Let's look at the different names Italians have for vessels that travel on water.
The most basic word, and the first word you'll likely learn, is la barca (the boat). It's general, it starts with B!
A Villa Borghese si possono fare tantissime cose: si può noleggiare una barca... per navigare nel laghetto;
At Villa Borghese, you can do many things: you can rent a boat... to sail on the small lake;
Captions 10-12, Anna presenta Villa Borghese - Part 1Play Caption
If we want to specify the kind of boat, such as a sailboat, then we use the preposition a (to, at) to indicate the type: barca a vela (sailboat).
E lui fa il cuoco sulle barche a vela, in giro per il mondo.
And he's a cook on sailboats, going around the world.
Caption 28, La Ladra EP. 1 - Le cose cambiano - Part 9Play Caption
A motorboat would be una barca a motore.
A fishing boat can be una barca da pesca, but also, and more commonly, un peschereccio.
E... questa tartaruga è arrivata in... proprio ieri, portata da un peschereccio di Lampedusa.
And... this turtle arrived... just yesterday, brought to us by a Lampedusa fishing boat.
Captions 4-5, WWF Italia Progetto tartarughe - Part 2Play Caption
The second word you'll learn will likely be la nave (the ship):
La Campania è collegatissima, quindi ci si può arrivare in treno, in aereo, in macchina o in nave.
Campania is very accessible, meaning you can get there by train, by plane, by car, or by ship.
Captions 82-84, L'Italia a tavola Interrogazione sulla CampaniaPlay Caption
There are the ships we see on the sea, but there are ferryboats, too, especially the ones that take you from Italy's mainland to le isole (the islands): Sicilia (Sicily), Sardegna (Sardinia), Corsica (although not part of Italy — a common destination), and l'Isola d'Elba. This specific kind of boat is called un traghetto. But if you call it la nave, that's perfectly understandable, too. Some of these ferries are huge. In the following example, we're talking about getting to Sardinia.
Ci sono tre aeroporti, se si vuole arrivare in aereo. Oppure con il traghetto da Civitavecchia, da Genova o da Napoli.
There are three airports if one wishes to arrive by plane. Or by ferry from Civitavecchia, from Genoa, or from Naples.
Captions 70-71, L'Italia a tavola Interrogazione sulla SardegnaPlay Caption
If you go to Venice, you will undoubtedly take a ferry at some point. Here, the local means of transportation is il vaporetto (the steamship). The name comes from il vapore (the steam). There are stops you get off at, just like for busses, subways, and trains in mainland cities.
When you need speed, you opt for un motoscafo (a motorboat, a speedboat). That's what the police use.
Another boat name used in Venice, but other places, too, is battello.
Per arrivare a Murano, basta prendere un battello a Venezia e in pochi minuti si arriva.
To get to Murano, all you have to do is take a passenger boat in Venice, and in just a few minutes, you get there.
Captions 23-25, In giro per l'Italia Venezia - Part 8Play Caption
Interestingly, when Italians use the noun la canoa, they often mean "kayak." The noun kayak exists as well. When they want to refer to a canoe, they'll say la canoa canadese (the Canadian canoe).
Nelle gole dell'Alcantara, si possono praticare sport estremi come l'idrospeed, che consiste nello scendere attraverso le gole, ma anche la più tranquilla canoa.
In the Alcantara gorges one can practice extreme sports like riverboarding, which consists of going down the gorges, but also the calmer kayak.
Captions 19-21, Linea Blu Sicilia - Part 10Play Caption
To use a canoe or a kayak you need a paddle— la pagaia.
If we want to talk about a rowboat, it's una barca a remi. Un remo is "an oar," so we need 2 of them in una barca a remi. The verb to row is remare.
In Venice, there are gondolas, and they are rowed or paddled with just one oar.
Questa asimmetria è voluta per dare più spazio al gondoliere per remare con il suo unico remo.
This asymmetry is needed to give more space to the gondolier to row with his one and only oar.
Captions 18-19, In giro per l'Italia Venezia - Part 5Play Caption
A common expression having to do with rowing is:
Tirare i remi in barca (to pull the oars back in the boat). You stop rowing. Figuratively, you stop trying, you give up. Or, you've finished your job so you don't have to "row" any longer. Maybe you've retired! This nuanced expression can tend towards a positive or negative intention and interpretation.
Finally, we have la zattera (the raft). It's often primitive, often made of wood.
Are there kinds of boats for which you would like to know the Italian equivalent? Write to us. firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are undoubtedly other kinds of seafaring vessels we have missed here. Feel free to volunteer some you might have come across.
And to sum up, we will mention that in general, when talking about vessels that travel on the water, we can use l'imbarcazione. It's good to recognize this word and understand it, but you likely won't need it in everyday conversation. You'll hear it on the news, you'll read it in articles...