Motor Yacht vs Sailboat: 7 Key Differences

Whether you are looking to work on a yacht, charter a yacht, buy a yacht, or just feel curious, there are a few key differences when it comes to choosing between a Motor Yacht vs a Sailboat.

There is no right or wrong choice here, it really comes down to your personal preferences.

First and foremost, if it has a sail, it is a sailing yacht. Sailing yachts also have motors for the days when there is no wind, as well as for maneuvering in marinas. However, their primary source of propulsion is their sails.

On the other hand, a motor yacht only has a motor/engine for propulsion.

Before moving forward, I would like to note that whether referring to sailing or motoring, there are some big differences between boats, yachts, super yachts, and mega yachts. These all vary in sizing and capabilities.

For the purposes of this post, I am looking at the general comparisons between vessels that are up to 164ft/50m in length.

Let’s take a look at some factors to consider when choosing between a motor yacht vs a sailing yacht.  

Motor Yacht vs Sailboat docked in a marina
A variety of smaller sailboats and a yacht docked in Palma de Mallorca

1. Speed vs Adventure

If you are looking to move quickly between anchorages then a motor yacht is your best option. All you need to do is fire up the engines and move to the next spot.

Now this is not to say that sailing yachts are slow. In fact, some can actually move faster than motor yachts. However, it takes a fair amount of time to set up the sails and more importantly you aren’t always going to have the perfect weather conditions.

On a sailboat, you are reliant on the wind speed and direction. If these factors are not in your favor you can still sail, it may just be at a slow pace.  

2. The Comfort of a Motor Yacht vs a Sailboat Heeling Over

When it comes to a sailboat, the vessel is going to heel over when it is catching the wind in its sails. Heeling is when the yacht leans over to the side as it catches the wind in its sails.

This means that everything needs to be stowed and tied down correctly. It also makes some of the simplest tasks more challenging. Imagine cooking a meal or making a cocktail when your table is at a 30-degree angle.

A motor yacht, however is designed with primarily the highest levels of luxury and comfort in mind. Stabilizers work under the boat to help control any uncomfortable rocking and keep the boat as steady as possible when in anchorages.

3. Space

Generally speaking, motor yachts are known to hold more space than sailing yachts. They are designed for luxury and comfort. Whereas a sailing yacht, which can also be luxurious, has a more refined living space.

Larger motor yachts can include lounges, gyms, spas, and beach clubs. They can have anywhere between 3 and 6 levels!

These days Sailing yachts are getting built with bigger and better standards than ever before. You may find less space inside, but all the spaces are used very cleverly and you will be surprised at how spacious the interior can actually be.

A sailing yacht also requires a mast and sails, therefore you do not get the extra levels that a motor yacht has. Sailboats are primarily designed to be sleek and for performance.

50m Motor yacht anchored in a bay
A 50m/164ft Motor Yacht

4. The Noise of a Motor Yacht vs Sailboat Serenity

This is a big one when deciding between a motor yacht vs sailboat. When a motor yacht is running the engines can be pretty loud.

These days they are designed with soundproofing to dull out the sound of the engine. However, you won’t fully get away from the noise of the engines when the vessel is moving.

However, slowly but surely we are seeing Hybrid and EV yacht engines, which just like an electric car means less gas emissions and a quieter engine!

One of a sailboat’s biggest and most wonderful features is the moment you fully shut down the engines and sail. With nothing but Mother Nature to guide you, this truly is a feeling like no other.

The only sounds you will hear while sailing are the wind in the sails paired with the lapping of the ocean against the hull.

5. Shallow Water Cruising and Bridges

A big factor in the question of motor yacht vs sailboat is the draft of the vessel. The draft refers to the depth of the boat under the water.

Most sailing yachts have a keel to counterbalance the power of the sails, whereas a motor yacht doesn’t. This means that a sailing yacht will have more restrictions as to where it can sail and the anchorages it can go to.

A sailing yacht also has a very tall mast for its sails. So, if you are cruising in areas where you were hoping to go through intercoastal systems, you will be restricted if those areas have bridges that do not open.

6. Operational Costs of a Motor Yacht vs Sailboat

There is no getting away from the fact that the operational costs of a yacht will be high. Regardless of whether it is a sailing boat or a motor yacht.

However, with that being said, given that a sailing yacht has the ability to travel without burning fuel, you would be able to have lower operational costs.

A motor yacht can only run using its engines, and the engines of a motor yacht tend to be very big. The maintenance of the engines alone is a large part of the costs.

Fueling a motor yacht is also exorbitant.

This is in contrast to a sailing yacht whereby if you are willing to go slow and make use of those sails, you will be using substantially less fuel to move. This also puts less wear and tear on the engines so they would not need to be maintained as frequently.

This is not to say that the operational costs of a sailing yacht are cheap. There is just an opportunity to spend slightly less money than a motor yacht.

Various Motor Yachts and Sail Boats docked in Brisbane

7. The Environmental Impact of a Motor Yacht vs Sailboat

In a world that is working hard to be more conscious of environmentally friendly lifestyles, this is a big factor.

Motor yachts are working hard to make changes to the operation of their engines, but it still goes without saying that the constant burning of fuel for propulsion is not good for the environment.

On the other hand, sailboats are far more eco-friendly as they have the ability to move their vessel with nothing other than the wind.

I personally work very hard to make eco-friendly choices onboard. Simple choices such as eliminating plastic bottles and using eco-friendly detergents and soaps will have a big impact on the environment.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, choosing between a Motor Yacht vs Sailboat comes down to personal preference.

You are looking for the comfort, luxury, and convenience that comes with a Motor Yacht. Or alternatively, you seek the adventure and connection with nature that comes with a Sailboat.

Regardless of your choice, I wish you many wonderful days on the ocean. It is most certainly my favorite place to be.

If you are interested in learning more, have a look at my post on: The Difference between a Boat and a Yacht.

Furthermore, if you are interested in joining the yachting industry, check out my post on How to Become a Yachtie.

Hi, my name is Lisa, a Chief Stewardess in the yachting industry with 10 years of experience, as well as 8 years of hospitality experience prior to that. Being in the yachting industry has been a whirlwind of adventure, growth, challenges and some of the best experiences of my life, and I am excited to share my knowledge and experiences with all of you.

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