A yacht is a recreational boat. It designates two rather different classes of watercraft, sailing and power yachts. Yachts are differentiated from working ships mainly by their leisure purpose. It was not until the ascendancy of the steamboat and other types of powerboat that sailing vessels in general came to be perceived as luxury items. However, since the level of luxury on larger yachts has seen an increasing trend, the use of the word yacht to mean any sailing vessel has been diminishing and is more and more limited to racing yachts or cruising yachts.
Yacht lengths generally start at 32–35 feet (10–11 m) and go up to hundreds of feet. A mega yacht generally refers to any yacht (sail or power) above 100 ft (34 m) and a super yacht generally refers to any yacht over 200 ft (70 m). This size is small in relation to typical cruise liners and oil tankers.
Until the 1950s, almost all yachts were made of wood, or steel in larger yachts, but a much wider range of materials is used today. Although wood hulls are still in production, the most common construction material is fibreglass, followed by aluminum, steel, carbon fibre, and ferrocement (rarer because of insurance difficulties). The use of wood has changed and is no longer limited to traditionally board-based methods, but also includes modern products such as plywood, veneers and epoxy resins. Wood is mostly used by hobbyists or wooden boat purists when building an individual boat.
Sailing yachts can range in overall length (Length Over All—LOA, in yachting parlance) from about 20 ft (6 m) to well over 100 ft (30 m), where the distinction between a yacht and a ship becomes blurred. Most privately owned yachts fall in the range of about 25–45 ft (7–14 m); the cost of building and keeping a yacht rises quickly as length increases. In the U.S., sailors tend to refer to smaller yachts as sailboats, while referring to the general sport of sailing as yachting. Within the limited context of sailboat racing, a yacht is any sailing vessel taking part in a race, regardless of size.
Modern yachts have efficient sail-plans, most notably the Bermuda rig, that allow them to sail towards the wind. This capability is the result of a sail-plan and hull design, typically a sloop rig, that utilizes Bernoulli's principle to generate lift.
Day sailing yachts Day sailing yachts are usually small, at under 20 ft (6 m) in length. Sometimes called dinghies, they often have a retractable keel, centerboard, or daggerboard. Most day sailing yachts do not have a cabin, as they are designed for hourly or daily use and not for overnight journeys. At best they may have a 'cubby', where the front part of the hull has a raised solid roof to provide a place to store equipment or to offer basic shelter from wind or spray.
Weekender yachts are slightly larger, at under 30 ft (9.5 m) in length. They often have twin keels or lifting keels such as in trailer sailers. This allows them to operate in shallow waters, and if needed "dry out"—become beached as the tide falls. The hull shape (or twin-keel layout) allows the boat to sit upright when there is no water. Such boats are designed to undertake short journeys, rarely lasting more than 2 or 3 days (hence their name). In coastal areas, long trips may be undertaken in a series of short hops. Weekenders usually have only a simple cabin, often consisting of a single "saloon" with bedspace for two to three people. Clever use of ergonomics allows space in the saloon for a galley (kitchen), seating, and navigation equipment. There is limited space for stores of water and food. Most are single-masted "Bermuda sloops" (not to be confused with the type of traditional Bermudian ship known as a Bermuda sloop), with a single foresail of the jib or genoa type and a single mainsail (one variation of the aforementioned Bermuda rig). Some are gaff rigged. The smallest of this type, generally called pocket yachts or pocket cruisers, and trailer sailers can be transported on special trailers.
Cruising yachts are by the far the most common yacht in private use, making up most of the 25 to 45 ft (7 to 14 m) range. These vessels can be quite complex in design, as they need a balance between docile handling qualities, interior space, good light-wind performance and on-board comfort. The huge range of such craft, from dozens of builders worldwide, makes it hard to give a single illustrative description. However, most favour a teardrop-planform hull, with a wide, flat bottom and deep single-fin keel to give good stability. Most are single-masted Bermuda rigged sloops, with a single fore-sail of the jib or Genoa type and a single mainsail. Spinnaker sails, in various sizes, are often supplied for down-wind use. These types are often chosen as family vessels, especially those in the 26 to 40-foot (8 to 12 m) range. Such a vessel will usually have many cabins below deck. Typically there will be three double-berth cabins; a single large saloon with galley, seating and navigation equipment; and a "head" consisting of a toilet and shower-room.
Most large yachts, 50 ft (15 m) and up, are also cruisers, but their design varies greatly as they are often "one off" designs tailored to the specific needs of the buyer.The interior is often finished in wood panelling, with plenty of storage space. Cruisers are quite capable of taking on long-range passages of many thousands of miles. Such boats have a cruising speed upwards of 6 knots. This basic design is typical of the standard types produced by the major yacht-builders.
Motor-sailers A variation on the cruiser type is the 'motor-sailer', designed to be capable of use both as a sailing vessel and a motorboat. These are usually based around a sailing cruiser hull, but instead of the low 'coachroof' over the saloon, most motor-sailers have a raised saloon roof, providing an enclosed wheelhouse with large windows and containing the helm, engine controls, navigational equipment etc, allowing the vessel to be operated from inside as on a standard cabin cruiser motorboat. Usually, a second helm and basic instruments are installed in the cockpit behind the wheelhouse for when under sail or in good weather. Motor-sailers are, naturally, a compromise between a sailing yacht and a motor yacht. Whilst usually having a more powerful engine than a pure sailing yacht (a 40-ft (12 m) sailing yacht would have an auxiliary engine of around 40 horsepower (29 kW); a similarly-sized motor-sailer would have an engine of anything up to around twice this), the need for a deep keel for when under sail limits speed compared to pure motor vessels of the same size. Similarly, the high wheelhouse means the mainsail boom must be higher, reducing sail area. Despite these compromises, motor-sailers are popular crusing yachts due to their increased interior space, the ability to at the helm out of the weather and the excellent fuel consumption and/or cruising speeds that can be obtained by combining sail and engine power, or making use of just sail power in good winds.
Luxury sailing yachts
These yachts are generally 82 ft or longer. In recent years, these yachts have evolved from fairly simple vessels with basic accommodation into sophisticated and luxurious boats. This is largely due to reduced hull-building costs brought about by the introduction of fibreglass hulls, and increased automation and "production line" techniques for yacht building, especially in Europe.
On the biggest, 130-foot-plus (40 m) luxury yachts, every modern convenience, from air conditioning to television, is found. Sailing yachts of this size are often highly automated with, for example, computer-controlled electric winches controlling the sails. Such complexity requires dedicated power-generation systems. In recent years the amount of electric equipment used on yachts has increased greatly. Even 20 years ago, it was not common for a 25-foot (7 m) yacht to have electric lighting. Now all but the smallest, most basic yachts have electric lighting, radio, and navigation aids such as Global Positioning Systems. Yachts around 33 ft (10 m) bring in comforts such as hot water, pressurised water systems, and refrigerators. Aids such as radar, echo-sounding and autopilot are common. This means that the auxiliary engine now also performs the vital function of powering an alternator to provide electrical power and to recharge the yacht's batteries. For yachts engaged on long-range cruising, wind-, water- and solar-powered generators can perform the same function.
Racing yachts try to reduce the wetted surface area, which creates drag, by keeping the hull light whilst having a deep and heavy bulb keel, allowing them to support a tall mast with a great sail area. Modern designs tend to have a very wide beam and a flat bottom, to provide buoyancy preventing an excessive heel angle. Speeds of up to 35 knots can be attained in extreme conditions. Dedicated offshore racing yachts sacrifice crew comfort for speed, having basic accommodation to reduce weight. Depending on the type of race, such a yacht may have a crew of 15 or more. Very large inshore racing yachts may have a crew of 30.
At the other extreme are "single handed" races, where one person alone must control the yacht. Yacht races may be over a simple course of only a few miles, as in the harbour racing of the International One Design; long-distance, open-ocean races, like the Bermuda Race; or epic trans-global contests such as the Global Challenge, Volvo Ocean Race, and Clipper Round the World Race.
Many "pure" sailing yachts are also equipped with a low-power internal-combustion engine for use in conditions of calm and when entering or leaving difficult anchorages. Vessels less than 25 ft (7 m) in length generally carry a petrol outboard-motor of between 5 and 40 horsepower (3.5 and 30 kW). Larger vessels have in-board diesel engines of between 20 and 100 horsepower (15 and 75 kW) depending on size. In the common 25 to 45-foot (7 to 14 m) class, engines of 20 to 40 horsepower are the most common.