In modern day, when we think of yachts, we tend to visualize a leisurely nautical lifestyle associated with the rich and famous, but this is definitely not how the history of the Yacht began. The word “yacht” was taken from the Dutch and Low German word “jacht,” meaning “to hunt” or “chase.”
The term was originally used to define a light and fast sailing vessel used by the Dutch navy to explore uncharted territory as well as for military usage. The yacht, being large enough to house a team of men and their supplies, was the perfect choice for aiding in the Dutch exploration of the globe. Early yachts were also used as battleships, chasing pirates and other unwanted people to the outskirts of Europe and beyond.
As warships grew in size and power, yachts were eventually used to courier mail and supplies during wartimes. They were used for customs duties and delivering pilots to their ships. The latter activity allowed for wealthy Dutch merchants to build their own private yachts to take them to their returning ships. Eventually, yachts were being used for pleasure rather than for work purposes.
By the 17th century, two types of yachts came into being: one for sport and a separate one for naval activities. Pleasure-sport yachts were being celebrated by the Dutch in races, parades and mock-battles and this was the beginning of using yachts for leisure.
Yachting spread through to the English through Charles II of England’s love of yachting. He had lived in the Netherlands between 1653 and 1659 and became very passionate about the sport of yachting. He returned to England in 1660 aboard a Dutch yacht and during his reign, he commissioned 24 Royal Yachts and acquired an additional 2 yachts from the Dutch states. His enthusiasm allowed for recreational yachting to become popular in England.
In the 17th century, Tsar Peter the Great of Russia also discovered the wreck of a Yacht gifted to Ivan the Terrible over a century before, leading to a resurgence of interest within Russia. The popularity of yachts spread across Europe and eventually, all over the world.
Today, yachts can range from small private vessels to enormous luxury cruise liners and this is a definite change from when they were used solely for military purposes.