Steam yacht

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File:Steam yacht Rambler.jpg
American steam yacht Rambler prior to World War I

A steam yacht is a class of luxury or commercial yacht with primary or secondary steam propulsion in addition to the sails usually carried by yachts.

Origin of the name

The steamboat entrepreneur George Dodd (1783-1827) used the term 'steam yacht' on 16 May 1817[1] albeit in describing PS Thames, ex Duke of Argyle. She was one of the five passenger steamboats then under Dodd’s direction, and his description was used in an effort to advertise how luxurious these vessels were—for the general public. The Times, on 8 July 1815 had used the term for the first time in a newspaper report of her service on the river. At that time, she had not been formally renamed, but was still sailing under the description "Thames steam yacht". The term "Double Steam Yacht" refers to a type of mechanised swing devised by the English fairgound entrepreneur Frederick Savage.[citation needed]


The term 'steam yacht' encompasses vessels of two distinct uses, but of similar design. The first is a luxury yacht in the modern sense—a vessel owned privately and used for pleasure or non-commercial purposes. Steam yachts of this type came to prominence in the late-19th and early-20th centuries in Europe as large developments of the long-established steam launch used on lakes and rivers. Steam yachts were used by wealthy individuals and often heads of state, and were built as extravagant symbols of wealth.[2] They were usually built with similar hull-lines to clipper ships, with an ornate bow structure and a low, smooth freeboard. Main propulsion usually came from one or two compound steam engines or in later, very large yachts, turbines. Steam yachts usually carried rigging for sails, originally as an auxiliary propulsion system, but later more for show and naval tradition. Private steam yachts were capable of long seagoing voyages, but their owners' needs and habits saw most stay near to the coast. Inland seas such as the Baltic and the Mediterranean were popular areas for using steam yachts.

The second class of steam yachts were built for commercial use, but gained the 'yacht' title due to their size and design similarity with the private vessels and because they were not constructed to be mainly cargo- or passenger-carrying vessels, but as versatile, low-draft ships capable of working local coastal routes. This is closer to the original meaning of the word 'yacht', coming from the Dutch term 'Jacht', describing a small, fast commercial vessel. The disinction between a commercial steam yacht and a coastal trading vessel is not a clear one, but the latter term usually implies a mainly cargo-carrying ship. Steam yachts were often run by Packet Companies operating regular, timetabled services between islands or coastal towns. Steam yachts were widely used in the whaling trade. The light, fast design of a steam yacht was ideal for chasing whales, and the lack of a large amount of cargo space did not matter as whaling produced few bulky products. Commercial steam yachts were rarely as ornate or luxurious as their private counterparts, with simpler, more rugged lines and usually a more practical sailing rig. Steam yachts used in the whaling trade often had re-enforced hulls to allow them to function as icebreakers in frozen waters. The Royal Navy used small numbers of steam yacht-type vessels from the Edwardian era onwards to transport men and equipment in harbour, act as coastal escorts for larger ships and for training and excersises. In the First World War these and several requesitioned private yachts were used on anti-U-Boat patrols and for minesweeping. It became clear that the naval trawler was more suited to these kinds of tasks. The entrepreneur Thomas Assheton Smith (II) (1776-1858), in cooperation with the Scottish engineer Robert Napier, did much to improve the hull design of steam yachts.[3]

Steam yachts often used the ship prefix SY, but some were alternatively described as screw schooner, if they carried schooner rig.[citation needed]


The Aurora (a former whaling-yacht turned Antarctic exploration vessel) is a notable example of the class, as are the Edwardian era yachts used by European monarchs, such as the HMY Victoria and Albert III and the SMY Hohenzollern.

See also

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[[Commons: Category:Steam yachts

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  1. Parliamentary Report of 24 June 1817, 29
  2. Marine engineering, Volume 4. Marine Publication Co.. 1899. pp. 142-144. 
  3. C. Dawson (August 2006). "Thomas Assheton Smith's Steam Yachts". The Mariners Mirror Vol. 92 (No. 3): p. 331.