Technically, anything that floats (except maybe inner tubes) and carries people and/or cargo constitutes a boat. And, when it comes to boats, size isn’t the only thing that matters. Boat types, hull design and, most important, how you intend to use it do too. So, whether you’re ready to buy your first yacht, move up to another class or simply want to shoot the breeze (intelligently) with your friends, we can help.

Even if you’ve never sailed before, one of your ancestors probably did. That’s because from the Egyptians on, ancient civilizations used boats to fish for food, transport goods to market, defend their coasts and explore. Boats were utilitarian, not recreational.

Unlike primitive dugouts and canoes handmade and powered by rowers, boats now use state-of-the-art materials and production techniques as well as advanced technology and propulsion methods to move vast numbers of people through the water. Outfitted with navigation and entertainment electronics, onboard bathrooms, even refrigeration, trips are no longer limited to a coastal hop. Some circumnavigate the globe while others are anchored in safe harbors with their owners living onboard.

Boat size determines how boats are categorized, so let’s go BIG first.

  1. Ships are the largest. They are typically commercial, working crafts that require a full crew. (Think of an oil tanker, cargo or cruise ship.)
  2. Yachts are somewhere in the middle, and, by far, have the greatest number of categories. Typically used for recreation, yachts are designed with comfort, relaxation and socializing in mind.
  3. Smaller yachts (35 to 45 feet) are ideal for “couple’s cruising”; larger ones (60-90 feet) intended for extended cruises might have a professional captain and one or two crew members.
  4. Boats can be anything from a kayak or canoe to a cruiser or rigid inflatable. Think of it this way: If it’s small enough to serve as a tender to a yacht, it’s a boat.

Different Boat Types

There are basically three boat types: sailing, motor and hybrid, with dozens of categories – some of which overlap – within boat types. The defining factor is how they are propelled through the water. Since sailing boats preceded motorboats, we’ll start with them.

sailboats on the river, boat types

Boat Type #1: Sailing Boats

If your boat has a hull, a rudder and a mast, you’re set to sail. But everyone’s idea of sailing differs. Some sailers want to relax and cruise while others want to race. Features that distinguish one sailboat from another include type of hull, keel, sails and rigging, and number of masts.

The sailboat hull’s primary function is to keep water from getting inside the boat. So, the stronger the better. Wood, fiberglass, steel and aluminum are the most common materials. Keels differ in length and weight and are what provide ballast to ensure stability and a smooth ride when underway. The number of masts and sails and rigging are what affect the hydrodynamics on everything from single-seaters to competition and recreational sailboats.

Boats that rely solely on rowing and/or the wind for power can be broken down into three categories.

Sailboat Categories:

Monohulls

Mention sailing and single-hull boats are typically what people think of. Classes of monohulls include dinghies (6 to 20 feet), gaff-rigged catboats (14 to 26 feet), single-mast cutters (22 to 34 feet), double-mast sloops (35 to 65 feet), two-masted schooners (up to 130 feet) and two-masted ketches (40 to 282 feet).

Catamarans

Catamarans, often referred to as “cats,” are sailboats with parallel hulls of equal size and a wide beam to help stabilize them. FYI: Centuries ago, fishermen in India created a raft by tying half a dozen tree trunks together, which they then “sailed” out in search of dinner using paddles or poles. Their word for this large raft was “kattumaram,” which later morphed into “catamaran” in English.

twin-hulled catamaran, boat types

Twin-hulled catamarans are generally 14 to 20 feet in length and are primarily used for recreation and daysailing. Hobie cats, often called beach catamarans, fall into this class. They are small and light enough to be shoved ashore and then pushed back into the surf when it’s time to head home.

Multihulls

In keeping with the “more is better” theory, sailboat manufacturers began designing trimarans (three hulls, aka double-riggers), quadrimarans (four hulls) and pentamarans (five hulls). However, only a few four- and five-hull crafts were ever built. The trimaran with its large beam and low center of gravity is a different story.

Trimarans have a main hull and two outrigger hulls called “floats” that make them look as if they’re about to fly. That and the fact that they average 31 mph, may be why these multihull sailing yachts are often found competing and winning races like the America’s Cup.

Cruising catamarans have larger hulls that can accommodate several cabins, a galley and living quarters. Mega or super catamarans are those over 60 feet in length. The amenities and accommodations of cruising catamarans rival those of luxury motor yachts. The largest catamaran built to date is 147 feet long.

Boat Type #2: Motor Yachts

The word “yacht” comes from the Dutch “jaght” and is described as a large recreational craft that is motor powered. Motor yachts come in a wide range of styles, sizes (30 to 130+ feet), levels of luxury and performance. Unlike sailing yachts, this boat type gets its power from motors or engines. Most motor yachts for sale today are 78 feet or less. However, there are superyachts ranging from 78 to 163 feet and mega yachts that start at 164 feet and go up. As of 2021, the world’s longest yacht is 590 feet.

Motor Yacht Categories:

Classic Motor Yachts

In their heyday – 1920s to 1970s – Classic motor yachts were considered the epitome of style, comfort and luxury. Mahogany paneled walls, antique furnishings, vintage fabrics added character and a timeless elegance. Most were completely handcrafted out of wood and many are still afloat today. For 21st-century yacht lovers who want to step back in time, there are shipbuilders who custom build yachts that combine classic design with modern technology to create the best of both worlds.

Express Motor Yachts

Express motor yachts have two decks: one above the hull and one below. The main distinction is how the top deck is configured. Is it “open” or “closed?” Open Express models devote much of their top deck space to sunbathing and relaxing – there’s nothing between you and the great outdoors. As their name implies, Hardtop Express boats have a hard top that shades the cockpit/helm area. On some models, the space between the hardtop and windshield is open to let air flow through; others have windshields that are closed on three sides; while still others enclose the entire area above deck. Express boats have berth(s) and head(s) below deck.

cabin cruiser, boat types

Cabin Cruisers

Boats 25 to 45 feet are often referred to as cabin cruisers. They are family-friendly with a galley, head, berths, open-air entertaining areas, roomy cockpits, swim platforms, sun pads – everything you need to turn a boat ride into a mini vacation.

Express Cruiser

The word that best describes an Express Cruiser is s-p-e-e-d-y. They cruise at 25 to 30 knots or more and range from 25 to 50 feet. They have the same layout as Express and Cruiser models – single deck above the hull with living quarters below. With a full head, galley and two to six berths, Express Cruisers are sleek, sporty and a top choice for overnight or extended weekend cruising.

Sports Cruiser

Cruise, dive, swim or fish? How about all four. Hitch your trailer and sports cruiser to your SUV, and head out for a weekend on the water. Ranging from 25 to 45 feet, Sports Cruisers are designed for water sports, fishing, overnight and day cruising. Open floor plans and roomy cockpits accommodate a variety of activities. All these features, including generous living space below deck, deliver the ideal mix of performance and luxury. Sleek. Powerful. Fast. Sports Cruisers are born for fun. You’ll find the term “sports” applied to other types of yachts: Sports Motor Yachts, Sportfishing Yachts, Sport Bridge Yachts, etc.

Flybridge Motor Yachts

Especially popular with anglers, Flybridge motor yachts have a large cockpit above the interior cabin. This birds-eye view of the water makes it easier to spot fish and keep track of fishing lines. As with sport fishing yachts, flybridges have open decks, are sturdy enough to handle rough conditions and have the speed to outrun storms. But, you don’t have to fish to enjoy a flybridge. Along with improved vision while navigating, a flybridge lounge seating area provides luxurious living space for family and guests.

Sedan Motor Yachts

Sedan motor yachts are made for those who love cruising the world’s coasts. These mid-sized boats come in three versions: extended hard top, with flybridge and without flybridge. A sedan’s main attraction is a large main deck, which translates into wide side decks and an abundance of outdoor areas. The control station on the top of the superstructure provides plenty of seating and lounging space along with a spectacular panoramic view. Luxury living quarters are one level below.

downeast-styled motor yacht, boat types

Downeast-Styled Motor Yachts

Downeast-styled motor yachts are fashioned after Maine’s traditional commercial lobster boats. Their average length is 36 feet; however, they can be anywhere from 21 to 66 feet. The same characteristics commercial fishermen appreciate –– functional layouts, low profile, large cockpit and seaworthiness –– are also what attract today’s cruisers. While some of today’s Downeast cruisers are built with hulls similar to the original models, others have customized hulls to accommodate advanced engineering systems and enhanced living quarters.

Daybridge Motor Yachts

Ranging from 52 to 70 feet, multi-level Daybridge motor yachts deliver the ultimate outdoor experience. Features and amenities include huge sunpads, walk-around side decks, entertainment cockpit, swim/boarding platform, three to four staterooms, luxury bathrooms, state-of-the-art navigation, galley, salon with windows
galore, tender garage and easy-to-access engine room.

Pilothouse Yachts

Pilothouse yachts are multi-decked like flybridges. The primary difference is that the helm is completely separate and is raised above the main deck. Along with a 360-degree view that improves visibility and protection from the elements, Pilothouse yachts deliver top-class performance, and their knitted fiberglass construction makes them lightweight. Above all, Pilothouse yachts provide a warm, dry, comfortable boating experience.

Skylounge Yachts

A Skylounge yacht is just another version of a flybridge with one exception: The helm is perched atop the upper deck and completely enclosed; however, they do have windows that open and many have sunroofs. Generally furnished with seats and sofas, TV and a full bar, as well as A/C and/or heat, a yacht’s skylounge provides a penthouse view and all the comforts of a 5-star hotel.

sport fishing yacht, boat types

Sport Fishing Yachts

For those who live to fish, Sport Fishing yachts are loaded with features fisherman love, such as plenty of deck space, recessed grab rails and toe kicks along with standard cockpit fish boxes, raised transom live wells, forward fish boxes and transom doors. And, most important, 360 degrees of fish-ability.

Convertible Yachts

Convertible yachts have the amenities of a motor yacht (comfort, space for entertaining and sunning) and the features of a sportfish (storage, stability and long range). As the name implies, these motor yachts have the ability to convert to a day, a weekend or longer of fishing or cruising.

Sport Utility Vessel (SUV) Yachts

Consider this a crossover craft. It combines the high performance and fishing features of a blue-water cruiser with the comfort and luxury of a sophisticated yacht dedicated to relaxing and socializing. SUVs offer larger interiors, enlarged windows, a higher level of safety and greater hull and engine efficiency – everything you need to spend more time at sea comfortably. Models range in length from 36 to 77 feet.

Tri-Deck Yachts

Tri-Deck yachts have three levels of enclosed, climate-controlled living space, plus a flybridge or skylounge. They are typically classified as a mega yacht, because they normally are longer than 120 feet. (Smaller Tri-Decks do exist.) Loaded with the most advanced electronics and engineering technology, Tri-Decks also feature on-deck master suites, quarters for captain and crew, galleys with walk-in pantries and full-size freezers, cinemas and/or gyms, richly decorated interiors, garages for tenders and water toys, even helipads. In other words, they’re huge and wildly luxurious.

trawler, boat types

Trawlers

Modern fishing trawlers were developed in 19th century England to serve as workboats for the fishing trade. Back then, trawlers generally were 66 to 98 feet in length; today modern shrimp trawlers go all the way up to 472 feet. Trawler types include Beam, Freezer, Otter, Pair, Side, Stern and Wetfish. Trawlers have full-displacement, ballasted hulls and huge fuel capacity to ensure they are economical to run and able to store and preserve massive quantities of fish for extended periods of time. All the things that made trawlers winners in the marine industry centuries ago caught the imagination of recreational yacht designers and owners – with a few modifications, of course.

Today’s recreational trawlers are a far cry from their predecessors. Ranging from 35 to 60 feet, they are designed for leisurely, long-distance cruising – even living aboard – in comfort and style. By switching to a semi-displacement hull, retaining the large fuel tanks and combining the amenities of popular luxury yachts, these seaworthy, pleasure boats are now must-haves for recreational travelers. The characteristics recreational trawlers are known for – walk-around decks, large staterooms, luxurious interiors and plentiful under-deck living areas – can even be found on so-called “pocket trawlers.” These under-40-foot cruisers are more affordable, small enough to trailer and powered by a single diesel engine or twin outboards.

Boat Type #3: Hybrid Yachts

At the turn of the 19th century, shipbuilders in Turkey were building classic wooden boats that used both sails and motors. These wooden classics were referred to as Gulets and are considered the original hybrid yacht. A Gulet ranged from 65 to 98 feet, featured two or more masts and typically transported cargo. Charter a yacht in different Asian and European countries today, and chances are it will be a Gulet – modern, beautiful, ornate, sturdy and safe. Many of today’s sailing yachts qualify as hybrids as well. They can travel solely by sail or motor around when conditions make sailing difficult.

Modern sailing yachts include the same level of amenities, flexible layouts and styling as motor yachts.

The 21st century added an eco-friendly dimension to the term hybrid. While it still indicates two sources of power, that power is now leaning “green.” Yacht owners who want their boats to have as little impact on the environment as possible are requesting yachts that use advanced hybrid technologies. By using a propulsion system that combines electric battery and engine power, today’s motor yachts are reducing their carbon footprint. Lower-impact cruising also delivers decreased fuel consumption, fewer transmissions and a blissfully quiet ride without sacrificing performance and speed. The first truly hybrid super yacht was built in the Netherlands and launched in 2009.

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