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A small boat could be part of general cargo, but that would typically just mean it's unloaded at an airport and transported to the nearest body of water by land infrastructure. This is not what I'm looking for.

Instead, is there any aircraft that can directly deploy a boat to (or retrieve one from) water?

I would imagine there are cases when moving a boat by plane could be useful, especially when there's little or no infrastructure available on land.

Does such an aircraft exist?

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Yes. During and after WW2 several aircraft were converted to serve as "Dumbo" aircraft, dropping boats or rafts near people in distress. Other models were used as well, but the B-17 were among the most prominent. Most were retired when the helicopter gradually took over rescue operations.

Converted B-17 with raft

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    $\begingroup$ Put one of these on an aircraft carrier! Then you'd have a boat on a plane on a boat! $\endgroup$ – Muzer Sep 9 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ And put a little model plane on that boat, so you'd have a plane on a boat on a plane on a boat. $\endgroup$ – Tristan Sep 9 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ And paint a small ⛵ on the model plane, so there's a boat on a plane on a boat on a plane on a boat... $\endgroup$ – Nij Sep 10 at 6:39
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It is quite common for float planes to carry canoes & kayaks, e.g.

https://www.easyriderkayaks.com/canoespics/cub_scout13x.jpg

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enter image description here
Large enough helicopters do it. Above example is a Boeing CH-47 Chinook (businessinsider.com)

But since you have tagged it , not to my knowledge. It's often the other way around, seaplane tenders tending to seaplanes (or used to). (I take it by boat you don't mean the inflatable and/or small type, as those are not hard to transport.)

enter image description here
Catalina launching beaching gear (pinterest.com)

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    $\begingroup$ The Chinook can do more than lift boats. It can carry them in its "belly". Here is a video, courtesy of the USAF. More impressively, the Chinook can land on water and "swallow" a moving Zodiac boat, as shown in this video. $\endgroup$ – Rodrigo de Azevedo Sep 8 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ Here is a video of a Chinook "swallowing" a SEAL Zodiac. $\endgroup$ – Rodrigo de Azevedo Sep 8 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ Holy moly - that view from inside the bay of the Chinook, when the water comes pouring in through the back. That is some amazing flying! $\endgroup$ – Ben Hull Sep 9 at 0:26
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    $\begingroup$ The Spanish COE definition of "high speed" entry does not quite live up to the US SEALS definition of "high speed" entry. Pretty handy trick, though, no matter how fast you do it. $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Sep 10 at 18:24
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I would like to suggest the "Landseaire" flying yacht which carried boats under the wings as per this question.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Why is the boat backwards? $\endgroup$ – Camille Goudeseune Sep 9 at 20:04
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    $\begingroup$ @CamilleGoudeseune - follow the link to the other thread. Your question is exactly what that thread was about. $\endgroup$ – Paul Sinclair Sep 9 at 23:42
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    $\begingroup$ Wow, what a spirited and multifarious debate! $\endgroup$ – Camille Goudeseune Sep 10 at 2:10
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    $\begingroup$ @CamilleGoudeseune Some of ‘em can get pretty rowdy around here! $\endgroup$ – dalearn Sep 10 at 3:15
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It was one of the main roles for the Vickers Warwick in WWII.

From Wikipedia:

From 1943, Warwicks were loaded with the 1,700 lb (770 kg) Mk IA airborne lifeboat and used for air-sea rescue. The lifeboat, designed by yachtsman Uffa Fox, laden with supplies and powered by two 4 hp (3.0 kW) motors, was aimed with a bombsight near to ditched air crew and dropped by parachute into the sea from an altitude of about 700 ft (210 m).[36] Warwicks were credited with rescuing crews from Halifaxes, Lancasters, Wellingtons and B-17 Flying Fortress, and during Operation Market Garden, from Hamilcar gliders, all of which ditched in the English Channel or North Sea.[37]

enter image description here

More on airborne lifeboats...(also source for image above)

Of course, many WWII bombers carried inflatable dinghies, but I think the answer is looking for something more substantial.

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The Fernic T-9 of 1929 was prepared for an Atlantic crossing and as a precaution had removable upper engine nacelles which could double as a life raft, including an outboard engine.

Fernic T-9

A less planned use of an airplane part as a boat occurred when in 1932 the Junkers W-33 of Hans Bertram and Adolf Klausmann crashed in a remote part of Western Australia. They removed one of the floats and made it into a boat for fishing and excursions.

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    $\begingroup$ If they'd only thought to make the whole engine removable for use as a boat, complete with a water prop to swap out for the air prop, the self-rescue would have gone much faster! :) $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Sep 10 at 18:27
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Took me a while to find this photo, from my personal archive from the East Fortune Airshow 2015 of a Royal Norwegian Airforce Lockheed Orion.

enter image description hereAs I recall, the commentator stated that the orange object visible in the 'bomb bay' is an air-droppable lifeboat, for their search-and-rescue missions.

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  • $\begingroup$ That seems too small to be a lifeboat. $\endgroup$ – Nav Sep 11 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Nav It's likely an inflatable. What you see is the drop housing to keep the boat intact while falling out of the sky and on initial impact. Then once in the water it is deployed either by some manually activated mechanism (like opening a valve on a compressed air can) or automatically activated (some chemical reaction with water initiating) inflation mechanism. $\endgroup$ – wolfsshield Sep 11 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ Allegedly, the length of one of those wingtips is 7ft7in or 2.31m (seperate sources) and that looks comparable to the length of that object, which would be adequate for a one- or two-man emergency liferaft. $\endgroup$ – Mike Brockington Sep 11 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ Have a look at irvingq.com/irvingq-products-services/… and see what you think? $\endgroup$ – Mike Brockington Sep 11 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ A raft is, by definition, a kind of boat... $\endgroup$ – Mike Brockington Sep 11 at 15:24
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The Boeing C-17 Globemaster III can deploy boats. There are some videos on YouTube (example) that show the process:

enter image description here

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