Yachts vs. Boats: What are the Differences?
Many people use the words “boat” and “yacht” interchangeably, and some lean on the latter to make their ride sound more impressive. But what are the key differences between boats and yachts?
First, let’s look at some broad definitions of a boat, a yacht, and other related vessels.
- “Boat” can refer to just about any kind of vessel—towboat, fishing boat, center console, houseboat, and so on.
- “Dinghy” designates a small boat with a human or wind means of propulsion including a rowing dinghy or sailing dinghy. It also refers to a tender to a bigger boat or yacht.
- “Ship” is a large commercial boat, often used for distance travel and transport of goods or passengers – cruise ship, container ship, etc.
- “Yacht” is typically a larger boat with luxury amenities used as a recreational vessel—motor yacht, sailing yacht.
- “Superyacht” is a large yacht and is often also called a mega yacht. The delineation used to be at 80-feet but again, with today’s size creep, anything under 100 feet would just simply be called a yacht.
So, yacht or boat? Let’s dive deeper into the elements that differentiate a boat from a yacht.
Size of the Vessel
Some place a hard line at 35 feet. Below that, you have a boat and above, it’s a yacht. However, that’s an artificial differentiator.
Just 30 years ago, a 30-foot boat was considered large and could have been a yacht but as recreational boats grow longer, the term yacht has been pushed up the scale.
That said, a well-kept 40-foot boat designed for recreation can technically still be called a yacht (although larger vessels are likely to cost more, price isn’t a good indicator of yacht status primarily because it fluctuates with brand, age, and amenities).
Check out local yacht rentals near you to understand how size plays a difference.
What it’s Used For
A yacht is a vessel designed for recreational purposes. It generally operates on open waters (rather than small lakes or rivers) and has accommodations for overnight guests.
A cruise ship, on the other hand, accommodates a large number of passengers in a commercial setting whereas a yacht carries a smaller number (of paying or non-paying) passengers for private recreation.
Advanced technology for navigation, communications, and system operation as well as redundant systems for safety can be found on a yacht that is likely to venture farther.
Again, there are caveats because today’s towboats that are fun day boats also feature technology such as GPS and digital switching that integrates many electrical and electronic features.
This is a tricky one. “Yacht” comes from the Dutch word “jaght” which referred to a sailing vessel that was used by the navy to capture pirate ships and later for recreation by the affluent.
Today, a yacht can be a large sailing vessel or a motor yacht. All larger yachts will have a motor for propulsion whether they have sails or not. Sailboats by design have smaller motors so trying to put a horsepower minimum on yacht propulsion is simply inaccurate.
Some define a yacht as having multiple crews to operate the vessel and tend to passengers or guests. The larger the yacht, the more crew will be required to navigate, maintain and service the vessel. That said, a couple who owns a 50-footer can call their boat a yacht although it’s owner-operated.
Luxury and Amenities
This is perhaps the best measure of a yacht. If the vessel offers accommodations, a galley, a head, and is luxurious in its presentation, it’s most likely a yacht.
That said, there are lots of center console fishing boats and towboats that are pretty nicely equipped these days and they wouldn’t be called a yacht.
All yachts are boats, but not all boats are yachts—and the lines are blurry. The word yacht elicits images of posh seafaring experiences while a boat evokes ideas of fun and perhaps work. Do some research to learn what size and type of boat or yacht is best for you.
To a degree, the point at which a boat becomes a yacht is in the ear of the beholder but if you focus on size, amenities, and the type of use, you’ll be able to discern the difference. Then all that remains is to find a way to spend time and have fun on any kind of vessel.
Zuzana Prochazka is an award-winning freelance journalist and photographer with regular contributions to more than a dozen sailing and powerboating magazines and online publications including Southern Boating, SEA, Latitudes & Attitudes and SAIL. She is SAIL magazines Charter Editor and the Executive Director of Boating Writers International. Zuzana serves as judge for SAIL’s Best Boats awards and for Europe’s Best of Boats in Berlin.
A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana founded and manages a flotilla charter organization called Zescapes that takes guests adventure sailing at destinations worldwide.
Zuzana has lived in Europe, Africa and the United States and has traveled extensively in South America, the islands of the South Pacific and Mexico.