Yacht definitions: What is a yacht? And does it need to have sails?

By far the most common question we get asked here at Motor Boat & Yachting is ‘how can you call that a yacht if it doesn’t have sails?’ Here we explain why a boat doesn’t need sails to be called a yacht...Ernest Hemingway's motor yacht Pilar was built for fighting big fishWhat’s in a name? Quite a lot if you’re a yacht! Not only are the names of yachts a source of endless amusement, but by defining your boat as a yacht in the first place, you’re setting up certain expectations. Yacht definitions: A brief history Whilst boating for fun dates back to Ancient Egypt and […] This article Yacht definitions: What is a yacht? And does it need to have sails? appeared first on Motor Boat & Yachting.

Yacht definitions: What is a yacht? And does it need to have sails?

By far the most common question we get asked here at Motor Boat & Yachting is ‘how can you call that a yacht if it doesn’t have sails?’ Here we explain why a boat doesn’t need sails to be called a yacht...

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Ernest Hemingway's motor yacht Pilar was built for fighting big fish

What’s in a name? Quite a lot if you’re a yacht! Not only are the names of yachts a source of endless amusement, but by defining your boat as a yacht in the first place, you’re setting up certain expectations.

Yacht definitions: A brief history

Whilst boating for fun dates back to Ancient Egypt and possibly even further than that, the word yacht comes from the Dutch ‘jachtschip’, which means hunting ship. Jachts were originally a class of sailboat used in the 16th century to hunt down enemies of the Dutch Republic.

However by the 19th century the term ‘yachting’ had developed to mean recreational boating in general, and with the advent of steam boats, sails were no longer the only method of propulsion available to Victorian yachtsmen.

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World’s largest superyacht: Everything you need to know about 183m REV

Hemingway's boat reborn: How Pilar was recreated in meticulous detail


In the early 20th century (1904 to be precise), our humble magazine was launched under its original title The Motor Boat, but by the 1950s the ‘& Yachting’ suffix had been added to refer to the general pastime enjoyed by motorboat owners. We even reviewed the occasional motorsailer for those who liked to enjoy the benefits of both power and sail.

Today’s Motor Boat & Yachting is dedicated purely to powered leisure vessels from 25-125ft with the occasional foray above and below that when interest dictates. Current editor Hugo Andreae insists that he is ‘terminology agnostic’ saying, “I’m not bothered whether people refer to their boats as yachts, cruisers, power boats or gin palaces just so long as they enjoy using them. But for the record my 22ft Karnic is definitely a gigayacht!”

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Editor Hugo’s Karnic 2250 is his family’s pride and joy, but should it be called a yacht?

What makes a yacht, a yacht?

Some would argue that a yacht has to have sails, and as we’ve seen, that was originally the case, but we here at Motor Boat & Yachting beg to differ, as its common to refer to large motorboats as motoryachts, superyachts or even megayachts without any expectation that they would have sails.

Others assert that a yacht should have to have a cabin in order for it to be fully considered a yacht, or that it has to measure at least 10m in length. If that’s the case then some longer narrowboats could be technically considered as yachts, although you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who agrees with that definition.

The final test for something to be considered a yacht is harder to pin down, but it is generally accepted that all yachts have to have a certain aesthetic or architectural appeal in order to earn this haughty moniker.

The advent of internal combustion in the 19th Century allowed motor yachts, like this fine example from Camper & Nicholsons, to be launched. Photo: Getty Images

Whether a boat is worthy of being called a yacht is clearly subjective, but there’s one thing we won’t budge over – it certainly doesn’t have to have sails!

If it’s sailing yachts specifically that you’re interested in, you won’t find many of them here, but we can heartily recommend our sister titles Yachting Monthly and Yachting World, who know much more about them than we do.

Bigger yacht definitions: Superyacht, megayacht or gigayacht?

Beyond the simple term yacht, there are a few other yacht definitions worth clarifying. The most commonly used of which is superyacht.

The debate still rages over what constitutes a superyacht. Any pleasure yacht with a load line length of 24m or more (not length overall or waterline length as is often misquoted) and a gross tonnage of 80GT is classified as a Large Yacht under MCA coding rules, causing a number of additional regulations to kick in, most crucially the requirement for the skipper to hold a commercially endorsed Yachtmaster Offshore Certificate. This is the closest thing to a technical definition of a superyacht.

Azzam - the world's largest superyacht on of many belonging to Middle Eastern owners

At 180m Azzam is currently the largest yacht in the world, but an 183m gigayacht called REV is currently under construction in Norway. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

However, while this used to mean most leisure boats with an overall length (LOA) of 80ft or more fell into the Large Yacht category, yards have become so adept at designing bigger boats with a load line length of just under 24m that many craft with an LOA of 90ft or more still count as regular pleasure vessels.

For that reason some people prefer to use the simpler definition of a superyacht being any privately owned vessel with an LOA of 100ft or more. Even then some would argue that a true superyacht should be a custom built yacht of at least 35m or 120ft.

Such is the inflationary pressure on yacht sizes and terminology that the term superyacht itself has begun to lose currency among the yachting elite. Owners of craft over 50m now use the term megayacht to categorise their larger vessels, while the lesser-spotted gigayacht is reserved for yachts over 100m.

Fewer than 100 gigayachts have been built to date, making this the rarest of rare breeds. That said with the world’s largest yacht now measuring over 183m, it’s surely only a matter of time before the 200m mark will be broken and yet another term will be needed. Got any suggestions? Drop us an e-mail: mby@futurenet.com

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Source : Mby More