Yacht vs Boat: What are the Differences?


This post is also available in: French

Definitions of words such as “yacht”, “boat”, or even “ship” are not always clear. Most of us make our own (unspoken) rules up, while others simply go with the flow and call their vessel whatever comes up at the moment.

So when does a boat become a yacht? Are all boats yachts? Are all yachts boats? What about ships?

Here is our subjective take on this vital matter.

The definition of a boat

In spoken or written English, it seems that anything able to float can be called a boat. It has little to do with size, function, or fit-and-finish. It is the most general term.

According to many dictionaries, boats are defined as “small vessels for traveling over water, propelled by oars, sails, or an engine”. So, a boat can have recreational purposes as well as commercial ones, but it is expected to be quite limited in size. 

A yacht : our unofficial definition

The word “yacht” generally refers to a more sophisticated craft than a boat or a ship. 

Yachts can be sailed or motorized: so catamaran, monohulls, or even trimarans can also be called “yachts”. 

To deserve their name, they have to be comfortable, spacious, well equipped and built with luxury in mind.

Regarding their functions, yachts are purely recreational. 

They are designed for relaxation and leisure first, even though they can be suitable for long stays at sea and transatlantic crossings.  

To sum up, as soon as your boat is a certain size and boasts several luxury features designed for leisure, then you can call it a yacht.

The definition of a ship

According to the Oxford dictionary, a ship is “a large boat for transporting people or goods by sea”.

The ship is associated with something larger and less fancy than a boat. 

It is a “working” vessel, unlike yachts which are made for leisure purposes.

A ship usually needs a full crew to operate. A yacht might need a full crew to operate depending on its size. A boat usually implies smaller vessels and therefore most of them don’t need a crew.  

Common vessels that are called “ships” include ferries, petrol tankers, or warships.

Details to look at to know if you are dealing with a boat, a yacht, or a ship

The size

Size is one of the most determining factors to know how to call your vessel.

A boat is often expected to be smaller than a ship or a yacht. Generally, a vessel anywhere from 15-30 feet in length will be called a boat.

Starting from 15 meters (50 feet), private luxury recreational crafts can be considered yachts. 

Starting from 24 meters (79 feet), you are entering the superyachts area. 

Azzam Yacht, 590 ft

Above, 50 meters can start talking about mega yachts. Obviously, there is no upper limit to mega yachts. Currently, Azzam, the world’s biggest yacht is 180 meters long (590 feet).

So when it comes to differentiating between boat and yacht, size does matter.

But size alone isn’t enough to know the sort of vessel you are dealing with.

The function

The main function of its vessel is one of the easiest ways to recognize a boat from a ship or a yacht.

Boats can be used for both leisure and business (fishing, day trips, police, …) depending on their size and options.

On the other hand, a yacht has a purely recreational function. Unlike a “boat”, it can be used for long voyages on oceans thanks to its larger size, better propulsion, advanced electronics, guidance, and safety equipment, but especially thanks to its comfort. Yachts can protect passengers from bad weather and the comfortable cabins can accommodate several passengers for long stays. Yachts are also often available for charter with a staff taking care of the guests at a high standard of comfort.

Ships primarily have commercial functions. It can be forwarding freight, crossing the sea with thousands of people on board, or going on a warzone with a unit and its material.

To add to the confusion, some mega yachts such as Christina O could be called ships due to their initial function or their size.


Besides these exceptions, it’s quite obvious to recognize a yacht from a boat or a ship simply by its size and the luxury of its amenities.

The luxury on board

A yacht is a recreational vessel designed with luxury and comfort in mind. 

The facilities, be it furniture, rooms, living spaces, safety equipment, and navigation systems are all luxurious on a yacht. 

The notion of space is often very important to feel comfortable on board, even for long cruises. The largest and most luxurious yachts have various spaces such as beaches, sundecks … to make life on board as comfortable as on land, if not more.

To make it simple, if a vessel is luxurious, then more often than not, it’s a yacht.

Check out all our luxury yachts here.

The propulsion of the vessel

A boat can be rowed, propelled with its sails, or with one or several engines. 

Motorized small boats can have impressive speed on the water thanks to their lightweight, but their engines are usually less powerful and sophisticated than yacht engines. 

Some boats can sail long-distance when they are well equipped, such as solar panel, water maker etc.

On the other hand, equipment on yachts make them able to operate over very long distances, including crossing oceans.

Most ships are designed to cross the sea with safety and they are designed for this objective.

Looking at the propulsion is therefore not enough to know if a vessel is a boat, a yacht, or a ship, although it can give you a few clues.

The crew on board

Commercial ships and professional boats obviously have experienced captains to sail them around the rough corners of the globe. 

For yachts and leisure boats, it is less obvious.

Big yachts owners usually employ professionals to sail, but also manage the daily operations onboard. The number of enrolled crew members depends on the yacht’ size.

Usually, boats do not need a professional enrolled skipper to operate, if you know how to sail. But you can always rent a boat and hire a skipper to bring you wherever you want.

So, what should you call your vessel? 

To make it simple, if your vessel is a  luxury craft above 50 feet, designed for fun, recreation, relaxation, and comfort, then call it a yacht.

Anything below that size, call it a boat.

If you own a working craft rather than something recreational, especially if it’s a long vessel, then you are free to call it a ship.

But let’s be honest, nobody will blame you if you use the wrong term. You are entirely free to continue calling your canoe a yacht if you like it that way!

Read Also : How Much does it Cost to Charter a Luxury Yacht?


What is the smallest boat size to be considered a yacht?

Starting from 50 feet (15 meters), a pleasure boat is usually considered a yacht.

Is a 40-feet boat a yacht?

Yes, a 40-feet boat can be considered a yacht if it has recreational use and a luxurious outfit. Otherwise, it is only a boat!

When does a boat become a ship?

By definition, a ship is a large vessel that crosses oceans and other deep waters for commercial purposes. It carries cargo or passengers or performs specialized missions, such as defense, research, and fishing.

So a boat becomes a ship when it is big, it weighs at least 500 tonnes or above and it has commercial use.

What boat is defined as a yacht?

Private recreational boats from 33 feet are actually yachts. Luxury is also an important point once defining a yacht.

Are all boats yachts?

No. If the boat doesn’t have a recreational purpose, if it is below 33 feet long (10 meters), or if it is not luxurious, it is not a yacht but a boat!