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File:Offshore Racing Sailboat.jpg
An offshore sailing yacht

A yacht is a high end recreational boat. The term designates two rather different classes of watercraft, sailing and power boats. Yachts are different from working ships mainly by their leisure purpose, and it was not until the rise of the steamboat and other types of powerboat that sailing vessels in general came to be perceived as luxury, or recreational vessels. Later the term came to encompass motor boats for primarily private pleasure purposes as well.

Yacht lengths generally range from 20 feet (6.1 m) up to hundreds of feet. A luxury craft smaller than 40 feet (12.19 m) is more commonly called a cabin cruiser or simply "cruisers." A mega yacht generally refers to any yacht (sail or power) above 100 ft (30.5 m) and a super yacht generally refers to any yacht over 200 ft (61 m). This size is small in relation to typical cruise liners and oil tankers.


File:Mast zelikvor.jpg
Sails on a small yacht as seen from below

Yacht (pronounced /ˈjɒt/, from Dutch/Low German jacht meaning hunting or hunt, compare Standard German/High German Jagd) was originally defined as a light, fast sailing vessel used by the Dutch navy to pursue pirates and other transgressors around and into the shallow waters of the Low Countries. They were also used for non-military governmental roles such as customs duties and delivering pilots to waiting ships.[1] The latter use attracted the attention of wealthy Dutch merchants who began to build private yachts so they could be taken out to greet their returning ships. Soon wealthy individuals began to use their 'jachts' for pleasure trips. By the start of the 17th century 'jachts' came in two broad catergories- speel-jachts for sport and oorlog-jachts for naval duties.[2] By the middle of the century large 'jacht' fleets were found around the Dutch coast and the Dutch states organised large 'reviews' of private and war yachts for special occasions, thus putting in place the groundwork for the modern sport of yachting. Jachts of this period varied greatly in size, from around 40 ft (12 m) in length to being equal to the lower classes of the ship of the line.[3] All had a form of fore/aft gaff rig with a flat bottom and lee boards to allow operations in shallow waters. The gaff rig remained the principal rig found on small European yachts for centuries until giving way to the 'Bermudan sloop' rig in the 1960s.

Charles II of England spent part of his time in exile during the period of the Commonwealth of England in the Netherlands and became keen on sailing. He returned to England in 1660 aboard a Dutch yacht. During his reign Charles commissioned 24 Royal Yachts on top of the two presented to him by Dutch states on his restoration.[4] As the fashion for yachting spread throughout the English aristocracy yacht races began to become common. Other rich individuals in Europe built yachts as the sport spread. Yachting therefore became a purely recreational form of sailing with no commercial or military function (see, for example, the Cox & King yachts at the beginning of the 20th Century), which still serves a broad definition of both the sport and of the vessel.

Construction materials and techniques

Until the 1950s, almost all yachts were made of wood or steel, but a much wider range of materials is used today. Although wood hulls are still in production, the most common construction material is fibreglass, followed by aluminium, steel, carbon fiber, and ferrocement (rarer because of insurance difficulties). The use of wood has changed and is no longer limited to traditional board-based methods, but also include modern products such as plywood, veneers and epoxy resins. Wood is mostly used by hobbyists or wooden boat purists when building an individual boat.

Sailing yachts

CS30, a sailing yacht

Sailing yachts can range in overall length (Length Over All—LOA, in yachting parlance) from about 20 ft (6 m) to well over 100 ft (30 m), where the distinction between a yacht and a ship becomes blurred. Most privately owned yachts fall in the range of about 25–45 ft (7–14 m); the cost of building and keeping a yacht rises quickly as length increases. In the U.S., sailors tend to refer to smaller yachts as sailboats, while referring to the general sport of sailing as yachting. Within the limited context of sailboat racing, a yacht is any sailing vessel taking part in a race, regardless of size.

Modern yachts have efficient sail-plans, most notably the Bermuda rig, that allow them to sail towards the wind. This capability is the result of a sail-plan and hull design.


Day sailing yachts

Day sailing yachts are usually small, at under 20 ft (6 m) in length. Sometimes called dinghies, they often have a retractable keel, centerboard, or daggerboard. Most day sailing yachts do not have a cabin, as they are designed for hourly or daily use and not for overnight journeys. At best they may have a 'cubby', where the front part of the hull has a raised solid roof to provide a place to store equipment or to offer basic shelter from wind or spray.

Weekender yachts

Weekender yachts are slightly larger, at under 30 ft (9.5 m) in length. They often have twin keels or lifting keels such as in trailer sailers. This allows them to operate in shallow waters, and if needed "dry out"—become beached as the tide falls. The hull shape (or twin-keel layout) allows the boat to sit upright when there is no water. Such boats are designed to undertake short journeys, rarely lasting more than 2 or 3 days (hence their name). In coastal areas, long trips may be undertaken in a series of short hops. Weekenders usually have only a simple cabin, often consisting of a single "saloon" with bedspace for two to three people. Clever use of ergonomics allows space in the saloon for a galley (kitchen), seating, and navigation equipment. There is limited space for stores of water and food. Most are single-masted "Bermuda sloops" (not to be confused with the type of traditional Bermudian ship known as a Bermuda sloop), with a single foresail of the jib or genoa type and a single mainsail (one variation of the aforementioned Bermuda rig). Some are gaff rigged. The smallest of this type, generally called pocket yachts or pocket cruisers, and trailer sailers can be transported on special trailers.

Cruising yachts

Cruising yachts are by the far the most common yacht in private use, making up most of the 25 to 45 ft (7 to 14 m) range. These vessels can be quite complex in design, as they need a balance between docile handling qualities, interior space, good light-wind performance and on-board comfort. The huge range of such craft, from dozens of builders worldwide, makes it hard to give a single illustrative description. However, most favour a teardrop-planform hull, with a wide, flat bottom and deep single-fin keel to give good stability. Most are single-masted Bermuda rigged sloops, with a single fore-sail of the jib or Genoa type and a single mainsail. Spinnaker sails, in various sizes, are often supplied for down-wind use. These types are often chosen as family vessels, especially those in the 26 to 40-foot (8 to 12 m) range. Such a vessel will usually have many cabins below deck. Typically there will be three double-berth cabins; a single large saloon with galley, seating and navigation equipment; and a "head" consisting of a toilet and shower-room.

Most large yachts, 50 ft (15 m) (15 m) and up, are also cruisers, but their design varies greatly as they are often "one off" designs tailored to the specific needs of the buyer.The interior is often finished in wood panelling, with plenty of storage space. Cruisers are quite capable of taking on long-range passages of many thousands of miles. Such boats have a cruising speed upwards of 6 knots. This basic design is typical of the standard types produced by the major yacht-builders.

Luxury sailing yachts

These yachts are generally 82 ft (25 m) or longer. In recent years, these yachts have evolved from fairly simple vessels with basic accommodation into sophisticated and luxurious boats. This is largely due to reduced hull-building costs brought about by the introduction of fibreglass hulls, and increased automation and "production line" techniques for yacht building, especially in Europe.

On the biggest, 130-foot-plus (40 m) luxury yachts, every modern convenience, from air conditioning to television, is found. Sailing yachts of this size are often highly automated with, for example, computer-controlled electric winches controlling the sails. Such complexity requires dedicated power-generation systems. In recent years the amount of electric equipment used on yachts has increased greatly. Even 20 years ago, it was not common for a 25-foot (7 m) yacht to have electric lighting. Now all but the smallest, most basic yachts have electric lighting, radio, and navigation aids such as Global Positioning Systems. Yachts around 33 ft (10 m) bring in comforts such as hot water, pressurised water systems, and refrigerators. Aids such as radar, echo-sounding and autopilot are common. This means that the auxiliary engine now also performs the vital function of powering an alternator to provide electrical power and to recharge the yacht's batteries. For yachts engaged on long-range cruising, wind-, water- and solar-powered generators can perform the same function.

Racing yachts

File:J-24 yacht racing, Sydney Harbour.jpg
Inshore yacht racing in Sydney Harbour, Australia

Racing yachts try to reduce the wetted surface area, which creates drag, by keeping the hull light whilst having a deep and heavy bulb keel, allowing them to support a tall mast with a great sail area. Modern designs tend to have a very wide beam and a flat bottom, to provide buoyancy preventing an excessive heel angle. Speeds of up to 35 knots can be attained in extreme conditions. Dedicated offshore racing yachts sacrifice crew comfort for speed, having basic accommodation to reduce weight. Depending on the type of race, such a yacht may have a crew of 15 or more. Very large inshore racing yachts may have a crew of 30. At the other extreme are "single handed" races, where one person alone must control the yacht.

Yacht races may be over a simple course of only a few miles, as in the harbour racing of the International One Design; long-distance, open-ocean races, like the Bermuda Race; or epic trans-global contests such as the Global Challenge, Volvo Ocean Race, and Clipper Round the World Race.


The motive force being the wind, sailing is more economical and environmentally friendly than any other means of propulsion. A hybrid type of vessel is a motor sailing yacht that can use either sail or propulsion (or both) as conditions dictate.

Many "pure" sailing yachts are also equipped with a low-power internal-combustion engine for use in conditions of calm and when entering or leaving difficult anchorages. Vessels less than 25 ft (8 m) (7 m) in length generally carry a petrol outboard-motor of between 5 and 40 horsepower (3.5 and 30 kW). Larger vessels have in-board diesel engines of between 20 and 100 horsepower (15 and 75 kW) depending on size. In the common 25 to 45-foot (7 to 14 m) class, engines of 20 to 40 horsepower are the most common.

Hull types

Monohull yachts are typically fitted with a fixed keel or a centerboard (adjustable keel) below the waterline to counterbalance the overturning force of wind on the vessel's sails. Multihull yachts use two hulls (catamarans) or three (trimarans) widely separated from each other to provide a stable base that resists overturning and allows for sailing in shallower waters than most keeled monohulls.

Motor yachts


Motor yachts generally fit into the following categories:

  • Day cruiser yacht (no cabin, sparse amenities such as refrigerator and plumbing)
  • Weekender yacht (one or two basic cabins, basic galley appliances and plumbing)
  • Cruising yacht (sufficient amenities to allow for living aboard for extended periods)
  • Sport fishing yacht (yacht with living amenities and sporting fishing equipment)
  • Luxury yacht (similar to the last three types of yachts, with more luxurious finishings/amenities)


Motor yachts typically have one or two internal combustion engines that burn diesel fuel. Biodiesel for marine propulsion is in the experimental stage (e.g. Earthrace). Depending on engine size, fuel costs may make motor yachts more expensive to operate than sailing yachts. However, for smaller engine sizes, operating costs are comparable to sailing vessels, due to the high cost of sails, which require regular replacement.

Hull types

The shape of a motor yacht's hull may be based on displacement, planing, or in between. Although monohulls have long been the standard in motor yachts, multihulls are gaining in popularity.

See also


  • Origin of the yacht
  • Fraser, Antonia,"Royal Charles". A number of editions exist.
  • Gardiner, R & Lavery, B, "The Line of Battle : The Sailing Warship 1650-1840", 1992 (2004 edition), Conway, ISBN 0-85177-954-9
  • Partridge, Eric, "Origins, A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English", Greenwich House, 1983, ISBN 0-517-41425-2
  • International Sailing Federation Racing Rules of Sailing
  1. Gardiner & Lavery, 1992, p. 68
  2. Gardiner & Lavery, 1992, p. 68
  3. Gardiner & Lavery, 1992, p. 70
  4. Gardiner & Lavery, 1992, p. 70

External links

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[[Commons: Category:Yachts

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