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A yacht is a watercraft used for pleasure or sports. The term originates from the Dutch word jacht (which means "hunt"), and originally referenced light, fast sailing vessels that the Dutch Republic navy used to pursue pirates and other transgressors around and into the shallow waters of the Low Countries. The yacht was popularized by Charles II of England as a pleasure or recreation vessel following his restoration in 1660.
Today's yachts are almost exclusively for leisure. A yacht is any sail or power vessel used for pleasure, cruising, or racing. The word often connotes luxury; however, luxury is not a quality necessary to meet the definition; nor is it always desirable. Many racing yachts are stripped-out vessels with a minimum of accommodations to lower weight. The term 'sailboat' or 'sail yacht' is used in America to differentiate from a 'powerboat' or 'power yacht.' As of December 2018,[clarification needed] there were about 6,500 yachts over 24m on the market.
Yacht lengths normally range from 7 metres (23 ft) up to dozens of meters (hundreds of feet). A luxury craft smaller than 12 metres (39 ft) is more commonly called a cabin cruiser or simply a cruiser. Yachts may be classified as "large" (over 24 m (79 ft), which have higher construction standards; "commercial," carrying no more than 12 passengers; "private," which solely for the pleasure of the owner and guests, or by flag, the country under which it is registered. A superyacht (sometimes "mega yacht") generally refers to any yacht (sail or power) above 40 m (131 ft).
A few countries have a special flag worn by recreational boats or ships, which indicates the nationality of the ship. Although inspired by the national flag, the yacht ensign does not always correspond with the civil or merchant ensign of the state in question.
The US yacht ensign for example, has a circle of 13 stars and a fouled anchor in the canton instead of the 50 stars, being quite different from the ensign of the United States, which is the flag of the United States.
Yacht ensigns differ from merchant ensigns to signal that the yacht is not carrying cargo that requires a customs declaration. Carrying commercial cargo on a boat with a yacht ensign is deemed to be smuggling in many jurisdictions.[which?]
Until the 1950s, almost all yachts were made of wood or steel, but a much wider range of materials is used today. Although wood hulls are still in production, the most common construction material is fibreglass, followed by aluminium, steel, carbon fibre, and ferrocement (rarer because of insurance difficulties). The use of wood has changed and is no longer limited to traditional board-based methods, but also include modern products such as plywood, veneers, skinned balsa and epoxy resins. Wood is mostly used by hobbyists or wooden boat purists when building an individual boat. Apart from materials like carbon fibre and aramid fibre, spruce veneers laminated with epoxy resins have the best weight-to-strength ratios of all boatbuilding materials.
Sailing yachts can range in overall length (Length Over All--LOA) from about 6 metres (20 ft) to well over 30 metres (98 ft), where the distinction between a yacht and a ship becomes blurred. Most privately owned yachts fall in the range of about 7 metres (23 ft)-14 metres (46 ft). The cost of building and keeping a yacht rises quickly as length increases. In the United States, sailors tend to refer to smaller yachts as sailboats, while referring to the general sport of sailing as yachting. Within the limited context of sailboat racing, a yacht is any sailing vessel taking part in a race, regardless of size.
Many modern racing sail yachts have efficient sail-plans, most notably the Bermuda rig, that allow them to sail close to the wind. This capability is the result of a sail-plan and hull design oriented towards this capability.
Day sailing yachts are usually small, at under 6 metres (20 ft) in length. Sometimes called sailing dinghies, they often have a retractable keel, centreboard, or daggerboard. Most day sailing yachts do not have a cabin, as they are designed for hourly or daily use and not for overnight journeys. They may have a 'cuddy' cabin, where the front part of the hull has a raised solid roof to provide a place to store equipment or to offer shelter from wind or spray.
Weekender yachts are slightly larger, at under 9.5 metres (31 ft) in length. They may have twin keels or lifting keels such as in trailer sailers. This allows them to operate in shallow waters, and if needed "dry out"--become beached as the tide falls.This is important in UK waters where many moorings are in tidal creeks. The hull shape (or twin-keel layout) allows the boat to sit upright when there is no water. Such boats are designed to undertake short journeys, rarely lasting more than 2 or 3 days. In coastal areas, long trips may be undertaken in a series of short hops. Weekenders usually have only a simple cabin, often consisting of a single "saloon" with bedspace for two to four people. Clever use of ergonomics allows space in the saloon for a galley (kitchen), seating, and navigation equipment. There is limited space for stores of water and food. Most are single-masted "Bermuda sloops," with a single foresail of the jib or genoa type and a single mainsail. Some are gaff rigged. The smallest of this type, generally called pocket yachts or pocket cruisers, and trailer sailers can be transported on special trailers.
Cruising yachts are by far the most common yacht in private use, making up most of the 7-14-metre (23-46 ft) range. These vessels can be quite complex in design, as they need a balance between docile handling qualities, interior space, good light-wind performance and on-board comfort. The huge range of such craft, from dozens of builders worldwide, makes it hard to give a single illustrative description. However, most favor a teardrop-planform hull, with a fine bow, a wide, flat bottom and deep single-fin keel with ample beam to give good stability. Most are single-masted Bermuda rigged sloops, with a single fore-sail of the jib or Genoa type and a single mainsail. Spinnaker sails are also common for down-wind use. These types are often chosen as family vessels, especially those in the 8 to 12 m (26 to 39 ft) range. Such a vessel will usually have several cabins below deck. Typically there will be three double-berth cabins; a single large saloon with galley, seating and navigation equipment; and a "head" consisting of a toilet and shower-room. The interior is often finished in wood paneling, with plenty of storage space. Cruisers are quite capable of taking on long-range passages of many thousands of miles. Such boats have a cruising speed upwards of 6 knots. This basic design is typical of the standard types produced by the major yacht-builders.
Aside from this fairly standard design, built in numbers and using methods approaching mass production by the large yacht-building firms of Europe and North America, there are some common variations to suit a yacht for a more particular role or to emphasize one aspect of performance rather than the wide range of abilities needed in a standard design. The classic "long keel" yacht, where the keel is integrated into the lower portion of the hull and extends for all or most of the hull's length, rather than being a single fin attached to the hull at the center, is still being built in small numbers. The long keel generally provides better directional stability, especially in rough weather, at the cost of greater weight, a narrower hull which decreases interior space, and poorer handling when under engine power or in tight conditions such as a marina.
Whilst the cutter rig with twin foresails was once the standard rig for most cruising yachts until the 1960s (when it began to be replaced by the two-sail sloop rig) it is now only commonly found on larger cruising yachts (usually around 15 m (49 ft) and over). Other rig variations are found on many different sizes of yacht such as the yawl, ketch, schooner and even unusual sail plans such as the junk rig.
A yacht may also be a "cruiser-racer", which as the name implies is a blend between the cruiser and racing variants. This is often a builder's existing design with changes to the rigging, sails, keel and controls to provide better performance. Some of the interior appointments may be reduced or removed to save weight.
The fixed fin keel is most commonly found on modern cruising yachts worldwide but some are still built with twin 'bilge' keels or with lifting fin keels which retract into the yacht's hull. In both cases these allow the yacht to sit upright on the seabed in shallow water or on areas that dry at low tide.
Most large yachts, 16 m (52 ft) and up, are also cruisers, but their design varies greatly as they are often "one off" designs tailored to the specific needs of the buyer.
These yachts are generally 25 metres (82 ft) or longer, although the largest sailing yacht available for charter is 90 metres (295 ft). There are about a thousand sailing yachts in the world. 
In recent years, these yachts have evolved from fairly simple vessels with basic accommodation into sophisticated and luxurious boats. This is largely due to reduced hull-building costs brought about by the introduction of fibreglass hulls, and increased automation and "production line" techniques for yacht building, especially in Europe.
On the biggest, 40 m (130 ft)-plus luxury yachts, every modern convenience, from air conditioning to television, is found. Sailing yachts of this size are often highly automated with, for example, computer-controlled electric winches controlling the sails. Such complexity requires dedicated power-generation systems. In recent years the amount of electric equipment used on yachts has increased greatly. Even 20 years ago, it was not common for a 7 m (23 ft) yacht to have electric lighting. Now all but the smallest, most basic yachts have electric lighting, radio, and navigation aids such as Global Positioning Systems. Yachts around 10 metres (33 ft) bring in comforts such as hot water, pressurised water systems, and refrigerators. Aids such as radar, echo-sounding and autopilot are common. This means that the auxiliary engine now also performs the vital function of powering an alternator to provide electrical power and to recharge the yacht's batteries. For yachts engaged on long-range cruising, wind-, water- and solar-powered generators can perform the same function.
Racing yachts try to reduce the wetted surface area, which creates drag, by keeping the hull light whilst having a deep and heavy bulb keel, allowing them to support a tall mast with a great sail area. Modern designs tend to have a very wide beam and a flat bottom aft, to provide buoyancy preventing an excessive heel angle and to promote surfing and planing. Speeds of up to 35 knots can be attained in extreme conditions. Dedicated offshore racing yachts sacrifice crew comfort for speed, having basic accommodation to reduce weight. Modern racing yachts may have twin rudders because of the wide stern. Since about 2000 water ballast transfer pumps have become more common as have transversely swinging keels. Both these stiffen the yacht and allow more sail to be carried in stronger winds. Depending on the type of race, such a yacht may have a crew of 15 or more. Very large inshore racing yachts may have a crew of 30. At the other extreme are "single handed" races, where one person alone must control the yacht.
Yacht races may be over a simple course of only a few miles, as in the harbour racing of the International One Design; long-distance, open-ocean races, like the Bermuda Race; or epic trans-global contests such as the Global Challenge, Volvo Ocean Race, Clipper Round the World Race and Mini Transat 6.50.
Sailing is an economical and environmentally friendly means of propulsion. A hybrid type of vessel is a motor sailing yacht that can use either sail or propulsion (or both) as conditions dictate.
Many 'pure' sailing yachts are also equipped with a low-power internal-combustion engine for use in conditions of calm and when entering or leaving difficult anchorages. Vessels less than 7 metres (23 ft) in length generally carry a petrol outboard-motor of between 3.5 and 30 kilowatts (5 and 40 hp). Larger vessels have in-board diesel engines of between 15 and 75 kilowatts (20 and 101 hp) depending on size. In the common 7-14-metre (23-46 ft) class, engines of 15 to 30 kilowatts (20 to 40 hp) are the most common. Modern sailing yachts can be equipped with electric inboard motors to reduce consumption of fossil fuel. The latest technology are outboard electric pod drives that can also regenerate electricity (motogens). These motogens can be made retractable to increase the efficiency of the yacht. Some of these yachts are extremely efficient and do not need additional diesel generators.
Monohull yachts are typically fitted with a fixed keel or a centreboard (adjustable keel) below the waterline to counterbalance the overturning force of wind on the vessel's sails. Multihull yachts use two (catamarans) or three (trimarans) hulls widely separated from each other to provide a stable base that resists overturning.
The number of motor yachts grows quite significantly each year. An estimate 150 yachts are built year on year, and about 90% of these are motoryachts.. Today we count about 5,500 motor yachts.
Motor yachts generally fit into the following categories:
Motor yachts typically have one or two internal combustion engines that burn diesel fuel or gasoline. Depending on engine size, fuel costs may make motor yachts more expensive to operate than sailing yachts.
The shape of a motor yacht's hull may be based on displacement, planing, or in between. Although monohulls have long been the standard in motor yachts, multihulls are gaining in popularity.
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Yacht travel depends on suitable weather conditions, and this requires the yacht user to follow a specific travel calendar to avoid bad sailing weather.