The caravel was developed in about 1450, based on existing fishing boats under the sponsorship of Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal and soon became the preferred vessel for Portuguese explorers. Its name may derive from an ancient boat type known as carabus in Latin and καραβος in Greek, later Arabized to qārib, indicating some continuity of its carvel build through the ages. They were agile and easier to navigate, with a tonnage of 50 to 160 tons and 1 to 3 masts, with lateen triangular sails allowing beating.
Being smaller and having a shallow keel, the caravel could sail upriver in shallow coastal waters. With the lateen sails attached, it was highly maneuverable and could sail much nearer the wind, while with the square Atlantic-type sails attached, it was very fast. Its economy, speed, agility, and power made it esteemed as the best sailing vessel of its time. The limited capacity for cargo and crew were their main drawbacks, but did not hinder its success.