Came into existence, in the UK first of all, when sailing for pleasure became an established pastime. The first yachts had been introduced from Holland in 1660 and the oldest known club for yachtsmen, the Cork Harbour Water Club, was functioning by 1720. However, its activities thereafter were sporadic until it was rehabilitated in 1828 as the Cork Yacht Club (now the Royal Cork Yacht Club). In its early years it was probably no more than a dinner club for those interested in sailing. The Starcross Club in Devon, founded in 1772, was almost certainly started for the same reason and it organized its first race in 1775. It still exists as the Starcross Sailing Club. In the same year the Duke of Cumberland, a brother of King George III, donated a cup for a race on the River Thames which resulted in the formation of the Cumberland Sailing Society, and by 1830 this had evolved into the Royal Thames Yacht Club.
The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793–1815) brought the new sport virtually to a halt, but in 1815 The Yacht Club was formed in London with its base at East Cowes. It, too, was primarily a dining club. However, some of its early members cruised extensively and many liked to mimic the manoeuvres and signals of the Royal Navy aboard their yachts in the sheltered waters of the Solent, coming to regard themselves as a kind of auxiliary fleet. Cruising in company was also popular, but the club did not hold its first race until 1826, though members had match-raced against one another before then. The club received royal patronage and in 1820 it became The Royal Yacht Club and, in 1833, The Royal Yacht Squadron. Today a number of British and Commonwealth yacht clubs have also been granted the right to call themselves ‘Royal’, as do the principal ones belonging to European maritime nations which have monarchies.
In Britain only the Royal Yacht Squadron calls itself a squadron, but elsewhere a number of yacht clubs use the word. Some yacht clubs have the word Corinthian in their names while others call themselves associations. Nearly all yacht clubs have clubhouses, some of them very grand indeed, but there is at least one without a location and another, formed by the head of the New Zealand syndicate which won the America's Cup in 1995, which was no more than a rusting car on a beach.
All British subjects are entitled to fly the red ensign, and the members of some yacht clubs have an Admiralty warrant to fly a defaced one with the club's insignia on it. Other yacht clubs have the right to fly a defaced blue ensign, but only members of the Royal Yacht Squadron owning yachts over a certain tonnage are entitled to fly a white ensign. No yacht can fly the Union flag, though it can fly one with a white border. American yachts fly a special yacht ensign.
So far as is known the first yacht club to be founded outside the British Isles was the Royal Gibraltar Yacht Club (1829) and in the following decades several were founded in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, the Halifax Yacht Club, founded in 1837, being the earliest. The first European one, formed in 1830, was the Royal Swedish Yacht Club, followed by the Société des Régates du Havre in 1838. The Yacht Club de France, formed in 1867, is unusual in that it was state founded.
Subjects: Maritime History.