Why Yachts Are More Than Just a Status Symbol

Motor Yacht

Picture a yacht in your head. What does it look like? Who’s driving it? What are they doing with it?

When most people think of yachts, they think of gigantic luxury vessels used as a status symbol by the upper class. But in reality, yachts are enjoyed by a wide range of different people, they range from small to large, and they can be quite affordable.

So why do these misconceptions exist? And what role do yachts really play for most people who use them and enjoy them?

What Is a Yacht?

Let’s start with a basic technical definition. Unfortunately, there’s no absolute standard here; different people may disagree on vessels they deem to be yachts. But most people use the term “yacht” to describe any sailing or power-based aquatic vessel that’s used for a combination of cruising, racing, or general pleasure.

What makes a yacht different than a boat? Usually, yachts are considered to be bigger and nicer than the average boat. While you’ll find some clear deviations, most yachts are at least 33 feet long and are designed and built with pleasing aesthetics in mind.

So, what about those very large vessels you see in movies and TV shows, crewed by entire teams so rich people can party? Those are superyachts, or megayachts. You can also find commercial yachts (designed to carry 12 or more passengers) and charter yachts, which are run for profit rather than personal pleasure.

Yachts and Associations with the Wealthy

According to Slate, the term “yacht” arose from a Dutch term. They state: “The Dutch term jacht, meaning hunt, originally applied to light sailboats that were used to pursue pirates. Such boats eventually gained popularity as leisure vessels, and the term was anglicized in the 17th century when King Charles II returned from his exile from the Commonwealth of England—part of which he had spent in Holland—with a newfound passion for yachting.”

Over time, the term began to be used to describe motorboats and steamboats that were primarily used for leisure. Around the Gilded Age, yachts were almost exclusively owned and used by wealthy people (including J.P. Morgan, who had a 240-foot-long yacht, named “the Corsair”). Shortly after this, people began forming and engaging in Yacht Clubs, which functioned as social groups for people who enjoyed yachting. Because most of the people who belonged to these clubs had significant wealth, and tended to interact in tight social circles, the public began to associated yachting with wealth.

The original surge in yachting interest started to dissolve during the Great Depression (for obvious reasons), but it began to re-emerge as a new trend in the 1980s and 1990s, driven by wealthy financiers. During these decades, it was common for upper-class Americans to try and outdo each other by purchasing bigger or more luxurious vessels, often in excess of 200 feet in length.

It’s also common for yachts to cost roughly 10 percent of their original price, every year, to maintain.  Depending on the vessel, you’ll need to pay for fuel, oil, maintenance, cleaning, docking, insurance, and possibly even a crew of people to tend to the boat. If a yacht costs $1,000,000 USD, that means it’s going to cost at least $100,000 per year just to maintain – meaning only the ultra-wealthy could afford something like this.

Perceptions of Yachts in Other Countries

In some ways, the association of yachting with wealth is an American trend. In other English-speaking countries, like England and Australia, the term “yacht” is used more commonly to describe any vessel used for sailing or cruising; you’re more likely to hear it used for small vessels. People are also more likely to describe themselves as “yachtsmen” and “yachtswomen”.

Why Yachts Aren’t Just a Status Symbol

It’s true that some people are still attempting to buy the biggest, most grandiose aquatic vessel they can afford, simply to show that they can afford it. No matter what, at least some wealthy people are going to be attracted to yachts for their capacity to showcase financial grandeur. But yachts themselves are much more than status symbols, and for several reasons:

  • Yachts range from big to small. If you think of a yacht as an overly long, powerful vessel, capable of carrying a dozen people or more, you’re actually thinking of superyachts. Yachts themselves can technically include small dinghies and other vessels that are available to almost anyone, regardless of how much money they make.
  • Yachts can be highly affordable. Similarly, yachts can be highly affordable. Small- to moderate-sized vessels can cost as little as a few thousand dollars, especially if you’re open to buying a used vessel. If you take out a loan with a low interest rate, you can buy a yacht with small, reasonable monthly payments, even if you don’t have much of a down payment to start.
  • Yachts serve several purposes. Yachting isn’t just about showing off to your friends. For some people, it’s about the technical appeal of sailing. For others, it’s about being competitive and racing with like-minded peers. For still others, it’s a pure love of being on the ocean.
  • Cultural differences. As we explored earlier, not all cultures share the same vision of what a “yacht” is. In many English-speaking countries, a yacht can be a small, inexpensive vessel made for a single person.
  • Declining trends. While there will always be small groups of people celebrating their wealth in loud and grandiose ways, the trend of outdoing your friends by buying a bigger yacht is in decline.

People unfamiliar with boating terminology may think of a “yacht” as an indulgence of the impossibly wealthy, so they never consider themselves to be potential yacht owners. But with the variety and low costs of yachts in the modern era, even someone with a decent salary and a bit of financial fortitude can become a yacht owner. Don’t believe us? Shop our selection of new and used yachts for sale today and see for yourself!

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