The Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary defines a yacht as “a large sailing boat, often also with an engine and a place to sleep on board, used for pleasure trips and racing”. Some other dictionaries mention medium sized, and some do consider the notion of motor yacht.
In French, Larousse says « Bâtiment de plaisance (à voile, à moteur ou mixte [voile et moteur]), de compétition, de cérémonie ou d’apparat. »
This translates as “A vessel (with sails, an engine, or both) used for leisure, racing, ceremony or pageantry.”
Let’s go to more specialized sources: Funnily, the Marshall Island regulations do mention yachts, but without ever defining the term.
The REG yacht code also does not define “yacht” but does mention that “in the text, the words yacht, vessel and ship are to be considered synonymous”. I guess they could not be bothered to clean up the text after assembling it.
As to ships, SOLAS does give different definitions of ship types in each chapter, while MARPOL tells us that ship also includes fixed and floating platforms.
Long story short, unless you are referring to a specific frame of reference (and not even then apparently), any argument on the definition of yacht is futile.
So for the fun of it, let’s try common sense.
I own a small boat, some 9m long. It’s proudly registered at The ancient and honourable Royal Malta Yacht Club and shows the corresponding Blue Ensign. Woe to anyone who says it’s not a yacht. I’ve lived around such yachts all my life, and for a long time I was blissfully unaware of the megayacht scene. Those behemoths certainly cannot be called yachts… Does it not cease to be a yacht if you cannot crew it with family and friends, and steer it yourself?
But I am a traditionalist, and I have also been in contact for long with the likes of “Alberta” à King Leopold, “Erin” à Sir Thomas Lipton and “Heliopolis” à Mr le Baron Empain, all connected to the Bruxelles Royal Yacht Club, of which I was once an officer and historian. Surely, those gentlemen are allowed to call their boat a yacht and hire professional crew. That’s what a gentleman would do.
Going from there, should we consider that when a boat becomes commercial, it ceases to be a yacht? Definitely, renting your boat out for money is not a gentlemanly pursuit… or is it? could it have been, in truth, since at least before Victorian times?
Ah! This is such a complicated matter. Would it be wise to keep this discussion for those long evenings at the bar of the yacht club?
Failing that, my personal policy would be to live and let live…
And that is my advice to the language police on the issue. Put down your shield, chill and have a quaff.