Boat vs. Yacht: How Do You Tell the Difference?

What Makes A Boat A Yacht?

When it comes to boats, you'll find all sorts of vessels sailing on the waters, though they won't all have the same terms applied to them. One area where it can be a matter of pride for a boat owner is when they happen to have a yacht.

Just hearing the word "yacht" brings a particular image to mind—often something along the lines of expensive vessels with lots of space and high class attached to them. If we're getting technical, all yachts are boats, but the same doesn't work the other way around.

Boats vs. Ships vs. Yachts

Depending on where you are, some people will use the words "boat" and "ship" interchangeably. However, if you don't refer to a yacht appropriately, you may find yourself accidentally offending the owner. Here are some quick distinctions between the terms:

  • "Boat" can refer to any seafaring vessel, between smaller personal watercraft to more giant passenger crafts. It serves as a blanket term in most situations.
  • A boat becomes a "ship" often once it's reached a specific size, which tends to be on the bigger side and suitable for sea travel. In most cases, ships serve as working vessels, such as transport or cruise liners.
  • "Yachts" are also more substantial, but they're solely recreational vessels and often used for luxury purposes.

Of course, while these distinctions are in place, yachts still have several differences to them. Here are some categories you can use to understand if a boat you've encountered is a yacht or not.


To start, size is one of the most straightforward factors in whether you can call a boat a yacht or not. Yachts tend to be larger than other types of recreational boats, though there isn't a specific cutoff that makes a hard and fast line between categories. Even so, generally considered point where a boat can start to qualify as a yacht is around thirty-five feet, though they can certainly be longer.

Some yachts will even reach lengths longer than two-hundred feet. In the early days of yachts, people didn't expect boats to become capable of becoming bigger, and the terms "mega" and "super yachts" came into use as vessels continued to get bigger. Again, the lines between these categories aren't definitive, but super ones tend to be bigger than their mega counterparts.

Propulsion Operations

While the boats of old relied on sails and rowing to get them around, nowadays that setup tends to only apply to smaller recreational vessels. Motors are more efficient for powering larger boats, so it's no surprise that yachts come with engines to power them.

Naturally, plenty of boats that don't qualify as yachts still operate with motors, but the technology in these vessels tends to be more powerful. A yacht's engine will generally be capable of traveling farther distances than other types of boats, thanks to their sophisticated technology. Smaller vessels are compatible with used outboard motors.


Naturally, larger vessels like cruise ships and the like also include motors, plus they can also fall into the same length range as yachts do. This area is where the last significant distinction comes into play, as use determines terminology. If a vessel's primary use is for commercial purposes, then it's not a yacht by any means.

Instead, most people who own yachts are those who want a personal watercraft for recreational use. The comfortable interiors and many different locations lend themselves to this sort of application. They distinguish themselves from smaller recreational vessels not just through size, but one more critical factor.

Luxury and Comfort

Yachts are no doubt the luxury models of the boating world, and this comes across in both their layout and their appearance. Again, yachts will likely have several comfortable interior areas, such as bathrooms, kitchens, saloons, and bedrooms of some kind—not something the average person has when they set out for a quick sail or afternoon of fishing.

Undoubtedly, all these amenities add a level of luxury to a boat, and the designs tend to match. Sleek styles and accents tend to come to mind when thinking about yachts; even the difference in materials and design can distinguish a regular boat from a yacht.


With their larger sizes and significant levels of comfort and amenities, it's no surprise that most yachts cost much more than their other recreational boat counterparts. When you browse sailboat prices and compare them with yacht prices, you might find the difference a bit overwhelming but yacht amenities are worth the price tag for many boaters.

 A yacht that's over one-hundred feet can cost one million dollars per 3.3 feet—with a little quick math, that somewhat over thirty-million dollars, the definition of luxury indulgence.

Additionally, the price of upkeep can sometimes come up to ten percent of the purchase price per year. While maintenance costs are a part of owning any personal watercraft, they tend not to reach that high for other types of recreational vessels. Insurance costs are high as well.

If nothing else tells you that a ship is a yacht, then the price tag likely will, especially once you put the numbers into a boat payment calculator.

In short: all yachts are boats, but only some boats are yachts.

What About Other Languages?

So far, we've been talking about how boats, ships, and yachts mean different things in English, but that doesn't necessarily apply to other languages. Interestingly enough, in Dutch (which is the origin of the term), a "yacht" refers to any boat, no matter if it's a superyacht or a cheap rowboat. It's in English where the words have distinct lines between them.

Other languages have different meanings, so keep that in mind if you end up talking about boats with someone in another country.

How Much Does It Matter?

In casual use, you may never need to know what counts as a yacht, and you can focus on understanding different brands better, such as G3 Boats. Some people will argue that once they own a vessel, they're free to call it whatever they want, regardless of if it meets these criteria or not.

However, some yacht owners are proud of their vessels and won't take kindly to anyone calling it a "boat," so it helps to have at least an idea of what's what, if only not to unintentionally offend others. Considering the money that they likely spent on it, the owner probably wants some of the prestige of their vessel.