What Makes A Boat A Yacht?

Although similar, a boat and a yacht are not the same things. We use the terms interchangeably and even change them mid-sentence. However, there are plenty of differences between these two entities. Seasoned seamen are well-versed in the differences, and so should you be. Whether you are an occasional or regular boater, looking to enter the waters, or merely have a passing interest in watercraft, allow us to provide some helpful information.

Yacht – A Term With Dutch Origins

The word “Yacht” has Dutch origins, specifically derived from the word “jacht,” which means “hunt.” The term was coined in reference to the Dutch navy’s light and swift sailing vessels to capture pirates and other maritime miscreants in the moderate seas. Read closely, and you can already see a definition forming! Of course, yachts of that time used sail power augmented by the muscles of many strong Dutchmen as there were no internal combustion engines or electric motors at the time. Today, the main differences between the two vessels are:

  • A longer craft is known as a yacht, while the lengthiest recreational watercraft are known as Superyachts or Megayachts.
  • Yachts can operate in deeper waters, suited for ocean voyages, while boats are used primarily in calmer rivers and smaller bodies of water.
  • Yachts generally require more crew members, while boats can typically be operated by one individual.
  • Yachts generally are seen as more luxurious, while boats can typically have many uses if lacking the absolute luxury seen in a yacht.


The widely accepted present notion is that boats and yachts refer to smaller watercraft, while the mega cruise liners and freighters exceed a thousand feet in length. Typically, when a recreational boat exceeds thirty feet or approximately nine meters in length, it can be called a Cabin Cruiser or Yacht. Note the use of the term recreational. You can’t take a commercial fishing boat or small ferry and call that vessel a yacht, as those are not recreational watercraft.

If the recreational boat is over 80 feet in length, you have a Superyacht, and if you stretch things northwards of 160 feet, you can call yourself the proud owner of a Megayacht. The world’s current largest yacht, firmly in the Megayacht class, is the “Azzam.” The Azzam is 590 feet in length, costs $600 million, and is owned by a Royal Family member of Dubai. It’s no slouch either, since it is known as one of the fastest yachts currently around! However, these records may be beaten in time as someone else builds a bigger yacht with more powerful propulsion.

Operational Capabilities

Boats typically operate on shallower, calmer waters. Moderately sized boats venture into rough seas while fishing and sightseeing. And the typical recreational boat will see the majority of its use in a river or lake. 

But yachts are typically recreational ocean-going vessels that can handle deeper seas and rougher, turbulent conditions. 

Do you recall what the Dutch Navy used them for? Pirates aren’t commonly known to skulk near the shores for long or visit rivers. They would prefer to escape at sea rather than touch land and risk being apprehended by a land-based party. Thus, the yacht was designed to chase and catch up to the pirates unless they ventured far out into the deepest and roughest seas. In which case, they would quickly meet their match and, typically, their maker.

Crewing Requirements

Small recreational boats can be handled by a single person, otherwise known as the Captain. However, a yacht typically requires a small to midsize crew to manage them due to their larger size, complex equipment, and interior appointments. It is not uncommon for luxury yachts to boast of gourmet chefs, butlers, housekeepers, masseuses, and other service providers among their crews.

Luxury And Comfort

The term “Yacht” comes with luxury connotations. A yacht is almost always more luxurious than a boat, with lavishly appointed interiors and boasting the latest modern amenities. This makes them akin to the best five-star hotel rooms. Thus, it requires specific staff roles to augment the luxurious atmosphere, adding to the crew count.

Tech And Propulsion

Yachts tend to pack more tech toys than boats due to their role as ocean-going cruisers. They will possess the latest navigational and communications equipment. However, sailing yachts are still quite popular, as they offer a breathtaking sight and a unique experience when under full sail. Don’t be deceived, though. They have powerful engines below deck, ready to take over when wind power is lacking or not ideal, such as in a gale, where the sails can quickly be overwhelmed and ripped off. Other yachts may utilize powerful diesel engines, and there are electric yachts on the horizon, also powered by battery banks and solar panels.

Usage Scenario

What we have described thus far could also be a cruise ship. So why is a yacht any different? There is an important distinction. A yacht is a recreational watercraft that is privately owned and operated, not utilized for commerce. Yes, it is possible to rent a yacht, but it will typically be rented out to one party instead of a cruise liner, which offers individual cabins.

Large and lavish yachts are used by the rich, famous, and sometimes reclusive for their personal use. At the same time, there are less extravagant yachts at more wallet-friendly prices for mere mortals who wish to take to the waters in private watercraft for multi-day voyages. On the other hand, a boat would not stay out for extended periods, with the occupants typically returning to land the same day or at most remaining on board for two to three days.

It’s All About The Money

By now, you would have concluded that yachts are more luxurious, capable, and technologically equipped than boats. Yachts can easily push several million, tens, or even hundreds of millions of dollars as they are purpose-built to the owner’s requirements and tastes. They also cost more to run and maintain due to the increased crewing requirements and maintenance demands for the onboard equipment, so they aren’t pocket-change purchases. All this comes at a price. You can’t buy an old yacht and expect to use a monkey wrench and run it on a shoestring budget, much like you could with a project car.

The good news is, there’s a second-hand market for yachts that might be worth checking if you want to enter the yachting lifestyle but don’t have the money for a brand-new vessel. Yacht owners are increasingly looking to replace their yachts with the latest and greatest models. But bear in mind the increased crewing and maintenance requirements that a yacht will bring, and factor those accordingly when making your purchase, as well as any repairs, amendments, and improvements that would be required.

The World’s Most Expensive Yacht

As you may garner from all this, yachts are expensive things. The most expensive yacht in the world at the time of writing is the $4.8 million, 100-foot History Supreme, owned by Robert Knok. Why is it so expensive, despite being so small? Gold, platinum, diamonds, and other precious stones were used in its lavish interiors — over 10 tons of material! Interestingly, the length means it is not a Megayacht but a mere Superyacht. 


All yachts are fundamentally boats, but only some boats can be called yachts. If a watercraft is not used for recreational purposes, it cannot be called a yacht. While the image of a majestic boat sailing along with sails in full bloom conjures up the term yacht, in reality, the yacht may be moving under diesel or electric power. Perhaps, her sails are stowed, or she may not have sails at all. 

Yachts are a luxurious, bespoke, and expensive pastime that requires a crew and higher maintenance than a comparable boat. However, they offer a unique and exclusive experience of the high seas.