Water Sports - 15 min read

Yacht vs Sailboat: What’s The Difference?

Town and Tourist

Town and Tourist, Updated October 27, 2022

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The world of boats is complicated to decipher because of how many types, models, and brands exist. Yachts and sailboats are two essential types of boats that are immediately recognizable by anyone. With that said, the yacht vs. sailboat debate ultimately comes down to several distinguishing factors between the two.

The main difference between yachts and sailboats is that sailboats have sails and yachts don’t. Sailboats are also smaller than yachts, feature fewer amenities, and cannot move quite as fast. Yachts are also much more expensive to purchase and maintain, and maintenance costs 20% of the initial cost each year which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

It’s much easier to transport a sailboat than a yacht because yachts have to be shipped on a cargo deck. Conversely, you can attach the average sailboat to a trailer and tow it to a port. Follow along as we highlight the key differences between yachts and sailboats.

What Is The Difference Between a Yacht And a Sailboat?

The main differences between yachts and sailboats come down to size, amenities, and build. They serve the same purpose, but yachts and sailboats differ quite a bit when it comes to design. While not interchangeable, many prospective buyers struggle with whether or not to buy a yacht or a sailboat.

The yacht vs. sailboat debate has been discussed for decades, and it is ultimately subjective. However, many key differences can sway your opinion before you make a big purchase. Let’s take a look at the difference between yachts and sailboats and see why they matter.

Sail

Sails are the most immediately clear difference between yachts and sailboats. Sailboats always feature sails, but that’s not usually the case with yachts. The sail on a sailboat helps propel the vessel and is useful whether your boat has an engine or not.

Standard yachts lack sails because it would alter their appearance. Yachts are supposed to look sleek and luxurious which wouldn’t work as well with a sail. With that said, sailing yachts feature sails and are more often used for racing than cruising.

One of the downsides of traditional yachts is that you don’t get the aerodynamic boost that you would get with a sail. If you have a high-powered engine, this isn’t a problem, but it will have to work harder without a sail under poor weather conditions.

Size

The average sailboat is smaller than the average yacht. For example, the average yacht measures 78 feet long and the average sailboat measures 30 feet long. Yachts can be as small as 40 feet long or they can even exceed 100 feet long.

The world’s largest yacht measures 511 feet long and it is unsurprisingly owned by a multi-billionaire. Both yachts and sailboats vary in width depending on the floor plan and how many cabins they feature. Sailboats are generally slender because they feature a small galley and don’t typically include a cabin.

A superyacht is defined as a yacht that is 79 feet long or longer. However, you won’t find many superyachts out on the sea because they cost at least $3,000,000 in most cases.

Price

Yachts are almost always much more expensive than sailboats. The difference in cost comes down to the many amenities that yachts are known for as well as the motor and size. Yachts start at $500,000 on the low end, but they can exceed $10,000,000 for superyachts over 79 feet long.

The more expensive a yacht is, the more expensive it will be to maintain because of the fuel demands and part replacements. There is more variety in cost when it comes to sailboats because they are a broad category of vessels. For example, a sailboat with no motor will cost thousands of dollars less than one that is motorized.

A motorized sailboat can cost as much as $250,000 or more whereas one without a motor may only cost $3,500. Luxury sailboats with cabins can cost $500,000 but without the powerful performance of a yacht. With that said, sailboats cost less to maintain so even buying a high-end vessel may be a worthy investment.

Capacity

Yachts have a higher capacity than sailboats because of how much bigger they generally are. There are often multiple decks on a yacht which makes it easy to host a large group of guests. Standard yachts can only accommodate 10-12 people, but large superyachts can hold more than double that in some cases.

Sailboats can typically hold 5-10 people, but it depends on the size of the vessel. You can calculate the capacity for a sailboat or yacht by multiplying the length and width and then diving that number by 15. Otherwise, you can simply refer to the capacity as recommended by the manufacturer.

It’s worth noting that boat manufacturers can only provide approximate estimates for capacity. They base the capacity on an average of 150 pounds per person, but that doesn’t apply to everybody.

Amenities

Yachts are superior to sailboats when it comes to amenities in most cases. Sailboats sometimes feature a few amenities, such as a cabin or bathroom. However, yachts are considered luxury boats, so they are more likely to include special amenities such as built-in speakers and even TVs in some cases.

Some yachts even feature swimming pools and hot tubs, but they come at a premium price. They typically feature at least one deck to accommodate guests and some even feature helicopter pads. You won’t find nearly as many amenities on a sailboat because sailboats are more for practical use.

Larger sailboats may include a private deck and retractable sunshade. Otherwise, there isn’t usually enough space on a sailboat to include luxury amenities such as movie screens and infinity pools.

Quarters

If you’re looking for a boat with comfortable quarters, then a yacht is ideal for you. Sailboats feature quarters in some cases as well, but yachts specifically emphasize comfort and luxury. Some yachts feature multiple cabins that can be used for lounging and sleeping alike.

You will also find larger cabins in yachts than sailboats which makes them much more comfortable. Yachts also often feature crew quarters because they sometimes require staff to operate the vessel. Sailboats are usually much smaller than yachts, and the cabins are suitably smaller as well.

You won’t likely find many sailboats with crew quarters unless it is a motorized vessel. Many manufacturers let you customize the floorplan and design for a yacht or sailboat. You can add a cabin to a boat that typically wouldn’t feature one, but it will delay how quickly you get it by up to a year or more in some cases.

Performance

Yachts are also faster than sailboats in most cases because of the powerful motor. Sailing yachts offer the best of both worlds because of the aerodynamic boost paired with the motor. Sailboats can still reach high speeds without a motor, especially if the wind is in your favor.

However, sailboats are faster than motorized yachts in some cases and can even reach speeds up to 12 knots or more. Yachts can operate at 10 knots at least, but massive yachts cannot usually maintain a high speed for long. High-performance yachts from bands such as Foners can reach speeds up to 70 knots, but that is rare.

Luxury yachts that measure 30-40 feet long can run at 30 knots in some cases as well. Otherwise, heavy yachts with an underpowered motor may only run at 10-20  knots.

Docking

It typically costs more to dock a yacht than a sailboat, but it depends on the size. Marinas charge varying rates to dock based on the location and the size of your boat. Boat length is one of the biggest cost factors, and they typically charge $10-$50 per foot of the vessel.

Yachts and sailboats can be similar in length, but yachts are often longer and wider making them more expensive to dock. Many yachts are considered liveaboard boats which can also add to the cost of docking at a marina. Marinas charge an extra fee if you plan to live on your yacht while docked, and not all of them even allow it.

You will also likely need to pay an extra fee to have your yacht or sailboat pumped at the marina. This is more common with yachts because they almost always feature at least one bathroom, but some sailboats do as well. Pumping may cost as little as $10-$20, but it’s better than having to empty your tank.

Maintenance

Maintenance is a reoccurring cost no matter what type of boat you have. With that said, you will likely need to spend much more to maintain a yacht than a sailboat. Motor sailboats may still require expensive maintenance, but it’s much less than for a yacht.

Yachts require routine maintenance to ensure that the motor and engine can continue to run smoothly. It costs 20% of the buying price per year to maintain the average yacht, and that adds up quickly. Yachts often cost over $1,000,000, so you could potentially spend up to $200,000 per year in fuel and maintenance in that case.

Traditional sailboats only cost an average of $3,500 per year to maintain, but they can cost as little as $1,500. Your maintenance costs may exceed $5,000 per year for a sailboat if it is motorized. Even still, it costs tens of thousands of dollars less per year to maintain the average sailboat than a yacht. It also costs much more to insure a yacht than a sailboat.

Distance

Sailboats can typically travel further without needing to stop than yachts. That is because yachts need to refuel which can limit how far you can travel from a port. However, motor sailboats have the same distance limitations as yachts because they rely on fuel.

Traditional sailboats don’t feature motors so they can essentially travel as far as possible until the crew needs to return. Sailing yachts may be able to travel further than standard yachts because of the aerodynamic boost. This can put less stress on the engine which can help save fuel to let you travel further.

Transportation

It’s much easier to transport a sailboat to a port or dock than a yacht. In many cases, you simply cannot trailer a yacht and you need to ship it as deck cargo. You can expect to spend at least $1,000 to ship a yacht as cargo, but it can cost much more for long distances.

Sailboats are easier to transport because you can attach them to a trailer and tow them to a port in most cases. You can tow a sailboat with a trailer as long as it is 22 feet long or smaller. Otherwise, you may need to have your sailboat shipped as cargo like you would need to for a yacht.

Yacht Pros and Cons

Yachts are understandably desirable to many, even if they may seem unattainable. Even still, yachts are complicated just like any type of boat and they have various pros and cons. Let’s take a look at the positive aspects of owning a yacht.

Pros

First and foremost, yachts are spacious and comfortable which makes them better than most boats. They almost always feature a large galley and at least one cabin that offers plenty of room. The luxurious appeal of yachts is that they come with many amenities making them akin to a mobile hotel on the water.

Yachts also feature powerful motors that are necessary to move their massive weight. You can fit at least 10 people on a yacht and over 20 on some huge models. This makes them the best boat to take out onto the water if you plan to entertain a large group of people.

  • Comfortable cabins
  • Plenty of deck space
  • Convenient amenities
  • Can reach high speeds

Cons

The high cost of docking at a marina is one of the biggest downsides of owning a yacht. They are so massive that spending a fortune on docking fees and club memberships is unavoidable. This is especially true if you plan to join a yacht club which can cost $7,000 or more per year depending on where you live.

Another key downside to a yacht is that they are a poor investment. The exorbitant cost of yearly maintenance paired with the depreciating value after using a yacht makes it nearly impossible to turn a profit. It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to maintain a yacht depending on how much you use it and how much the initial cost was.

  • Maintenance costs a fortune
  • Expensive to dock
  • Requires a lot of fuel
  • Needs to be shipped

Sailboat Pros and Cons

Much like yachts, sailboats aren’t without their problems. With that said, sailboats are also incredible vessels and continue to improve with each generation. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of sailboats.

Pros

You can easily maintain a sailboat without spending nearly as much as you would on maintaining a yacht. That is because the engine on a sailboat is much simpler than one on a yacht which makes maintenance easier. You also get a boost from the wind as you move through the water with a sailboat because of how aerodynamic they are.

Another benefit of sailboats is that the engine doesn’t roar loudly likely a yacht does. This helps create a calm atmosphere for everyone on the boat which is essential when you are at sea. Most importantly, sailboats are inarguably much more affordable than yachts so they are easier for the average person to attain.

  • Aerodynamic design
  • Quiet operation
  • Reasonably affordable
  • Easy to maintain

Cons

One of the biggest downsides of sailboats is that they rely on great weather to operate at the optimal level. This is especially true if your sailboat isn’t motorized or simply has a weak engine that can’t keep up with bad weather. Sailboats are also usually much slower than yachts because their engines are less sophisticated.

They can also be difficult to steer in many cases, especially if you are new to sailing. You will also need to replace the sails several every 10 years or 4,000 hours of use, whichever comes first. Finally, sailboats aren’t known for having great amenities, such consider a yacht if you want luxury features.

  • Can’t always reach high speeds
  • Doesn’t feature many amenities
  • Relies on great weather
  • Difficult to steer
  • Must replace sails

What Qualifies a Boat To Be a Yacht?

The criteria for a yacht are dubious and frequently, debated, but they typically measure at least 30-40 feet long. Yachts are also almost exclusively luxury boats that feature more amenities than a sailboat, fishing vessel, or pontoon. Most yachts feature cabins, a bathroom, a kitchen, a dinette, and a comfortable galley.

Yachts also typically lack sails, but there are sailing yachts on the market but they are a more recent addition to the world of boats. They also have a unique look that you can recognize right away even if you are unfamiliar with other vessels. Yachts often feature diesel engines that are powerful enough to move such a massive boat, and some of them come with multiple engines.

Can a Yacht Cross The Ocean?

Not all yachts can cross the ocean, but many of them can. It ultimately comes down to the fuel source and what kind of engine your yacht has. Yachts with multiple engines in particular can easily cross the ocean up to 3,000 miles in many cases.

It’s important to check the recommended nautical mileage of your yacht via the manufacturer before you attempt this. Many people live on their yachts, and in this case, supplies are an important factor to consider. It can take over a week to sail 3,000 miles depending on how many stops you make and how fast your yacht is.

In this case, you will need to make sure that your yacht has enough food and supplies to last you for at least a week. Ideally, you should plan a route that will let you stop at ports to refuel, pump your bathroom, and get more supplies to last for the rest of the trip. If this isn’t possible then it’s worth reconsidering and sailing a different route if you’re unsure about your yacht’s capabilities.

Is a Yacht Better Than a Sailboat?

Yachts are better than sailboats if you value amenities and speed. Sailboats don’t always include an engine, but when they do, it’s usually less impressive than a yacht’s engine. However, the sail on a sailboat gives it an aerodynamic boost that yachts simply don’t have.

Yachts are a poor investment compared to a sailboat because of how much they cost to maintain. You may have to spend up to 20% of the initial cost of a yacht per year to maintain the yacht. Overall, yachts and sailboats both have many pros and cons, but sailboats are a more affordable option if you are on a budget.

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