A Boat or a Yacht?

Sailboats in harbor at Windermere at Bowness on sunny day.

Defining your sea-faring vessels can be a tricky job, and it can lead to arguments if you’re not careful. For example, you would never want to insult a fellow sailor by implying that their yacht was a boat, but sometimes you have to call a spade a spade. This article will help you to distinguish between different types of vessels so that you’ll be confident in your marine vocabulary.

Luxury Yacht

A Boat

A ‘boat’ is defined by the English Oxford Dictionary as:

‘A small vessel for travelling over water, propelled by oars, sails, or an engine.’


Which should make things easy enough to understand. A boat is any small sea-faring vessel, and anything that could be described as big must have a different name. Except, the English Oxford Dictionary has a second definition:


‘A vessel of any size, especially a large one.’


The definition of ‘boat’ is therefore inherently contradictory. According to the English Oxford Dictionary, practically any vessel on the waters, including the noble yacht, is a ‘boat’. However, boating enthusiasts will make sure to correct you if you mistakenly call their yacht a boat. Let’s find out why:


A Yacht

A ‘yacht’ is defined by the English Oxford Dictionary as:


‘A medium-sized sailing boat equipped for cruising or racing.’


A yacht, in this case, is a sub-genre of boat. It must be medium-sized, and have sails. So, a yacht is always a boat, but a boat is not always a yacht. The next question is how we define ‘medium-sized’. Is there a precise measure against which we can distinguish a medium-sized yacht from a small boat? The answer is – not really.


When a Boat Becomes a Yacht

There is no steadfast rule for defining what a medium-sized sailing boat is, so don’t rush for your tape measure just yet. The rule of thumb is that yachts normally range from 10 metres up to 24 metres, which is when a yacht becomes a superyacht. Anything over 50 metres is currently called a megayacht. So how else might you describe to your friends that your vessel is a yacht and not a boat, or vice versa?



Some people will define their vessel as a ‘boat’ or ‘yacht’ depending on what the vessel is intended for. If it’s made for work, it’s a boat. If it’s made for luxury, it’s a yacht. Simple enough. This requirement leads to the next possible distinction: image.



For some people, the state of the yacht/boat will decide how it is referred to. As a luxury item, a yacht should be stylish. Since a boat is for work, it just needs to get the job done, without all the bells and whistles. If your vessel is coated top to tail in varnish, it’s more likely to be referred to as a yacht. If your hull isn’t as shiny as a Christmas bauble, then you might be in a boat.

Dilapidated Boats


Who Does Your Maintenance

Some people believe that in addition to looking like a yacht – ie, a beautiful medium-sized boat with sails and lots of varnish – you must also be paying someone else for maintenance in order to call your boat a yacht.


This is a bit silly, because if you’re really into boating, you’ll probably want to do some, if not all, of the maintenance yourself. Owning a boat or yacht doesn’t have to be solely about getting it onto the water; it can be about cleaning your cabin in the warm afternoon sun while basking in your neighbours’ envy.


Other Options

Perhaps the pressure of the boat vs yacht snobbery is too much (or too frivolous) of a worry for you. After all, one of the best reasons to purchase a sea-vessel is to have the opportunity to relax on the endless ocean. If you don’t want to explain to your friends whether you’re inviting them aboard your ‘yacht’ or your ‘boat’, why not consider calling it a skiff, canoe, launch, scow, trimaran or catamaran? Whatever vessel you call yourself captain of, you should take care of it with the best marine supplies and chandlery online from Offshore Supply,  someone just might refer to it as a yacht.

Man enjoying a ride on a wooden boat