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What Boat Characteristics Make it a Yacht?


There are so many types of boats to choose from that it can be hard to tell one from the other. If you are looking to buy a yacht, for example, you have to wade through a growing number of terms that often overlap and are sometimes used interchangeably. For some reason, the boating world has not settled on a definition for a yacht. Potential buyers are left to answer the odd but necessary question for themselves. What Makes a Boat a Yacht? Here is everything you need to know.

What Is a Yacht?

Is what you are looking at a yacht or just a big boat? Although there is no set definition, many people in the boating community define these vessels by function, size, and amenities. The general consensus is that a yacht is any large sea vessel with luxury amenities and is used for sport, relaxation, or recreation.

Brief History of the Yacht

The name yacht is derived from ‘jaght,’ a Dutch word that means hunter. Among its first uses was referring to a fast, light sailing water vessel used by the Dutch navy to chase and capture pirates. In 1660, King Charles the Second arrived in England from the Netherlands in a ‘jacht.’ The word soon became synonymous with a vessel used to carry important people. King Charles’ brother James fell in love with the vessel and one made for himself. The brothers then raced each other on their vessels on the River Thames, soon encouraging other nobility in England to have yachts of their own made. The building of Cleopatra’s Barge in 1816 cemented the fate of large, beautiful boats in the world of boating and sailing. When the internal combustion engine was invented, motor yachts eventually followed. The Great Depression saw smaller, less expensive yachts become the norm. From the 1980s, however, developments in computer modeling and materials science revolutionized the field again.

What Makes a Boat a Yacht?

Although there is no official size at which a boat becomes a yacht, it is agreed that a vessel must have an overall length of at least 40 feet to be considered a yacht. Larger sizes than this take you into superyacht and mega yacht territory. Simply put, you could buy an extremely large boat, and it could be considered a yacht because of size alone. That said, size alone is not a reliable determinant of whether a boat is a yacht or not. Boaters cannot seem to agree on where the cutoff is, with some disputing that a 40-foot boat is a yacht and others assuming 35 feet as the minimum length. Some even go as high as 50 feet. This is why another defining factor for yachts is luxury. It is generally accepted that a boat can be considered a yacht if, in addition to being large, it sports many entertainment features and luxury amenities. If it is big and used for recreation, it just might be a yacht.

Types of Yachts

In terms of size, a yacht can span anywhere between 10 meters and hundreds of feet in length. This feature is used to categorize yachts into the following distinct types:

  • Superyacht: This is a vessel with a load line length of at least 24 meters.
  • Cabin Cruiser: This is a luxury vessel that spans less than 12 meters in length.
  • Mega Yacht: This is a vessel that is longer than 50 meters. There is no limit to the length of a mega yacht, with the largest one in the world being 222 meters long (728 feet).

Features of a Luxury Yacht

A yacht is considered a luxury yacht if it is 80 feet long or larger. But, in addition to the sheer size, these water vessels are equipped with world-class features, including a swimming pool, jet ski, and scuba gear. They can usually hold a crew of between 30 and 60 members and are often seen on the ocean offering cruise trips to exotic locales. Some of the standard features of a luxury yacht include:

  • A private theater
  • Steam rooms and saunas
  • 10 to 12 cabins
  • 1 or 2 decks below the water line and three or more decks above
  • Clinic or medical room
  • Conference room
  • Private sitting rooms
  • Exercise room or gym
  • Satellite TV
  • Snorkeling or scuba gear
  • Small motor boats or dinghies
  • Mini submarines
  • Helicopter landing pads

Luxury yachts are usually custom-built, so the equipment, amenities, and size can vary from one vessel to the next. However, you can expect to encounter most of these features onboard.

Yacht, Ship, or Boat?

How exactly do you tell apart a boat, ship, and yacht? From afar, they can look very similar, but yachts tend to be more luxurious than their counterparts. In fact, the word itself is today associated with comfort, relaxation, recreation, and luxury. This is unlike ships, which are highly associated with work. Ships are larger than boats and yachts and are often working crafts designed for commercial activities like fishing or military activity. Ships need a full crew, boats rarely do, and yachts may or may not. A boat can be any water vessel, from a small rowing boat to a large ship. This is because many ship captains tend to call their ships ‘boats’ as a term of endearment no matter their size. In fact, many boaters call any floating vessel above a raft a boat. Subsequently, the boat has become a catchall term for floating vessels instead of a specific style or type of craft. In summary:

  • Boats are smaller than yachts and ships.
  • A boat can be used for recreational or commercial purposes.
  • Yachts can be any size, but it is generally agreed that they should be at least 40 feet long.
  • Yachts are built for pleasure and recreation.
  • Yachts are more luxurious than ships and boats.
  • Ships are usually large commercial vessels that take to the seas.

Key Takeaways

So, What Makes a Boat a Yacht? The most dominant determining factor for whether a boat is a yacht is the size. Many boaters accept that yachts should be at least 40 feet long. The next test is luxury, which everyone in the boating world agrees with. Yachts are generally fancier and more luxurious than boats, often coming with many entertainment and comfort features. Finally, you can tell a yacht from other water vessels – boats and ships – by function. Yachts are personal water vessels used for recreation, enjoyment, and sport.

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Dana Hanson

Written by Dana Hanson

Dana has extensive professional writing experience including technical and report writing, informational articles, persuasive articles, contrast and comparison, grant applications, and advertisement. She also enjoys creative writing, content writing on nearly any topic (particularly business and lifestyle), because as a lifelong learner, she loves to do research and possess a high skill level in this area. Her academic degrees include AA social Sci/BA English/MEd Adult Ed & Community & Human Resource Development and ABD in PhD studies in Indust & Org Psychology.

Read more posts by Dana Hanson

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