Yachts are water-faring vessels used for either pleasure or racing. While in the past more specific criteria have been applied to the term, in recent years the word has been used to describe virtually everything that goes on water, either under sail or by motor, that isn't a dinghy.
These vessels may range from 15 feet (4.5 m) to over 100 feet (30 m), with larger yachts in the 200-500 foot (61-152 m) range. Due to the exponential rise in cost as size increases, however, the vast majority used by private enthusiasts are between 20 and 50 feet (6-15 m) in length. Those used for racing in excess of 70 feet (21 m) are often referred to as maxi yachts, though this definition is somewhat loose.
Yachts may be powered exclusively by sail, exclusively by electric or diesel motor, or by a combination of the two. They may have one or more hulls, and may come in a wide assortment of materials. The most common sail-configuration for modern sail yachts is that of a sloop, a vessel with one large mast with a mainsail and jib. Sloops are popular because of their superior ability to sail upwind, making them useful both for amateur sailing and particularly for racing. One notable disadvantage of the sloop is its poor ability to sail downwind, and most have a spinnaker added to aid in such conditions.
Single-hulled, or monohull, yachts are somewhat less stable than their multi-hulled cousins and often have a keel beneath the water to help counterbalance the boat when it catches wind in its sails. Multi-hulled yachts, such as catamarans and trimarans, are much more stable than monohull vessels, but are still regarded skeptically by many traditionalists. In general, multi-hulled ones are more difficult to tack because they tend to be much lighter than monohulls. However, they are also able to move at a much higher speed because of the reduction in weight.
While yachts were made almost exclusively out of wood in the past, the materials revolution of the 1950s has led to a number of alternative technologies, and wood is now primarily the province of artisan shipwrights. Most mass-produced vessels use fiberglass as the main material for construction, though light-weight metals such as aluminum and titanium also play a large part in manufacture.
One of the largest manufacturers in the world is Catalina Yachts, which has sold over 70,000 hulls since its inception in the late 1960s. Nearly all of their boat designs are sloops, and they are built primarily as affordable luxury yachts, offering more than ample cabin space and extensive storage.