The Vikings loved boats and sailing. Viking ships were the cornerstone of their expansion. Without them there would have been no Viking age. At least it would have been a very different one.
It is not entirely known if the need to expand caused advances in Viking boat construction. It might also have been advances in ship building that enabled the Vikings to seek expansion.
When we think about Viking boats we usually think of the ships that look like the ones dug up in Gogstad and Oseberg (both reconstructed and on display in Viking ship museums). But these ships aren’t the typical Viking longboat. We can generally categorize the Viking ships by their functionality. Small fishing boats, merchant ships and warships.
The warships or longboats were built for speed and to be as independent of the wind as possible. They also needed to be able to take some cargo (loot).The merchant ships were built to carry much more load and to be more seaworthy in order to travel the open sea. These were more or less open boats so the conditions must have been really harsh sometimes when the weather was bad.
The Gokstad and Oseberg ships don’t seem to fit into this category and probably were built with a special purpose (these were burial ships after all). The Viking boats also didn’t just appear on the scene looking like the ones we have in our minds. They were developed from ships used centuries before the Viking age arrived. However, the ships all have many characteristics in common.
Unfortunately no written document as survived (maybe even never written at all) which details the construction method of the ships. Most likely the shipbuilders passed on their knowledge to their students as they built each ship. Excavated ships give us some hint, but the rest of the knowledge has been found in the viking sagas, poems, traveler’s tales, wood and stone carvings and, of course, the Bayeux Tapestry.
The Vikings had huge influence on shipbuilding in the territories that the they settled. During the Viking age and for a long time after the Viking age ended, the dominant vessels in north-west Europe were various forms of the Viking long boats.