As early as prehistoric times, the Egyptians used boats for transport, as may be seen from pots from this period. They depict quite large boats with many oars, many crew members and sometimes even a cabin. It is possible that these boats, despite their size, were made of papyrus. We have many representations in tombs of the Old Kingdom showing boats being made of papyrus. They were mainly used for 'ordinary' sailing, including crossing the Nile and hunting and fishing in the Delta. For heavier work, such as transporting huge stone blocks used to construct the pyramids, much larger wooden boats were built. They had a curving hull, several steering oars and a mast. A number of boats from the Old Kingdom have been found, including the solar bark of Khufu, whose planks are tied together with ropes. In addition to finds of (parts of) actual boats from the Middle Kingdom, the many model boats found in the burials tell us what they looked like and how they were made at this time. A number of technical aspects appear to have been improved in the Middle Kingdom. For example, the mast could be lowered when it was not needed. Steering was done by operating the steering oars with ropes. These developments continued, and in the New Kingdom boats often have several cabins and two steering oars, worked by ropes. Of the models found from this period, those from the tomb of Tutankhamun are the most famous.
Over the centuries, the shape of the boats did not change all that much. Only in the Saite Period, under the influence of the Greeks, did the shape begin to adapt to that of the boats of historical sea-going peoples such as the Greeks and the Phoenicians, and later also the Romans. The wood needed to build large boats sometimes came from Egypt itself, but was usually imported from the Lebanon, even as far back as the Old Kingdom. From the 20th Dynasty we have the Tale of Wenamun, who was sent to Syria to collect wood to build boats. Boats were the quickest and easiest mode of transport in Egypt, so normal that the Egyptians also imagined that the sun crossed the heavens and through the underworld in a boat. When travelling north, the Nile current carried the boats along, with the help where necessary of the oars. Travelling upstream was done with the help of the wind which nearly always blows from the north in Egypt. As far as is known, the Egyptians preferred to stay close to the coast when they had to sail on the sea. Only in the last centuries of ancient Egyptian culture did this change, when proper sea-going ships became available.