From Sails to Motors: The History of Yachting

How Yachting went from a Necessity to a Lifestyle

As a boating enthusiast like us here at Van Isle Marina, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about boats, looking at boats, and being on boats at every opportunity you can seize. But have you ever wondered how today’s luxury vessels came to be?

What was there before the motorboat grew to become a luxury yacht, which further grew to become a superyacht? If you’re as curious as we were about how, when, and where the yachting lifestyle evolved, read on for our brief guide to the history of yachting.

Not sure what makes a yacht a yacht in the first place? Review our Yacht Sizes, Styles, Types & Categories post as a refresher. In short, a yacht is mainly considered to be any type of sea vessel used strictly for recreational or pleasure purposes like cruising, entertaining, water sports, or fishing. There is a wide variety of sea vessels that are classified as yachts, with the term largely representing any vessel used recreationally that is large enough to have some form of sleeping quarters for overnight trips, as well as a kitchen and bathroom.

Today’s modern luxury yachts have come along way. Let’s take a look at where it all started.

Origin of Yachting

So, where did the term yachting come from? Originally called jachtschips (hunting boats), yachts were invented by the Dutch Navy in the 14th century to catch pirates and thieves quickly in shallower waters where larger ships couldn’t be sailed.

It wasn’t long until wealthy merchants and ship owners began using these smaller and speedier boats to sail out to celebrate their returning merchant ships. Sailing yachts also became popular with royalty, and it quickly became chic to use them for pleasure cruises and inevitably, for racing. English yachting is said to have officially begun when King Charles ll sailed the Mary to Britain following his return from exile in the Netherlands.

History of Yachting - the Mary

A 20 metre (66 foot) craft, the Mary inspired Charles and his brother James, the Duke of York, to construct more yachts and begin racing. They raced for sport for the first time in 1662 on the River Thames on a 100-pound wager.

Yachting Gains Traction

After a while, yachting slowly became fashionable among the wealthy, with the first social Yacht Club (the Water Club) in Cork, Ireland, being established in 1720. It was first used as a coast guard style organization. In the Water Club, races were actually chases, where the fleet of vessels “raced” to catch a nonexistent enemy—a nod to the yachts’ original crime-fighting purpose.

Meanwhile, the first yachts used in the North American colonies were typically Pilot Schooners – fast sailing vessels with tall masts and History of Yachting - Pilot Schoonerlong, slender hulls. They were capable of reaching speeds up to 20 knots, as opposed to the 5-6 knots reached by other crafts.

These Pilot Schooners were designed to guide the cargo-carrying Clippers to safe harbour, and in order for the crew to make a living guiding cargo ships to shore, they had to be the fastest.

The New York Yacht Club (NYYC) began in 1844 and the first racing schooner, the 30.78 metre America sailed across the Atlantic. She was turned down from the races in England, but joined in a race around the Isle of Wight with 14 yachts from the Royal Yacht Squadron, winning the Hundred Guinea Cup, known today as America’s Cup. Using this new design, the NYYC won the cup every year, from 1870-1983.

Yachts Get Bigger and Faster

After 1850, when steam-powered and internal combustion engines began to replace sails as the main power source, larger yachts and paddle wheel boats were developed as pleasure craft for long-distance cruising. By the second half of the 20th century, the majority of yachts relied on internal combustion engines (motor yachts), having moved away from using sails as auxiliary power.

Governance of the Yachting Industry

In 1907, yacht racing had caught on to the point where a governing body was required to create a universal set of rules and regulations for the sport since each country and region had their own set of rules—leading to much confusion. And so the International Yacht Racing Union (IYRU) was created in Paris. It was later renamed to the International Sailing Federation in 1996. Around this time, international racing really took off, splitting yachting into the two main factions we see today—racing and cruising.

Yachting Today

Today, the yacht has continued to develop with advances in technology and materials depending on the intended use – from long-range cruising, to fishing and watersports, to being used as a home away from home. Although wooden boat purists will still insist on a wooden hull, the vast majority of today’s hulls are created from much lighter materials like fibreglass, and designs vary according to the make and model of the vessel.

History of Yachting - todays yachts

Among other advances are the multihull design (catamaran/trimaran) and special features such as computer controlled winches on sailing yachts, an auxiliary engine to power the alternator, wind, water, and solar powered generators, GPS systems, radar, electricity, tender storage, joystick steering, and much more.

On top of these features, today’s luxury yachts have endless amounts of finishing touches that we are sure would have impressed the original yachtsmen, including leather interiors, teak decking, laundry machines, kitchen appliances, and the list goes on.

Whether you’re interested in a classic motor yacht, flybridge, a larger luxury rig, or something in between for your yachting lifestyle, come visit us at Van Isle Marina where we offer a wide range of new and used models as well as a fully secure maintenance and storage facility.