As we English learners do, I fed words to google to find the most popular variation. This is what I ended up with:

     Word:              Result count:
A    "smuggle boat"     56
B    "smuggle ship"     94
C    "smuggler boat"    35,500 
D    "smuggler ship"    40,900 
E    "smuggler's boat"  31,900 
F    "smuggler's ship"  11,800 
G    "smugglers boat"   16,200 
H    "smugglers ship"   34,400 
I    "smuggling boat"   28,500 
J    "smuggling ship"   27,000 

After that my reasoning is as such:

  • A and B is out. I'm guessing it's because here "smuggle" is in verb-form. I rack my brain for other "verb compound words" (or whatever you want to call them!) but I can't come up with anything good.
  • I think either of the other variations (C-J) would be fine? I found the result dip in F peculiar, but I figure that "smugglers" and "smuggler's" is actually the same thing and if you add those results together it evens out.
  • Are there any better words to describe a smuggler's ship? All of those results seems low to me.
  • The nuance between ship and boat is almost synonymous here, correct? The impressions I get is that "ship" might hint of something larger? (sorry if this is a different question!)

Please correct any of my faulty reasoning above! Which one sounds most normal, or is it all the same?

I think my native language "bleeds in", and smuggle ship feels natural to me, even though I now believe it to be wrong. Perhaps I've just read too much Harry Potter - Muggle this, smuggle that!

Thanks for your time!

  • 1
    Are you feeding these phrases to Google Books? That's a decent approach, but only if you read the passages in which the phrase appears to see how it is used.
    – TimR
    Oct 2, 2018 at 14:42
  • I see! No, I just fed them the standard search engine using "quoted phrases" to find exact matches. Most of the time I get a clear winner. Now that I'm aware of google books I'll be sure to try it out though!
    – ippi
    Oct 2, 2018 at 14:56
  • 3
    If you see the phrase used in the 20th or 21st century in at least a few books, note the type of book, and the context in which the phrase appears, and then you can forget about making (possibly unsound) judgments based on raw hit counts against websites.
    – TimR
    Oct 2, 2018 at 15:07
  • 1
    The count for "Smugglers boat" should be added to the count for "Smuggler's boat" because the former is a typo or grammatical error. It could be "smugglers' boat" though if it belonged to more than one smuggler jointly.
    – Ben
    Oct 2, 2018 at 18:06
  • 1
    Please note a boat is < 60' (feet). A ship is > 60', with the notable exception being a u-boat (submarine) is does not follow this rule. Also, would you also like to include ships known for smuggling capability, like the clipper ships.
    – Jason
    Oct 3, 2018 at 17:21

2 Answers 2


C-F are all correct with shades of meaning and context.

A boat is smaller than a ship, so a smuggler's boat probably stays near the coast, while a smuggler's ship might be seaworthy. The two could work together, a larger ship that stays offshore storing contraband and a small boat (tender) that ferries it to shore. A ship generally needs a proper dock, but a boat might be able to land on any beach. There is no clear difference that separates boat and ship so they are often interchangeable.

Replace "smuggler" with "pirate" and it breaks down into similar forms. A pirate ship is a generic vessel used in piracy, while a pirate's ship is a specific vessel owned by a pirate.

G-H suggest a boat or ship filled with smugglers, the way a cargo ship is filled with cargo. The high Google ranking might be because the apostrophe in smuggler's or smugglers' has been omitted. This phrase would be accurate in certain sentences, but it would be less common.

I-J are awkward in the same way that A-B are. They suggest a vessel that was created for the purpose of smuggling, possibly so specialized that would not be useful as a regular vessel.

in response to comments, an example of "smuggling boat" is here:

smuggling boat
A lancha carrying three crewmen and 700 lbs. of cocaine is boarded by the Coast Guard several hundred miles off Mexico Sept. 6, 2017. Coast Guard video image.

Coast Guard hunts new generation ‘low-profile’ drug smuggling boats

in contrast to a "smuggler's boat" which is here:

smuggler's boat
The super yacht Equanimity approaches the Boustead Cruise Centre in Port Klang, Selangor, Malaysia, on Tuesday.
Photo: Joshua Paul/Bloomberg News

Corruption Currents: Malaysia Takes Hold of Seized Yacht

One is used for the purpose of smuggling, the other is a trophy of the ill-gotten gains.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 2, 2018 at 23:03

Feeding words into google is not the best way to go here.

A smuggler is a person who brings goods into a country illegally.

A boat is a watercraft.

Therefore, a smuggler's boat is a boat used by a smuggler or that belongs to a smuggler to carry out that activity.

A possessive using an apostrophe s means possession or ownership.

The boat of a smuggler=a smuggler's boat.

This is just a case of simple possession. Like: a juggler's hat, or a dancer's shoes.

Please note: ship would just mean something bigger than a boat.

[No, this is not a muggle's boat. Ha ha.]

In terms of the google hits:

A "smuggle boat" 56 [non-standard]
B "smuggle ship" 94 [non-standard]
C "smuggler boat" 35,500 [non-standard,implies it is a "type" of boat]
D "smuggler ship" 40,900 [same as above]
E "smuggler's boat" 31,900 [correct, one that belongs to a smuggler]
F "smuggler's ship" 11,800 [correct, one that belongs to a smuggler]
G "smugglers boat" 16,200 [sub-standard grammar, no apostrophe]
H "smugglers ship" 34,400 [same as above]
I "smuggling boat" 28,500 [OK, a boat used for smuggling activities]
J "smuggling ship" 27,000 [OK, same as above]

Boats can be identified by type of the activity performed on them: fishing boat, sailing boat, pearling boat so smuggling boat is OK. The style and design of boats varies widely, however, and not every fishing boat was specifically designed for fishing. It could be a dingy and still be called a fishing boat.

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