Navigating a century of innovation: from steam engines to hydrogen fuel cells, witness the transformative evolution in yacht design and technology showcased by these 25 exceptional vessels.
Yachts have seen remarkable transformations in design and technology in the last 100 years. The lengths and shapes have changed decade by decade, from the mini-ocean liners of the 1920s to a more glamorous, fuller shape by the 1950s, eventually giving way to the layered wedding-cake construction that was so popular until about a decade ago. Now, just about anything goes, judging from the list below, with yachts boasting vertical bows being the most popular.
Technology also changed over the years, from steam engines to diesel to a growing list of hybrid diesel-electric powerplants. In the next five years, expect to see the first generation of superyachts with hydrogen- or methanol-powered fuel cells. What really hasn’t changed in the last century are owners’ desires to create superyachts that are unique, often clashing with the accepted design norms of the time.
Here are the 25 greatest superyachts from the last 100 years:
‘Delphine’ (257 Feet 9 Inches) 1923, U.S.A.
Photo : Wikipedia
Delphine is the original 1920s oceangoing queen. American automobile magnate Horace Dodge commissioned the vessel, rumored to have once hosted former President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and Michigan shipbuilding company Great Lakes Engineering Works built it in 1921. At 258 feet, Delphine remains the largest yacht ever built in the U.S. that is still in operation. She is also the largest active steam-driven yacht in existence. The two original 1,500 hp steam engines were re-equipped with two modern water-tube boilers during a 2003 refit, which provide 18 metric tons of steam per hour. Surviving a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II, several fires, and multiple owners, Delphine is today fully restored to her 1920s glory, including original teak on the main deck and a revived Tiffany-designed interior.
‘Talitha’ (247 Feet) 1929, Germany
Photo : Photo: Javier Rullan Ruano/YouTube
Talitha is one of the world’s first superyachts with an exceptional pedigree. F. Krupp built the vessel, which was originally penned by naval architects Cox & Stevens (leading designers of their day), in Kiel, Germany. First known as Reveler, Talitha was delivered in 1929 to Russell Algar, chairman of the Packard Car Company. A string of high-profile owners ensued, including John Paul Getty Jr. in the 1930s, son of one of the richest men in the world at the time. Getty commissioned an exterior and interior redesign by late superyacht designer Jon Bannenberg and, in 1993, a full reconstruction was completed at the Devonport shipyard in Plymouth, U.K. Regular refits since, including a 1999 newly installed wheelhouse, has made Talitha successful as a popular charter yacht.
‘Malahne’ (164 feet) 1937/2015, UK
Photo : Camper & Nicholsons
Originally designed and built for the owner of renowned J-Class yacht Velsheda, classic motor yacht Malahne enjoys a period interior designed by Scottish designer Guy Oliver (best known for styling London’s 10 Downing Street and Claridge’s). Original Art Deco features include Baccarat crystal, Willer porcelain, Georg Jensen silverware, and a lamp by 1930s designer Edgar Brandt. The yacht was once used as the production headquarters for Lawrence of Arabia and had luminaries such as Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra walking the teak decks. In 2015, it underwent an extensive restoration at British shipyard Pendennis, which focused on maintaining its old-world glamour, including the yacht’s 25-foot custom-built Cockwells varnished Brazilian mahogany high-speed tender.
‘Savarona’ (446 Feet 9 Inches) 1931, Germany
Photo : Wikipedia
Launched in 1931, Savarona was built for an heiress, enjoyed by royalty, and starred on the big screen. Built by Blohm & Voss for Emily Roebling Cadwalader, granddaughter of Brooklyn Bridge engineer John Roebling, 446-foot Savarona was featured in the German science-fiction film Gold. The Turkish government bought the vessel in 1938 and leased to Turkish businessman Kahraman Sadıkoğlu in 1989, who spent $45 million refurbishing the yacht. The original steam turbine engines were replaced with modern Caterpillar diesels, but the original 282-foot gold-trimmed staircase remains. Today, Savarona is the official presidential yacht of the Republic of Turkey.
‘Shemara’ (212 Feet, 2 Inches) 1938, Great Britain
Photo : Wikipedia
Within a year of being built in 1938, 212-foot Shemara was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and used throughout World War II as a training vessel for anti-submarine warfare. Following the end of its service, the superyacht returned to her owner Bernard Docker, who entertained high society aboard its decks. Later in life, Shemara endured long periods of neglect until current owner Charles Dunstone acquired her in 2010, starting the long road back to refurbishment. Alongside much of the original teak and steel exterior features, Shemara is now fitted with a Rolls-Royce diesel-electric system, including two electrically driven azimuthing pods and a bow thruster.
‘Christina O’ (325 Feet) 1943/1954
Photo : Wikipedia
Possibly one of the most eminent superyachts of all time, 325-foot Christina O didn’t begin life in the spotlight. Built in 1943 by Canadian Vickers, the vessel served as a frigate in World War II until 1954 when Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis bought it as war surplus for a mere $34,000. He spent $4 million on the refurbishment and then entertained the world’s elite on board, from Maria Callas and Grace Kelly to Jack and Jackie Kennedy, prior to Onassis marrying Jackie. Named after Aristotle’s daughter, Christina O enjoys a bronze-edged swimming pool with a mosaic dance floor that rises at the push of a button. The stools in Ari’s Bar retain the original leather upholstery.
‘V2V’ (ex-Carinthia VI) (137 feet, 7 inches) 1973, Germany
Photo : Yacht Charter Guide
The first major yacht designed by Jon Bannenberg and a breakthrough build for German shipyard Lürssen, Carinthia VI is a star of the decades, commissioned by supermarket magnate Helmut Horten as the sixth yacht in his Carinthia fleet. However, Carinthia V was in fact the original version but sadly hit an uncharted rock on her maiden cruise in the Mediterranean and sank. Horten ordered an almost identical replacement (this time with extra watertight bulkheads) and used Carinthia VI until his death in 1987. In 2016, the yacht suffered severe damage in a fire. Its new owner then bought the yacht, undergoing an extensive rebuild in Turkey to its original Bannenberg lines that was completed in 2023 when the yacht was renamed V2V.
‘La Sultana’ (214 Feet 56 Inches) 1962, Bulgaria
Photo : Wikipedia
A Bulgarian passenger ferry turned Soviet spy vessel, 214.5-foot La Sultana has a checkered past. Built in 1962 for operations in the Black Sea, it was absorbed into the Russian fleet during the Cold War and sent to the North Atlantic for unofficial reconnaissance on the United States and United Kingdom. In 2015, La Sultana completed a seven-year refit, which saw the addition of a raised bow, seven guest cabins across six decks, and a diesel engine installed to drive the original propeller. Several spying instruments were also discovered, including a radioactivity detector and thick aluminum insulation across the entire boat. The original push button steering controls are still in operation.
‘Highlander’ (164 Feet) 1986, Netherlands
Photo : Wikipedia
American media mogul Malcolm Forbes commissioned the 164-foot Highlander, built by Feadship to a Jon Bannenberg design with De Voogt naval architecture, in 1986. The yacht’s historic guest list reads like a who’s who of Hollywood stars, from Elizabeth Taylor to Robert De Niro. Two bathrooms in the master suite are offset by six guest cabins. Those lucky enough to charter this piece of yachting history also have use of Forbes’s original cigarette boat, now re-painted in jet black with a bold red stripe.
‘Tatoosh’ (303 feet) 2000, Germany
Photo : Fraser Yachts
Built by Nobiskrug for cellular pioneer Craig McCaw, the 303-foot Tatoosh was more famously owned by the late Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, who bought the yacht off McCaw in 2001. Penned by German designer Claus Kusch—with input over the years from Jon Bannenberg, Terence Disdale, Martin Francis, and Stefano Pastrovich—Tatoosh is arguably one of the foremost explorer yachts of the modern age. The vessel was conceived to be a world cruiser with all the toys and entertainment that a yacht could carry. Alongside two helicopter landing pads, it has 11 staterooms for 19 guests, a heated swimming pool with a lifting floor, a cinema, and a dive center with a nitrox refilling station for deeper dives.
‘Al Salamah’ (456 Feet 10 Inches) 1999, Germany
Photo : Lürssen
At the time of its construction in 1999, 456-foot Al Salamah was the third largest yacht in the world. The build began at German yard HDW in Kiel but was completed by Lürssen in Bremen, the only yacht builder at the time capable of meeting the owner’s demanding timeline. Al Salamah was commissioned by the late Saudi Arabian crown prince Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz. Estimated to be worth in the region of $200 million and accommodating 36 guests, the ample amenities include a cinema, a fully equipped onboard hospital, two full-time beauticians, a business center, and a spa.
‘H’ (ex-NEOM) (311 feet) 2000, Netherlands
Delivered in 2000, the 311-foot H remained the largest Oceanco yet built and the largest yacht built in Holland until the delivery of Kaos (ex-Jubilee) in 2017. Originally named Al Mirqab, the vessel was a highly private yacht under the ownership of the Qatar royal family before ex-politician and co-owner of Formula One Force India team Vijay Vittal Mallya took ownership in 2006. The Maltese government seized the lavishly outfitted yacht, which includes a helipad large enough for a twin-engine helicopter, Elton John’s baby grand piano, a full medical suite, and triple engines each delivering 10,000 hp, in 2017 over unpaid maritime bills. NEOM was auctioned off to her current owner in 2018.
‘Rising Sun’ (453 Feet) 2004, Germany
Photo : Photo: Courtesy of Lürssen
Built for Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison in 2004 and currently owned by business mogul David Geffen, Lürssen’s Rising Sun is another Jon Bannenberg success story, completed two years after the designer’s death. Even with her 453-foot length and 7,841-gross tonnes volume, Rising Sun achieves an impressive top speed of 28 knots. The owners were impressed enough with the speed to build a suspended, tube-like walkway so visitors can see the four MTU 20V 8000 M90 diesel engines providing the power. A bank of full-height curved windows run along the entire length of the superstructure, flooding the interior with natural light and giving the yacht a striking exterior profile.
‘Motor Yacht A’ (390 feet, 4 inches) 2008, Germany
Photo : Francis Design
Few yachts divide opinion like M/Y A. Designed by Philippe Starck, engineered by naval architect Martin Francis, and built by Blohm + Voss, the yacht is rumored to have cost in the region of $300 million to bring to life. Characterized by its head-turning reverse bow and vertical superstructure, the vessel is a private floating fortress where guests’ access to the water is restricted to the stern. It boasts a cathedral-like tender garage and three swimming pools; it’s also the predecessor to the even more controversial S/Y A, which emerged nine years later and briefly held the place of world’s largest sailing yacht before being displaced by Koru.
‘Dubai’ (531 Feet 5 Inches) 2006, Germany
Photo : Bigstock
Prince Jefri Bolkiah of Brunei first commissioned Dubai in 1995 to be built in collaboration by German shipyards Blohm + Voss and Lürssen. But the superyacht was not completed until 2001 by Platinum Yachts when current owner, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, took over the project. British studio Winch Design crafted the exterior, and the vessel is reported to have cost in the region of $400 million to build. Dubai was the largest yacht in the world until 2010, when she was replaced by Roman Abramovich’s 533-foot Eclipse. Dubai’s amenities, spread across eight decks, include a helipad, two 33-foot chase boats, a squash court, and 20 Jet Skis.
‘Savannah’ (273 feet, 11 inches) 2015, Netherlands
Photo : Northrop & Johnson
Savannah is renowned for being the first hybrid yacht on water, with fuel savings of up to 30 percent. It blends a single diesel engine with three gensets, batteries, a propeller, and an azimuting pioneering electro-mechanical propulsion platform. Built by Feadship, the yacht’s 41-foot beam was such a tight fit for the Dutch canals during delivery that the builder wrapped her in protective film and used plywood on the sides to serve as fenders. With its interior and exterior designed by Cristina Gherardi Benardeau, the yacht was also ahead of its time, with a corridor of double-height video walls, a floating superstructure, and an underwater Nemo lounge.
‘Maltese Falcon’ (289 Feet) 2006, Turkey
Photo : Perini Navi
The legendary Maltese Falcon broke the mold of yacht design when launched in 2006. Perini Navi’s 289-foot, three-masted schooner was the result of its adventurous owner, the late Tom Perkins, and naval architect Gerard Dykstra’s radical design idea. The show-stopping Dynarig concept, now coined the Falcon Rig, catapulted Maltese Falcon to becoming the world’s most instantly recognized yacht, not to mention one of the most complex and largest sailing vessels ever built. The contemporary, computer-controlled sail system is based on freestanding carbon masts and yard-arms into which the sails furl. This system allows for easy sailing in all sea conditions. Famous charterers include Tom Hanks, Hugh Jackman, and Google cofounder Larry Page.
‘Eclipse’ (533 Feet) 2009, Germany
Photo : Wikipedia
Aside from stealing the title of world’s largest yacht from 531-foot Dubai by a mere 1.5 feet, Eclipse is an exercise in amenities. Delivered to her owner Roman Abramovich in 2009, the vessel features a 52-foot swimming pool within an extensive beach club, two helipads, and a helicopter hangar under the foredeck. The 533-foot yacht is powered by a diesel-electric system driving azimuthing pods, one of the first of its kind. Eclipse retained the title of world’s largest yacht until the arrival of 590.5-foot Azzam in 2013. Designed inside and out by Terence Disdale, Eclipse took five years to build and is reported to have cost in the region of $590 million.
‘Chopi Chopi’ (262 Feet) 2013, Italy
Tasked with an experienced owner’s brief for a private yacht on which to spend long family holidays, CRN delivered with Chopi Chopi. The largest yacht built by CRN at the time of her 2013 launch, the 262-foot Chopi Chopi remains the Italian yard’s flagship. A 656-square-foot owner’s suite with private terrace is complemented by a helipad capable of landing a three-ton helicopter. The interior ceiling heights are in excess of seven feet. But the focus of the design is on comfortable outdoor living, realized by a large beach club with an adjoining sauna, hammam, and spa with a treatment room.
‘Azzam’ (590 Feet) 2013, Germany
Photo : Lurssen/Klaus Jordan
At a whopping 590-foot, Azzam has held the title of world’s largest yacht since her launch in 2013. Azzam was built by German yard Lürssen in a record three years for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the current President of the United Arab Emirates. Alongside a 95-foot main saloon, Azzam carries a submarine and its own missile defense system. Two gas turbines and two diesel engines propel the yacht through the water more than 32 knots.
‘Black Pearl’ (350 Feet) 2018, Netherlands
Photo : Tom Van Oossanen
Delivered by Oceanco in 2018, the 350-foot Black Pearl is only the second yacht in the world to be fitted with Dykstra’s DynaRig carbon masts and sailing system. Its eye-catching black sails span 9,514 square feet and can be set in a record seven minutes with the push of a button. The hybrid propulsion system combines wind power with two electric propulsion motors, and its controllable pitch propellers generate enough energy to support the yacht’s hotel load. A waste heat-recovery system is just one of the onboard features that helps to realize the owner’s vision of a “zero-impact” yacht.
‘Excellence’ (262 Feet) 2019, Germany
Photo : Guillaume Plisson for Abeking & Rasmussen
Built for an experienced serial owner, American automobile magnate Herb Chambers, the Winch-designed 262-foot Excellence was delivered in 2019. The vessel takes its design inspiration from Motor Yacht A, which Chambers at first didn’t care for but then began to love. The piercing reverse bow (that mimics the beak of an American eagle) and triple-height glass-fronted atrium give it curb appeal but has also led to the yacht being likened to a spaceship. Driven by the desire to have a connection to the outdoors, the design rests upon a symbiotic relation between the indoors and out and was ultimately successful, partially due to the use hundreds of square feet of curved, mirrored glass panels.
‘Koru’ (417 feet) 2023, Netherlands
Photo : Oceanco
Oceanco’s 417-foot Koru, commissioned by Jeff Bezos, is a three-masted, black-hulled schooner with a bowsprit, classic lines, and white superstructure. Reportedly costing $450 million to build and accompanied by a 246-foot custom Damen support yacht Wingman, the new vessel is the world’s largest sailing yacht (knocking S/Y A off the top spot). Koru also holds the title of the largest superyacht ever built in the Netherlands and the tallest sailing yacht in the world, with masts that measure over 230 feet.
‘Obsidian’ (417 feet) 2023, Netherlands
Photo : Feadship
Feadship’s 2023 delivery Obsidian has the appearance of a spaceship. But the boat’s technically advanced propulsion package, described as having a 90 percent reduction in total CO2 emissions, is what places it on this list, carrying the Dutch builder one step closer to its goal of achieving a zero-emission superyacht by 2030. The hybrid diesel-electric system is designed into a single-floor engine room creating additional interior space for owners, guests, and crew. With no drive shafts or rudders, the steering is done through a pair of electric Veth contrarotating thrusters. The diesel generators will also run on HVO, a second-generation biodiesel that manufacturers describe as a net-zero CO2 fuel. A low profile, horizontal styling features, and clean exterior shapes are a preamble for the yacht’s interior, which includes an underwater observation area—known as the Aqua Lounge.
‘Luminance’ (417 feet) 2023, Germany
Photo : Lursssen Yachts
Delivered in late 2023, Lürssen’s eighth largest build, Luminance, ranks as the 12th largest yacht in the world and is the 30th yacht built by the German shipyard with an exterior design by Espen Øino. The six-deck behemoth is one of the most significant yachts to be launched this year, with an internal volume of 9,000 GT, a beam of 66 feet, and an interior by Francois Zuretti. The gigayacht features two helipads, two Jacuzzis, a large swimming pool, and a distinctive stretched bow.
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