Banana boat was a term, a descriptive nickname, given to fast ships also called banana carriers engaged in the banana trade designed to transport easily spoiled bananas rapidly from tropical growing areas to northern markets that often carried passengers as well as fruit. During the first half of the twentieth century, the refrigerated ships, such as SS Antigua and SS Contessa, engaged in the Central America to United States trade also operated as luxurious passenger vessels. Surplus naval vessels were converted in some cases in the search for speed with Standard Fruit converting four U.S. Navy destroyer hulls, without machinery, to the banana carriers Masaya, Matagalpa, Tabasco and Teapa in 1932. Transfers to naval service served as transports and particularly chilled stores ships such as USS Mizar, the United Fruit passenger and banana carrier Quirigua, and the lead ship of a group that were known as the Mizar class of stores ships. Modern banana boats tend to be reefer ships or other refrigerated ships that carry cooled bananas on one leg of a voyage, then general cargo on the return leg.
The large fruit companies such as Standard Fruit Company, United Fruit Company in the United States and Elders & Fyffes Shipping, which itself came under control of the United Fruit Company in 1910, in the banana trade acquired or built ships for the purpose, some strictly banana carriers and others with passenger accommodations.