8 Differences Between Yachting and Sailing

Differences Between Yachting and Sailing | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Unless you are very involved in the sailing community or own a boat of your own, you may think of yachting and sailing as similar.

In a lot of ways they are, after all, both are boats and both spend their time at sea. But, that’s about the end of the direct comparison.

Sailboats and yachts are very different, each with their pros and cons. Whether you are just curious about what the differences are, or are wondering because you plan to buy a boat yourself you’re in the right place. This article lists 8 distinct differences between yachting and sailing.

Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will have a much better idea about which might be better for you. After all, yachting/sailing isn’t for everyone.


Table of contents

1. Size

One of the biggest differences between a yacht and a sailboat is its size. A sailboat is likely to be much smaller than a yacht. Of course, some sailboats can be bigger than some yachts but if we are working on average sizes a yacht is going to be bigger. The reason that size matters so much when it comes to picking which boat you are going to purchase (sailboat or yacht) is space. The bigger your boat, the more space you are going to have. This may sound obvious but is one of the most important factors about your boat that people often fail to give their full consideration.

Size matters (when it comes to boats). Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The size of your boat will factor into almost every single thing you do, every day. The smaller your boat the less room you have for storage, the less room you have for emergency supplies, the less room you have for storing even yourself. Your sleeping quarters are not likely going to be very big, regardless of how big your boat is. Depending on how tall you are every inch of space could matter. If you are 6 feet tall and your sleeping quarters are only just big enough, or worse, too small. You are in trouble. It may not immediately bother you. You may even be able to trick yourself into thinking that you are fine curled up into a ball whenever you are trying to sleep. You won’t feel this way for long.

Size matters most when there are more people on your boat than just yourself. If you are planning on living on your boat solo you have a huge advantage space-wise. Whether you have 1 person or multiple you will still need the same kit. A watermaker, water storage, food storage, a first aid kit, a fishing rod, etc. You won’t need 3 first aid kits if you have 3 people on board. All of this means the biggest difference between living solo and living with others is the sleeping room. If you are living solo on a boat that can in theory sleep 4, congrats, you now have a whole lot more storage.

Conversely, if you are planning on living on your boat with someone (perhaps your spouse) then space matters even more. Two people need to be able to move about comfortably. Just because your little sailboat can sleep two doesn’t mean two people will be able to live on it comfortably. If there is more than one of you, you may be better off with a yacht.

2. Price

For the most part, the yachts are going to be more expensive. Sometimes a whole lot more. For a few reasons, mostly material and technology. The more modern a boat is the more expensive it is likely to be. This isn’t always the case, it is for the majority of the time though. If the price is going to play a big part in which boat you choose to buy here is something you may want to consider; just because a yacht can cost more doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get one. If you are on the fence, it is almost always to spend the extra money on something bigger and better.

When you buy a house, it is not uncommon to buy one to fix it up. Making little repairs and upgrades here and there, in some cases even building an extension. This doesn’t work with boats. The boat you buy is the boat you get. Sure, it can be improved. Repainted, renovated, modernized, but for the most part, it will stay the same size. You need to treat buying the boat the same as you would buying a car in this way. You wouldn’t buy a small hatchback and then build another story on it. The size boat you buy is the size boat you are stuck with. If you need more room, you will need another boat. It will work out much cheaper in the long run if you buy one expensive boat than having to buy a second slightly cheaper one because the first wasn’t up to scratch.

3. Crew

How much the crew will factor into your choice largely depends on budget and the size of the vessel you have your eye on. If you are planning on buying a sailboat, you aren’t going to need (or want) any kind of crew. You are the whole crew, except maybe your family/friends if they happen to live on your boat with you. If you have a yacht, however, its a completely different story. If you are planning on living aboard your yacht you may need one or two crew members to help you out. Even if you are fulfilling the most important role (captain), there will still be lots to do. Navigation, maintenance, and engineering may not be your forte.

If you are planning on buying a sailboat, you can handle everything yourself. There are relatively few computer components that will need working on and chances are you won’t have an engine. Repairs to a sailboat are not easy per se, they are just more manageable for one person. Changing a sail is much easier than repairing an engine. In severe conditions, a small sailboat is simply easier to keep an eye on than a huge yacht. A yacht may require, at the very least, another pair of eyes.

4. Whether or not there is a sail

This difference is purely aesthetic for the most part. Whether or not there is a sail. A sailboat, unsurprisingly, will always have a sail. The nail is how the boat harnesses the wind and what drives it forward. Sailing can be done anywhere, anytime, so long as the weather permits it. Yachting, on the other hand, can be far more limiting. A yacht typically won’t have a sail, which can be seen as either a positive or a negative depending on your outlook. Heres why.

If you are looking for a vessel that is easier to handle, you could argue that a yacht would fit those criteria better. Sure, the computer components are a little more complex and there is more to handle, but sailing itself will be easier. If you have to manage a sail, it can be pretty difficult in stormy conditions. You cant control your sails from inside the cabin. You can, however, steer your yacht from the comfort of the inside.

The advantage of having a sail, as opposed to just an engine, is that you don’t need to worry about fuel. Fuel is not only expensive but a real hassle. You must always keep an eye on your fuel levels when making long voyages or else you risk breaking down at sea. A sailboat can sail so long as there is wind. If you have an extra sail onboard, chances are you will be fine no matter what happens. You are much less likely to get stuck at sea.

5. Engine size

Some sailboats do have motors, albeit small ones. It could just be a trolling motor or as big as a 2 stroke. Regardless of what engine size you have, it is never going to be your primary power source. If you have sails you get your power from harnassing the wind. This, again, can be seen as either good or bad. If you have a small engine you have less to worry about. If you only have the most basic mechanical skills and knowhow you will probably be fine.

A yacht, on the other hand, is a whole different beast. If you don’t know how to work on your yacht in the engine room and you break down you are in real trouble. Owning a yacht can be far more complex than owning a sailboat in this regard. If you don’t anticipate learning how to make these repairs yourself, you are going to need to hire someone who will. Its no good just relying on the marina workshop or a local mechanic, if you are at sea there will be no way for them to get to you. Hiring a crew member with good mechanical abilities isn’t going to be cheap. It is a recurring cost you may want to factor into your budget when deciding whether or not a yacht is right for you.

6. Where they can sail

Big yachts cannot sail in shallow waters. If you are planning on sailing in places with shallow, shale filled, waters then a sailboat is the way to go. The Caribbean, for example, can be hard to navigate in a yacht. At least, harder than it would be with a sailing boat. On the other hand, a yacht can go to many more places than a sailboat.

You could, in theory, sail across the Atlantic in a small sailboat. But, would you want to? It is very dangerous and your boat might not hold up to the intense wind and waves. Additionally, if you are on a sailboat you might be the only crew member. This means there will be no one around to help you should the worst come to fruition, far out at sea. It can be done, you can sail across the Atlantic. But you probably shouldn’t.

7. Technology

In regards to technology, not just whether you are choosing a sailboat or a yacht must be given consideration. How old the individual vessel is, is equally important. An older yacht may not be as technologically advanced as a brand new sailboat. If you do choose to buy a yacht, better technology can open a lot of doors for you. First of all, it can make working on your boat a lot easier. If you have the capability of setting up a fully functioning office with wifi there is no reason you couldn’t just work remotely from your boat.

Technology also opens many new routes for you to take regarding the act of sailing itself. You could sail across the Atlantic with a sailboat, but it would be very risky and very difficult. With a yacht, on the other hand, it can be far easier. Your yacht will come equipped with advanced navigational systems, warning and guidance systems, and much more safety features than a sailboat would. A yacht will be able to plot your route from point to point. On a sailboat, you may not have that luxury.

8. Material

Material matters, whether it is affecting the cost or the sturdiness, it is something to consider. A yacht will be made of fiberglass, carbon fiber, and metals such as titanium. A sailboat, on the other hand, will likely be made from wood or fiberglass. If you are looking for safety and sturdiness above all, and the price is no problem, a yacht will be far safer for you. On the other hand, a sailboat might have the aesthetic you are looking for. You may want a wooden sailboat specifically because you think it looks better.

The material can also factor into how easy it is for you to make repairs. It is a lot easier to patch up a wooden boat than a metal one. With wood, you can make some cowboy fixes on the fly and they will likely hold up until you make it to port. With a yacht, you will need many special tools and training to make big repairs. Again, you may need to hire a crew member to handle that for you on a yacht.


Hopefully, you now have a pretty good idea about the differences between yachts and sailboats. They each have their pros and cons, and can both offer you a world of excitement and adventure. Which boat would be best for you depends solely on your needs. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to which boat to choose, just go with your gut instinct. Hopefully, this article has made the decision a little easier. At the very least.

8 Differences Between Yachting and Sailing
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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