Yacht, Ship, or Boat – which is it?
The English language is full of this kind of intriguing conundrum. Definitions of words like yacht, boat, or ship aren’t always sufficiently indicative of which is appropriate and when. The result is that most of us develop and use our own (unspoken) rules within our boating communities or, when the rules don’t apply, we just wing it!
If ‘winging it’ isn’t your style, or you’re new to the boating community, we have some guidelines to help you along the way to nautical fluency.
I don’t think anybody would argue that ‘yacht’ connotates something fancier than a boat or a ship. Interestingly enough, outside of the United States, ‘yacht’ generally refers to a sailboat unless specifically called a motor yacht. Unhelpfully, those of us in the US still have to contend with the power/sail question, and ‘boat’ is still used interchangeably. Back Cove and our sister company Sabre refer to our products as ‘yachts,’ (if that wasn’t already obvious). We craft personal luxury vessels designed for recreation, relaxation, and comfort, so yacht certainly seems the most appropriate.
Most associate ‘ship’ with something larger than a boat, and less recreational than a yacht. In short, a “working” vessel. One person pointed out to me that a ship generally needs a full crew, while a yacht sometimes doesn’t, and a boat almost never does. For example, a 200-foot cargo ship (or mega-yacht) almost certainly requires a crew, but an experienced team of two can safely and masterfully handle any Back Cove or Sabre yacht. Meanwhile, if we consider the rowboat, a single person could well manage on their own – with a little practice.
Defining ‘boat’ seems to be stickier than ‘yacht’ or ‘ship.’ We hear many captains referring to their ‘boat,’ irrespective of size, function, or fit-and-finish. Short of being deliberately confusing, it seems as though the word boat has become a colloquialism, pet phrase, or slang term for any floating object more complicated than a raft. So, setting slang aside, the rest shakes out pretty cleanly. A boat can be used for recreation or pleasure but is generally smaller than either a ship or a yacht, and with fewer amenities. Boats tend to be powered either by small engines, or elbow-grease (again, think rowboat).
When in Rome…
As we mentioned above, everybody has their own ‘rules.’ Moreover, the plasticity of language means that any guidelines have a substantial amount of grey area. So always be aware of those familiar with the vessel in question. If you are invited out on ‘the boat,’ it’s safe to say that is an acceptable term. If a captain or owner refers to their vessel as a ‘yacht,’ then use yacht. When in Rome, do as the Romans do!
There is one bit of unequivocally good news in all this confusion – when it’s yours, you can call it whatever you like!
PS – Do you find any other nautical terms confusing or unclear? Let us know in the comments!