The exact origins of the dhow are lost to history. Most scholars believe that it originated in India between 600 BC to 600 AD. Some claim that the sambuk, a type of dhow, may be derived from the Portuguese caravel.
The Yemeni Hadhrami people, as well as Omanis, for centuries came to Beypore, in Kerala, India for their dhows. This was because of the good timber in the Kerala forests, the availability of good coir rope, and the skilled carpenters who specialized in ship building. In former times, the sheathing planks of a dhow's hull were held together by coconut rope. Beypore dhows are known as 'Uru' in Malayalam, the local language of Kerala. Settlers from Yemen, known as 'Baramis', are still active in making urus in Kerala.
In the 1920s, British writers identified Al Hudaydah as the center for dhow building. Those built in Al Hudaydah were smaller in size, and used for travel along the coasts. They were constructed of acacia found in Yemen.
Captain Alan Villiers (1903–1982) documented the days of sailing trade in the Indian Ocean by sailing on dhows between 1938 and 1939 taking numerous photographs and publishing books on the subject of dhow navigation.
Even to the present day, dhows make commercial journeys between the Persian Gulf and East Africa using sails as their only means of propulsion. Their cargo is mostly dates and fish to East Africa and mangrove timber to the lands in the Persian Gulf. They often sail south with the monsoon in winter or early spring, and back again to Arabia in late spring or early summer.
For celestial navigation, dhow sailors have traditionally used the kamal, an observation device that determines latitude by finding the angle of the Pole Star above the horizon.
Boum (بوم) or dhangi – a large-sized dhow with a stern that is tapering in shape and a more symmetrical overall structure. The Arab boum has a very high prow, which is trimmed in the Indian version.
Ghanjah (غنجة) or kotiya – a large vessel, similar to the Baghlah, with a curved stem and a sloping, ornately carved transom.
Jahazi or jihazi (جهازي). A fishing or trading dhow with a broad hull similar to the Jalibut, common in Lamu Island and the coast of Oman. It is also used in Bahrain for the pearl industry. The word comes from jahāz (جهاز), a Persian word for "ship".
Jalibut or jelbut (جالبوت). A small to medium-sized dhow. It is the modern version of the shu'ai with a shorter prow stem piece. Most jalibuts are fitted with engines.
Sambuk or sambuq (صنبوق) – the largest type of dhow seen in the Persian Gulf today. It has a characteristic keel design, with a sharp curve right below the top of the prow. It has been one of the most successful dhows in history. The word is cognate with the Greekσαμβύκηsambúkē, ultimately from Middle Persiansambūk. 
Shu'ai (شوعي). Medium-sized dhow. Formerly the most common dhow in the Persian Gulf used for fishing as well as for coastal trade.
Zaruq – small dhow, slightly larger than a barijah
The term "dhow" is sometimes also applied to certain smaller lateen-sail rigged boats traditionally used in the Red Sea, the eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf area, as well as in the Indian Ocean from Madagascar to the Bay of Bengal. These include the feluccas used in Egypt, Sudan and Iraq, and the Dhoni used in the Maldives, as well as the tranki, ghrab and ghalafah. All these vessels have common elements with the dhow. On the Swahili Coast, in countries such as Kenya, the Swahili word used for dhow is "jahazi".
Dhow seen off the coast of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Dhow seen in the Indian Ocean
A dhow in the desert in Qatar
A painting of a Baghlah, traditional deep sea dhow.
Bowen, Richard LeBaron, Essay on the tradition of painting eyes, known as oculi, on the bows of boats among mariners and fishermen from ancient times to the present. Found particularly in the Indian Ocean region.
Clifford W. Hawkins, The dhow: an illustrated history of the dhow and its world.