a small, armed warship of light draft, used in ports where the water is shallow.
any small ship carrying mounted guns.

Origin of gunboat

First recorded in 1770–80; gun1 + boat Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for gunboats

Historical Examples of gunboats

  • Besides which they had frigates and a cloud of small armed vessels, gunboats and the like.

    The Admiral

    Douglas Sladen

  • Instead of ten vessels, there were only two accompanied by four gunboats, and no troops for landing.

  • In addition to the land batteries, the gunboats in the river were hurling huge shells at us.

    The Southern Soldier Boy

    James Carson Elliott

  • The principle was the same as to gunboats, and the objection of time necessary for building did not exist.

    Albert Gallatin

    John Austin Stevens

  • The garrison also attacked the besiegers and received much assistance from French gunboats moored near the shore.

British Dictionary definitions for gunboats



a small shallow-draft vessel carrying mounted guns and used by coastal patrols, etc
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for gunboats


1793, from gun + boat. Gunboat diplomacy is from 1916, originally with reference to Western policies in China.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper