more versatile for use at least as long as we could get fuel.

By the late 1960s many of our large wooden boats were getting too old to be used safely. As a result it was not possible for us to reach some of our important hunting territory or to travel for visiting.

Now this situation is changing quickly and Inuit are replacing old wooden Peterheads with a new generation of steel or aluminum hull boats, often well equipped with modern navigational technology. As these boats become available, long distance travel off shore is again becoming an important part of Inuit life.
In the 1920s when Inuit could make a good living because of the high price paid for fur, many families bought large wooden boats that we still refer to as "Peterheads" or "Whale Boats." They were about 35 feet long and had a sail. Elders talk about going "all over the place" in these boats, and indeed they would often use them to travel many miles offshore. In the 1950s, Inuit began to add small engines to the Peterheads which made them more versatile for use at least as long as we could get fuel.

By the late 1960s many of our large wooden boats were getting too old to be used safely. As a result it was not possible for us to reach some of our important hunting territory or to travel for visiting.

Now this situation is changing quickly and Inuit are replacing old wooden Peterheads with a new generation of steel or aluminum hull boats, often well equipped with modern navigational technology. As these boats become available, long distance travel off shore is again becoming an important part of Inuit life.

© 2000, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Boat

Peterheads are often owned by the community and the captain is a highly respected community member.

Photo by Scot Nickels, 1991

© Scot Nickels, 1991


Peterhead or Whale boat

Peterhead

Photo by W. Kemp.

© W. Kemp


Also in the early 1960s, wood framed freighter canoes began to replace kayaks. These were first paddled or sailed and later powered by outboard engines. Today the engines are more powerful and the canoes much faster.

Freighter canoes remain very essential for hunting our marine coastal waters. We use freighter canoes to go almost anywhere; they can carry heavy loads, and can be used safely in broken ice. Since freighter canoes sit low in the water, they provide a good platform for hunting marine mammals. With them we can hunt seals and other sea mammals and reach good hunting areas as long as they are not too far from shore.
Also in the early 1960s, wood framed freighter canoes began to replace kayaks. These were first paddled or sailed and later powered by outboard engines. Today the engines are more powerful and the canoes much faster.

Freighter canoes remain very essential for hunting our marine coastal waters. We use freighter canoes to go almost anywhere; they can carry heavy loads, and can be used safely in broken ice. Since freighter canoes sit low in the water, they provide a good platform for hunting marine mammals. With them we can hunt seals and other sea mammals and reach good hunting areas as long as they are not too far from shore.

© 2000, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Canoe

The freighter canoe can carry loads of up to 2000 pounds.

Photo by Eric Loring

© Eric Loring


Canoe

The freighter canoe has become the workhorse for summer travel.

Photo by W. Kemp.

© W. Kemp


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Describe four kinds of water transportation used by the Inuit, including materials, construction, function, and history

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