Developed under the sponsorship of Henry the Navigator in the 15th century to explore the African Coast, the caravel was a sailing ship. Being smaller, lighter and faster, caravels were easily maneuverable vessels that could sail upriver in shallow coastal water.
Caravels were approximately 65 feet long and weighed between 50 to 200 tons. Due to their speed, power, economy and agility, caravels were the preferred vessel for Portuguese explorers such as Vasco da Gama and Bartolomeu Dias. They were also used as commercial and fishing vessels. Caravels were an improvement on older ships because they were easier to navigate. However, one of the major drawbacks of caravels was their limited capacity for cargo and crew.