Early fishing vessels included rafts, dugout canoes, reed boats, and boats constructed from a frame covered with hide or tree bark, such as coracles. The oldest boats found by archaeological excavation are dugout canoes dating back to the Neolithic Period around 7,000-9,000 years ago. These canoes were often cut from coniferous tree logs, using simple stone tools. A 7000 year-old sea going boat made from reeds and tar has been found in Kuwait. These early vessels had limited capability; they could float and move on water, but were not suitable for use any great distance from the shoreline. They were used mainly for fishing and hunting.
The development of fishing boats took place in parallel with the development of boats built for trade and war. Early navigators began to use animal skins or woven fabrics for sails. Affixed to a pole set upright in the boat, these sails gave early boats more range, allowing voyages of exploration
According to the FAO, at the end of 2004, the world fishing fleet included 1.8 million traditional craft of various types which were operated by sail and oars. These figures for small fishing vessels are probably under reported. The FAO compiles these figures largely from national registers. These records often omit smaller boats where registration is not required or where fishing licences are granted by provincial or municipal authorities. Indonesia reportedly has about 700,000 current fishing boats, 25 percent of which are dugout canoes, and half of which are without motors. The Philippines have reported a similar number of small fishing boats.
Traditional fishing boats are usually characteristic of the stretch of coast along which they operate. They evolve over time to meet the local conditions, such as the materials available locally for boat building, the type of sea conditions the boats will encounter, and the demands of the local fisheries.