Koch (boat)
The Koch was a special type of small one or two mast wooden sailing ship
Sailing ship
The term sailing ship is now used to refer to any large wind-powered vessel. In technical terms, a ship was a sailing vessel with a specific rig of at least three masts, square rigged on all of them, making the sailing adjective redundant. In popular usage "ship" became associated with all large...

s designed and used in Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 for transpolar
Arctic Circle
The Arctic Circle is one of the five major circles of latitude that mark maps of the Earth. For Epoch 2011, it is the parallel of latitude that runs north of the Equator....

 voyages in ice conditions of the Arctic
The Arctic is a region located at the northern-most part of the Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Russia, Greenland, the United States, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. The Arctic region consists of a vast, ice-covered ocean, surrounded by treeless permafrost...

 seas, popular among the Pomors
Pomors or Pomory are Russian settlers and their descendants on the White Sea coast. It is also term of self-identification for the descendants of Russian, primarily Novgorod, settlers of Pomorye , living on the White Sea coasts and the territory whose southern border lies on a watershed which...


Because of its additional skin-planking (called kotsa) and Arctic design of the body and the rudder
A rudder is a device used to steer a ship, boat, submarine, hovercraft, aircraft or other conveyance that moves through a medium . On an aircraft the rudder is used primarily to counter adverse yaw and p-factor and is not the primary control used to turn the airplane...

, it could sail without being damaged in the waters full of ice blocks and ice floes. The koch was the unique ship of this class for several centuries.


The development of koch began in the 11th century, when Russians started settling of the White Sea
White Sea
The White Sea is a southern inlet of the Barents Sea located on the northwest coast of Russia. It is surrounded by Karelia to the west, the Kola Peninsula to the north, and the Kanin Peninsula to the northeast. The whole of the White Sea is under Russian sovereignty and considered to be part of...

 shores. This type of ship was in wide use during the heyday of Russian polar navigation in the 15th and 16th centuries. There is documentary proof that in those days the private Russian civil fleet in the Arctic seas numbered up to 7,400 small ships in a single year. In the 17th century kochs were widely used on Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

n rivers during the Russian exploration and conquest of Siberia
Russian conquest of Siberia
The Russian conquest of Siberia took place in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Siberian Khanate had become a loose political structure of vassalages which were becoming undermined by the activities of Russian explorers who, though numerically outnumbered, pressured the various family-based...

 and the Far East
Russian Far East
Russian Far East is a term that refers to the Russian part of the Far East, i.e., extreme east parts of Russia, between Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia and the Pacific Ocean...

. In 1715, during the Great Northern War
Great Northern War
The Great Northern War was a conflict in which a coalition led by the Tsardom of Russia successfully contested the supremacy of the Swedish Empire in northern Central Europe and Eastern Europe. The initial leaders of the anti-Swedish alliance were Peter I the Great of Russia, Frederick IV of...

, the Russian Arctic shipbuilding and navigation were undermined by the ukase
A ukase , in Imperial Russia, was a proclamation of the tsar, government, or a religious leader that had the force of law...

A decree is a rule of law issued by a head of state , according to certain procedures . It has the force of law...

) of tsar
Tsar is a title used to designate certain European Slavic monarchs or supreme rulers. As a system of government in the Tsardom of Russia and Russian Empire, it is known as Tsarist autocracy, or Tsarism...

 Peter the Great
Peter I of Russia
Peter the Great, Peter I or Pyotr Alexeyevich Romanov Dates indicated by the letters "O.S." are Old Style. All other dates in this article are New Style. ruled the Tsardom of Russia and later the Russian Empire from until his death, jointly ruling before 1696 with his half-brother, Ivan V...

. According to the ukase, it was permitted to build only the novomanerniye ("new-mannered") vessels, that is the civil ships, which could also be used for military purposes. The koch with its special anti-icebound features did not suit this aim.

In the 19th century the anti-ice floe protective features of koch were adopted to the first modern icebreaker
An icebreaker is a special-purpose ship or boat designed to move and navigate through ice-covered waters. Although the term usually refers to ice-breaking ships, it may also refer to smaller vessels .For a ship to be considered an icebreaker, it requires three traits most...

s, and in fact koch may be regarded as the most ancient form of icebreaker, though wooden and relatively small.


The keel
In boats and ships, keel can refer to either of two parts: a structural element, or a hydrodynamic element. These parts overlap. As the laying down of the keel is the initial step in construction of a ship, in British and American shipbuilding traditions the construction is dated from this event...

 length of koch was about 10–25 meters (about 30–70 feet). It had 13 combination ribs, each consisting of several details . The keel was also a combination of several parts. Bulkhead
Bulkhead (partition)
A bulkhead is an upright wall within the hull of a ship or within the fuselage of an airplane. Other kinds of partition elements within a ship are decks and deckheads.-Etymology:...

s divided the body into several cross-section compartments. Each compartment (cherdak) served a specific purpose. There invariably were the fore-part compartment used as the crew's quarters, the stern cabin for the captain
Captain (nautical)
A sea captain is a licensed mariner in ultimate command of the vessel. The captain is responsible for its safe and efficient operation, including cargo operations, navigation, crew management and ensuring that the vessel complies with local and international laws, as well as company and flag...

, and the cargo hold amidships. The koch had the flat deck. A typical koch carried one square sail on each of its two masts, and, usually, two triangular sails on the bowsprit
The bowsprit of a sailing vessel is a pole extending forward from the vessel's prow. It provides an anchor point for the forestay, allowing the fore-mast to be stepped farther forward on the hull.-Origin:...

. A distinctive peculiarity of the koch was the relatively big size of its square rudder fin which compensated for the special extra-slim design of the upper part of the rudder. This type of ship had two 70 pound (32 kg) main anchor
An anchor is a device, normally made of metal, that is used to connect a vessel to the bed of a body of water to prevent the vessel from drifting due to wind or current. The word derives from Latin ancora, which itself comes from the Greek ἄγκυρα .Anchors can either be temporary or permanent...

s and, very often, light anchors. Naval historians think that the light anchors could have been used for mooring kochs to the edge of the ice fields.

Special Arctic design included the rounded lines of the ship's body below the water line, an additional belt of ice-floe resistant flush skin-planking (made of oak
An oak is a tree or shrub in the genus Quercus , of which about 600 species exist. "Oak" may also appear in the names of species in related genera, notably Lithocarpus...

 or larch
Larches are conifers in the genus Larix, in the family Pinaceae. Growing from 15 to 50m tall, they are native to much of the cooler temperate northern hemisphere, on lowlands in the north and high on mountains further south...

) along the variable water-line, a false keel for on-ice portage
Portage or portaging refers to the practice of carrying watercraft or cargo over land to avoid river obstacles, or between two bodies of water. A place where this carrying occurs is also called a portage; a person doing the carrying is called a porter.The English word portage is derived from the...

 (and for damage prevention from running aground in shallow waters), and the shaft-like upper part and wide lower part (below water-line) of the rudder. Another Arctic feature was the invariable presence aboard any koch of two or more iceboats and of a windlass
The windlass is an apparatus for moving heavy weights. Typically, a windlass consists of a horizontal cylinder , which is rotated by the turn of a crank or belt...

 with anchor rope. Each iceboat had the cargo capacity of 1.5 to 2.0 metric tons (3,300 to 4,400 lb) and was equipped with long runners (5 to 7 m/16 to 23 ft) for portage on ice. If a koch became trapped in the ice, its rounded bodylines below the water-line would allow for the ship, squeezed by the ice-fields, to be pushed up out of the water and onto the ice with no damage to the body.

Besides the anti-icebound equipment, the captains of kochs had the traditional set of navigation instruments, including a sundial
A sundial is a device that measures time by the position of the Sun. In common designs such as the horizontal sundial, the sun casts a shadow from its style onto a surface marked with lines indicating the hours of the day. The style is the time-telling edge of the gnomon, often a thin rod or a...

 and a magnetic compass
A compass is a navigational instrument that shows directions in a frame of reference that is stationary relative to the surface of the earth. The frame of reference defines the four cardinal directions – north, south, east, and west. Intermediate directions are also defined...

 with floating vetromet ("wind-marker", a wooden 32-point compass rose
Compass rose
A compass rose, sometimes called a windrose, is a figure on a compass, map, nautical chart or monument used to display the orientation of the cardinal directions — North, East, South and West - and their intermediate points. It is also the term for the graduated markings found on the traditional...

 with 16 major winds). Other tools and means of navigation were the detailed charts and sailing directions, the stars, and the pilot's marks on the familiar shores.


There are two main classifications of koch subtypes. The first, a mixed classification, distinguishes between three subtypes of kochs depending on both their place of origin (Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

n and Mangazeya
Mangazeya was a Northwest Siberian trans-Ural trade colony and later city in the 16-17th centuries. Founded in 1600, it was situated on the Taz River, between the lower courses of the Ob and Yenisei Rivers flowing into the Arctic Ocean....

n) and their sea-worthiness (morskiye, that is "seafaring"). The second classification does not pay any attention to minor shipbuilding differences and divides all kochs into two categories according to the main spheres of their maritime operations: river/sea, and morskiye (seafaring) for long-range sea voyages.

The following is added from Fisher. He claims that the koch had a square sail and only one mast. The largest koches were 60 feet long and 20 feet wide(sic), with a draft of 5 or 6 feet and a crew of 6 to 12. They could hold up to 40 people or 45 tonnes of cargo. They were oval when viewed from the top or side. The flat or rounded bottom made them maneuverable when dodging ice floes, but probably unstable in a severe storm. The square sail and flat bottom meant that they would not sail well without a following wind.

Other boat types used in Siberia: Shitik
Shitik is a small broad-bottomed vessel in which parts of the case have been sewed by belts or juniper and fur-tree rods .There are two basic explanations for the origins of the name of these boats:...

, Baidarka
Baidarka is the Russian name used for Aleutian style sea kayak. The ancient Unangan name is Iqyax. The word has its origins from early Russian settlers in Alaska. Iqya-x builders who kept the tradition of building skin-on-skeleton boats alive in the 20th century include Sergie Sovoroff.A prominent...

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