What is a Yacht?

What is a yacht? It might seem like an odd question, but it’s actually a very sensible one. What makes a yacht a yacht? And when does a boat become a ship? Here’s what you need to know.

Yacht origins – A Dutch ‘jaght’

A yacht  is a craft used for pleasure and sport. The name comes from the Dutch word jaght, which translates as ‘hunter’, a fast, light sailing vessel used in the past by the nation’s navy to chase pirates and other n’er do wells. When the English King Charles the Second was carried by ‘jacht’ from the Netherlands back home, in 1660, the word soon came to mean a vessel in which important people were carried, not just any old boat.

What defines a yacht – Cruisers, superyachts and mega yachts

These days there are two types of yacht, sailing yachts and motor-powered yachts. Size-wise, yachts tend to be anything from 10m long to hundreds of feet.

  • If you own a luxury craft less than 12 metres long it’s usually called a cabin cruiser, sometimes simply a cruiser.
  • A superyacht is usually more than 24m long.
  • What is a mega yacht? They tend to be anything longer than 50 metres and there’s no upper limit! The world’s biggest yacht is 728 feet long, an awe inspiring 222 metres.

Why are yachts associated with luxury?

The fact that it’s luxurious doesn’t make it a yacht… but it does make it a luxury yacht. When King Charles the Second returned home to England aboard his Dutch jaght, his brother James, the Duke of York, fell in love with the impressive vessel, and the two brothers each had a jaght of their own built. Then they raced each other on the River Thames, the sport of sailing for pleasure was born, and it wasn’t long before the nobility of England all wanted a yacht (jaght) of their own.

Cleopatra’s Barge – Inspiring the future of luxury yachts

When the Dutch and English made their way over the Atlantic to America they carried on racing their yachts in the ‘new world’. In 1816 Cleopatra’s Barge was built, the ultimate in opulence and a craft that sealed the happy fate of these beautiful boats for good.

She was 23 feet wide and weighed 192 tons, with a couple of elegant masts. She was fitted with fifty thousand dollars’ worth of luxurious interior and cost another fifty thousand to build, a feast of rare inlaid mahogany panelling, red velvet, golden lace and genuine solid silver kitchenware. And the outside was just as glorious, a masterpiece in colourful painted stripes on the starboard side plus a herring-bone pattern to port. Incredibly rare at the time, she even boasted indoor plumbing.

So luxurious that she soon became King Kamehameha II’s Royal Yacht, she was re-named Pride of Hawaii in his honour before being wrecked off the Hawaiian coast in 1824. An investor looked into creating a replica in 2008, at an estimated cost of more than seven million US dollars, but the project never got off the ground.

The invention of steam and combustion engines

The internal combustion engine followed the steam engine, and motor yachts were eventually born. The Great Depression in 1930s America put paid to the fledgling luxury yacht scene and ushered in a trend for smaller, neater, less expensive yachts. From the 1980s onwards, new developments in materials science and computer modelling expanded the possibilities yet again. 

Is it a yacht, ship or boat?

So how do you know whether you’re looking at a yacht, ship or boat? At first glance it’s complicated. A yacht tends to be fancier than a boat or ship. As we’ve mentioned, these days the word ‘yacht’ itself comes with connotations of luxury, a smart personal vessel designed for recreation, relaxation and comfort, not work.

A ship is larger than a yacht, and the term is usually used to describe a working craft rather than something recreational. A ship needs a full crew, whereas a yacht doesn’t always, and a boat rarely does. A boat can be anything from a basic rowing boat upwards, and plenty of captains affectionately call their ship a ‘boat’, no matter how large or small it happens to be. In fact many people call any floating object more complex than a raft a ‘boat’, which means it’s often more of a cover-all term for something that floats than a specific definition for a type or style of craft.

In summary – here’s a definition of yacht vs boat vs ship:

  • Boats are used for both commerce and recreation.
  • Yachts tend to be built for fun.
  • Boats are smaller than ships.
  • Yachts can be any size.
  • Ships are large, take to the seas, and are usually commercial.
  • Both boats and yachts can have either motors or sails.

Next time someone asks you what’s a yacht, you’ll be able to give them a satisfactory answer. If you’re in the market for a stunning yacht, we offer the very best in luxury yachts. And our excellent world-class reputation means our yachts are world-beaters, the very best of British. If you’d like to explore the potential, we’ll be delighted to oblige. Contact one of our team at Princess Motor Yacht Sales at sales@princess.co.uk or +44 (0)1489 557755.