What is a Yacht?

Ian Fortey by Ian Fortey Updated on November 29, 2022. In Yachts

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In the simplest terms a yacht is a boat that can be used for cruising, racing or for recreation. That is arguably the most loose definition of any kind of boat you will ever find and it makes it hard to put your finger on what exactly it’s supposed to mean. That could be a jon boat, a cigarette boat, a bass boat or a sailboat. But the fact is there is no hard and fast definition for a yacht. One of the dictionary definitions for a yacht states that it’s a medium sized sailboat used for cruising or racing. But then that means it’s a sailboat, which isn’t true of a vast number of what we call yachts.

Usually when people think of yachts they’re thinking of a medium to large vessel that is well appointed and higher end with a lot of luxury features. Unlike a fishing boat we tend to associate yachts with wealth and opulence. They can be very similar to a cabin cruiser or day sailing boats, but the difference seems to be in size and what may be included above and beyond a “normal” boat. And with that in mind, we can dig a little deeper into what people are talking about when it comes to yachts and what you can expect to find if you’re interested in checking one out.

Motor Yacht vs Sailing Yacht

V-Series by Destination Yachts

The initial definition of yacht that we provided doesn’t specify if a yacht is a boat that requires wind power to move or an engine. But the fact is that a yacht can be a sailing vessel or a powered vessel and either one can still qualify as a yacht.

There are some distinct differences between sailing yachts and motor yachts and you definitely can’t operate one the same way as you’d operate another. They have different structures even, beyond the sails or engines, and are fairly distinct types of vessels. Many people still consider a sailing yacht a boat for people who are more adventurous and a little wild, while the motor yacht crowd is considered a little more relaxed and hands off. Basically, a sailing yacht is harder to use than a motorized yacht.


A motor yacht is going to get you where you want to go faster than a sailing yacht. That’s not to say these aren’t fast sailing vessels as modern yachts can reach great speeds, but they are still at the mercy of the wind. For that reason you’ll often see far more motor yachts around than sailing yachts as they tend to be more convenient for most boaters. When you head to places like the Bahamas where yachts are extremely common, you’ll see dozens of motor yachts for every single sailing yacht you run across. 


This is a touch comparison to make. A motor yacht has to make space for both the engines, which can get quite huge especially on large yachts, and the fuel tanks as well. On some mega yachts they have fuel tanks that can hold over a million liters of fuel, which is absolutely staggering. By definition, no space at all is needed on a sailing yacht for that kind of stuff so it seems like a sailing yacht would have more room overall. But it really depends on the overall layout and design of the yacht. They can be so different and include everything from Jacuzzis to swimming pools that it’s hard to say which kind of vessel has more space. 

That said, in general, motor yachts are designed to be bigger and more spacious. A sailing yacht needs a lower profile to function properly. They will have fewer decks as well – some motor yachts can have 7 or 8 decks in total. Also, a sailing yacht is going to have a smaller and probably narrower structure than a motor yacht. In general, you can expect a motor yacht at 150 feet to have around 50% or more space available than the exact same length in a sailing yacht. 


Obviously if you’re racing or cruising then that’s the purpose of your boat regardless if it’s motor driven or sail. But in general the motor yachts lend themselves more towards really having fun at sea in terms of things like water sports. This is owing to the fact motor yachts are more likely to have tender garages and include jet skis and other equipment for getting out and having fun. 

Motor yachts also tend to be the ones that are more outfitted like small resorts. You can find dance floors, bars, swimming pools, jacuzzi tubs, gyms and more on some big luxury yachts. At some point they really start to look like small cruise ships. With the extra decks and of course because they don’t have masts in the way, there’s a lot more space for this kind of thing. 

Modern sailing yachts have been designed with more of these luxury features and it’s not unheard of to find a jacuzzi on a sailing yacht or even a cinema on some, but it’s still a rarity when compared to motor yachts.

Sailing yachts can be used for some more limited type fun at sea – lots of snorkeling, swimming, fishing and so on, just not to the extreme that a motor yacht will do. A lot of the appeal of a sailing yacht is the fact that it’s for sailing, so the act of sailing itself is the draw. 


Westport 112 Motor Yacht

This may be where we really separate the two kinds of yachts. A motor yacht is, hands down, a much more relaxed experience. The difference between sailing and motor boating is pretty clear. So if you love to sail, if you like the control and the action of actually sailing your boat and getting involved, a sailing yacht may be right up your alley. A motor yacht is very much more laid back and gives you time to simply relax and enjoy the ride. A sailing yacht is a lot more involved in terms of operation than a motor yacht. Unless something goes wrong, of course, and you don’t have anyone on board who can fix your engines.

In addition, if we’re looking at long term travel, a sailboat is always ready to go. You just have to rely on the wind. A motor yacht is always going to be beholden to its fuel supply and will need to return to dock to refuel at some point.

Cost of Motor Yachts vs Sailing Yachts

Gibson Cabin Yacht 5000

Motor yachts are more expensive than sailing yachts. The initial cost can vary widely but it’s the long term costs that nail you. Fuel and maintenance costs over time for a motor yacht will always keep raising the price while a sailing yacht continues to coast along at a much lower cost in terms of necessary maintenance. After all, you never need to refuel your sailing yacht.

Some smaller yachts may cost under $30,000. The highest priced yacht in the world has a $1.5 billion price tag.

Yacht Classifications

You may have heard the terms “superyacht” and “megayacht” and such before. These are ways of attempting to differentiate between the sizes of yachts because some of these vessels can get massive. The world’s largest yacht, the Azzam, is about 600 feet long. 

Large Yacht

According to the Commercial Yacht Code, a large yacht is any yacht that has reached 79 feet or more. At this size the boat needs to have an actual crew to keep it running. Anything under 79 feet would just be a standard yacht.

Super Yacht

To qualify as a super yacht, a vessel has to be at least 131 feet in length. Obviously this size means it needs a fairly extensive crew and, if it’s not a commercial vessel, it’s probably owned by someone extremely wealthy in order to maintain it. 

Mega Yacht

The term mega yacht is a bit sketchy which is no surprise given how there’s only a loose definition for the word “yacht” in the first place. Mega yacht and superyacht are often used synonymously. However, for some people, the term mega yacht can only be applied when the vessel reaches at least 200 feet. This doesn’t seem to be a definite rule though so if you hear the term it’s still probably best to look at the specs of the boat to see what’s being referred to. 

Giga Yacht

You hear this term a lot less frequently but it’s been tossed around to account for those yachts that would even leave a mega yacht in the dust. After all, if a super yacht is 131 feet and a mega yacht is 200 feet then a yacht like Azzam, at 600 feet, should probably be known by a different term since it’s so much bigger. As such, giga yacht is sometimes used. But again, this is an informal label for such a large boat and there are no hard and fast rules about what size a boat has to be in order to be called a giga yacht. In general it just means the biggest of the big. 

Racing Yachts

If the point of the yacht is specifically to be involved in racing, then it will likely be stripped down of many of the more luxurious but unnecessary amenities seen in recreational and cruising yachts. Usually a racing yet has less space for relaxing or sleeping, for instance, but there are definitely yachts being built that offer a lot of nice features while still being designed to race.

The Bottom Line

There are no distinct rules for the size of a yacht or what it can even do. A yacht can operate under motor power or under sailing and you can use it to race, to just have fun, or for cruising. They can range in size from an average of around 24 meters which is a very popular length all the way up to the massive 600 foot Azzam. 

In general, a yacht is a vessel that is fairly luxurious and used recreationally for a variety of purposes. A luxury yacht may be chartered for business or events and come with a full crew while smaller motor powered yachts and sailing yachts tend to be used for pleasure cruising.

About Ian

My grandfather first took me fishing when I was too young to actually hold up a rod on my own. As an avid camper, hiker, and nature enthusiast I'm always looking for a new adventure.


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