I remember some time ago there was some huge problem regarding some question that had something to do with a boat, and I think I missed that topic completely. As I see it being mentioned every now and then, I'd just like to know what it was about.

  • 55
    What bothers me is that "What should I take to program on a boat?" is programming related, unlike, say, "What sort of boat should a programmer own?" Commented Aug 14, 2009 at 20:23
  • @David - exactly
    – tim
    Commented Aug 14, 2009 at 21:23
  • 5
    What is the actual meme? Commented Aug 19, 2009 at 16:07
  • 10
    Hmmm I'm glad I found out about this. I've been considering living on a boat for awhile now and may have accidentally asked the very same question. =x Commented Sep 6, 2009 at 2:08
  • Mine was first though :P Commented May 6, 2010 at 6:31
  • 1
    A partial screen capture.
    – Arjan
    Commented Jan 13, 2011 at 10:58
  • It's about programming... on a boat!
    – Kerrek SB
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 22:44
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    The boat programming question can be seen at web.archive.org/web/20100426125115/http://www.mattmcdole.com/… and kaeding.name/articles/2009/05/01/programming-at-sea Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 21:06
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    @Arjan At some point, the image was deleted. I found it here
    – tbodt
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 1:47
  • The meme now seems to be attempting to colonise Travel.SE. Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 23:10
  • Questions about AirBNB are perfectly legitimate for Travel, even if the lodging is on a boat. So that question (although it is worth a downvote) isn't really a "boat-programming" question.
    – WGroleau
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 16:12
  • Never heard the meme, but if you're planning on programming in Datatrieve, the right boat is clearly a yacht! Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 19:44
  • Never heard the meme, but if programming on a boat, I'd make sure to use floating point.
    – Lundin
    Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 14:37

10 Answers 10


jjnguy's answer captures the part about the history of the meme, but I don't think he captures why it became a meme and what the meme represents.

Basically, the boat-programming question was at the core of what it meant for a question to be programming related. At the time, SO had a lot of questions that were, essentially, "What is as a good such-and-such for programmers?" (e.g. "What is your favourite food, as a programmer?", "What is the best movie for programmers?") After a long debate on the SO blog (since Meta didn't exist at the time) it was eventually decided that all questions like this are not programming related.

The fundamental rule is you can't just stick "for programmers" on a question to make it programming related. The boat-programming question, due to its timing and popularity, is the poster child for this kind of question. Whenever a question is asked today that is not programming related but has "for programmers" tacked on, the boat-programming meme is brought up to indicate this.

  • 42
    I know this is an old post, but I am still curious, does anyone know what the actual question was (I don't have 10k rep, so I can't see the actual question since it was deleted)
    – Ephraim
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 3:04
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    @Ephraim Apparently the boat question was one of only two that were purged from the system, so even if you have 10k to see deleted questions, this one is just gone.
    – Izkata
    Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 2:49
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    I think this answer would be better if it didn't use examples like "food" or "movies" which seem like a real stretch in terms of their relationship to programming. The "boat question" seems like a perfectly legitimate "super user" type of question. The only reason it doesn't belong on SO is that that SO is about the process of programming, including programming tools, and doesn't extend to general computing infrastructure. Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 17:41
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    @Ephraim The only known capture of the question is here
    – tbodt
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 1:42
  • @tbodt Are you sure this was the exact question? It was tagged as being "not-programming-related", so it seems weird that it would be used as an example of a programming-question-that's-not-really-about-programming-but-is-still-acting-like-one, as it was marked as such. It was edited, and there's no archive of the edits (not surprising), so that tag could not have been in the original post, but still I wonder if this is the correct origin for the meme as-is. Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 19:36
  • @SonOfSam Yes it's the correct origin.
    – Jason C
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 18:42
  • Where can I ask about movies and food for programmers if I can't do it on SO? Would meta be appropriate?
    – user282657
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 15:05
  • 2
    @Daniel: Nowhere in the Stack Exchange network are those appropriate questions.
    – Welbog
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 15:37
  • 1
    @Daniel if you can explain the special needs of programmers ask in the film or food parts. the answer might be "Sneakers" and "Ramen".
    – Jasen
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 8:55

Basically (IIRC):

  1. A question about what is needed to be able to program on a boat was asked
  2. It was closed as non-programming related, or not a real question
  3. People were up in arms about it
  4. Lots of edit wars ensued (I believe)
  5. More arguments arose
  6. Question was deleted
  7. We have the boat programming meme!

A reference to boat programming is usually referring to joke questions, or slightly 'off' questions on Stack Overflow.

Check out Welbog's answer for a little more back story.
Shog9 also posted a link to a captured version of the question. So, now you can see what all(most) the fuss was about.

As Kyle notes, the boat question was featured on the podcast as well. That is how it gained so much popularity/infamy.

  • 1
    Yeah, I saw you linked to mine, so I had to link back.
    – jjnguy
    Commented Aug 14, 2009 at 14:39
  • 17
    adding to the list: 8. ??? and 9. Profit
    – hayalci
    Commented Aug 17, 2009 at 11:50

I'm surprised no one mentioned this before, but the reason why boat programming got the attention it did was because it was featured on the podcast (episode 50, 2009-04-21, from 1 h 02 min 43 sec). This caused the question, which was performing poorly, to get a number of very good answers. Unfortunately, Jeff later learned that it was a joke question, deleted it, and posted on the blog asking users to refrain from posting questions like these in the future. The boat programming question was also permanently excised from the system (not even 10kers can see it) - the only record of it is hosted here.

Also in the discussion of the joke question on the blog was the revelation that Jeff had broken the privacy policy and revealed the IP address of the poster. Since then, Tim has, on many occasions referred back to the boat programming question (example), and I suppose it's happened often enough to have been picked up as a meme.

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    we revised the privacy policy to allow posting IPs in the case of abuse. Commented Aug 15, 2009 at 23:57
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    The link to the captured question is giving a 404. Anyone has another reference? Commented Jan 18, 2010 at 2:40
  • @obvio171 I know this is old, but in case people are looking for this, Shog9 posted a linked to an archived version of this.
    – Aske B.
    Commented Sep 22, 2012 at 11:41
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    The linked "only record" of the post is gone, but the Wayback Machine still has a copy: web.archive.org/web/20100426125115/http://www.mattmcdole.com/… Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 19:32
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    Note that the privacy policy was revised retroactively. Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 16:16
  • 2
    What's wrong with a joke question if it ultimately results in good answers?
    – JAB
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 13:42
  • 2
    @JAB Because the question could still not belong here. What if people started asking questions about pizza and it became a thing-- those questions would be off-topic and bad for the site, even if their answers were good. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 12:40

Welbog and jjnguy give a good overview of the essential mood of the meme. All I have to add is a link to an archived version of an archived version of the question itself.

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    Boat must've sunk... :-P
    – Shog9
    Commented Jan 19, 2010 at 21:29
  • 1
    Ignore the earlier comment, the link now works again.
    – Pops
    Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 20:39
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    I updated it to point to archive.org (so far as I know, the only remaining archive of this question) @Pop
    – Shog9
    Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 20:47
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    D'oh, I didn't check the dates. Okay, awesome.
    – Pops
    Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 20:54

I was disappointed to see a perfectly good question and a great answer deleted so I added the boat programming tag to a few of my questions. People got up in arms about it and accused me of trying to destroy SO and ruin the community. Lots of editing on that particular day.

I was politely asked by an SO staff member to stop using that tag. I stopped using it.

Ironic because some of the people who found me using the boat programming tag so terrible were using and creating their own ludicrous tags.

Jeff asked me to post a picture with my boat set up. I will when I have time and remember the camera.

I also posted a question about piracy - it was an unappreciated post that asked both about software piracy for software written on a boat and about real high-seas piracy (that you would encounter as a programmer on a boat). (Note at the time there were lots of news stories about piracy). That one got removed. (I blame lack of humor for that deletion)

  • 4
    For what it's worth, boat programming is a real problem in today's society. I for one feel safer not having it around. :P
    – jjnguy
    Commented Aug 14, 2009 at 15:52
  • @Tim - meta.stackexchange.com/questions/8479/… Although it's not serious at all ;)
    – Tom Ritter
    Commented Aug 14, 2009 at 20:00
  • @Tom, I saw that and I am going to post there eventually. Summer is a busy time for me.
    – tim
    Commented Aug 17, 2009 at 14:37

Someone posted what is believed to be a joke question about programming on a boat. Jeff deleted it. Several people got offended. Now we liken other similar nonsensical joke/stupid posts along with boat programming.

  • 5
    Also: youtube.com/watch?v=R7yfISlGLNU&feature=channel_page
    – Eric
    Commented Aug 14, 2009 at 13:42
  • 4
    WARNING: Explicit (but hilarious) lyrics in the video linked above. Commented Aug 14, 2009 at 13:58
  • 2
    meh "This video is not available in your country due to copyright restrictions." =-s
    – fretje
    Commented Aug 14, 2009 at 14:11
  • 1
    Man, I love that song...I need to get to work now...and stop being so profane...
    – jjnguy
    Commented Aug 14, 2009 at 14:19

Hey, I found another boat-programming question!


(deleted, so you will need 10k rep to see it)

  • I think I saw one fairly recently about whether a stint in the navy would be good for one's career. It's probably deleted also.
    – mmyers
    Commented Aug 16, 2009 at 1:36
  • On SuperUser too: superuser.com/questions/23534/…
    – John Fouhy
    Commented Aug 17, 2009 at 1:09

The boat question is back in a new form on Super User:

Computer and Internet use on a boat?


I am five years or more late to answer, otherwise I would suggest him to buy a Clipper.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clipper and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clipper_(programming_language)


IIRC, some guy was going on a boat and sailing around the world and wanted to know what to bring with him (books, tools, documents, etc), because he wouldn't have an Internet connection for extended periods of time.


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