Donald Trump Once Owned a Giant Yacht, and He Wasn’t the First President to Have One
Considering that Donald Trump owns a helicopter, a private jet, expensive cars, a New York penthouse, and several resorts and golf courses, it’s probably not too surprising that he once owned a yacht, too. The president purchased a massive superyacht, even though he doesn’t really like boats, according to Boat International. “I’m not into them,” Trump once said. “I’ve been on friends’ boats before and couldn’t get off fast enough.”
Donald Trump isn’t actually the first president to own or at least use a yacht. Read on to get all the details on the presidential yachts that have served our commanders in chief over the years. And turn to page 18 to get the inside story on the yacht that Trump once owned.
1. A century’s worth of presidents had access to government yachts
- Years: 1880 to 1977
The White House Historical Association reports that for nearly a century, presidents could escape Washington on an official government yacht. “Beginning with USS Despatch in 1880, a succession of yachts awaited the pleasure of every commander in chief from Rutherford B. Hayes to Gerald R. Ford,” the association notes.
“Once on board, American chief executives cruised from Maine to the Caribbean, explored the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay, reviewed the fleet, received royalty, conferred with allies, thought through future plans — or just loafed, played poker, or went fishing.”
Next: These presidents used the very first presidential yacht.
2. Grover Cleveland and William McKinley sailed on the first presidential yacht
- Vessel: The Dolphin
Business Insider reports that the first presidential yacht, the USS Dolphin, became the first naval ship to carry the presidential flag. The Dolphin also goes down in history as one of the first steel-bodied ships produced for the U.S. Navy.
Between 1893 and 1897, this vessel carried two presidents: Grover Cleveland and William McKinley. And even after the vessel was decommissioned, it continued to make history. When it was docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, the first ever wireless-radio broadcast was sent out from its deck.
Next: This president had a secret surgery at sea.
3. Cleveland didn’t own a yacht but did have a secret surgery on one
- Vessel: The Oneida
Grover Cleveland didn’t purchase his own yacht. But as NPR notes, Cleveland did have a secret surgery on one. Cleveland noticed a bump on the roof of his mouth, and a doctor diagnosed it as cancer. Cleveland didn’t want the country (or Wall Street) to panic at the diagnosis. So he had the tumor removed during a four-day stay on a friend’s yacht, the Oneida.
Cleveland’s alibi? He said he was taking a fishing trip. Doctors removed the tumor, along with five teeth and a portion of the president’s upper left jawbone. But they were able to leave Cleveland’s signature mustache intact — a must for keeping the surgery a secret.
Next: This president earned a Nobel prize for negotiations carried out on the Mayflower.
4. Theodore Roosevelt did Nobel Prize-winning negotiation on a yacht
- Vessel: The Mayflower
According to the White House Historical Association, Theodore Roosevelt used the 273-foot Mayflower “as an instrument of personal diplomacy in the 1905 negotiations that ended the Russo-Japanese War.” (Those negotiations also earned Roosevelt the Nobel Peace Prize.)
As Business Insider notes, the Mayflower was actually a recommissioned luxury steam yacht. Roosevelt put it into service on July 25, 1905. Woodrow Wilson, Howard Taft, and Herbert Hoover would also use the vessel before it was decommissioned in 1929.
Next: This widowed president courted his second wife at sea.
5. Woodrow Wilson courted his second wife aboard a yacht
- Vessel: The Mayflower
Presidential yachts have served not only as a rendezvous point for presidents and foreign diplomats, but also for presidents and their love interests. The White House Historical Association reports that Woodrow Wilson courted his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt, aboard the Mayflower. She married Wilson in 1915, during his first term as president.
And that wasn’t the only time Wilson set sail. During World War I, Wilson turned to the yacht as an escape from “people and their intolerable excitements and demands.”
Next: This president’s wife was very impressed by the Mayflower.
6. William Howard Taft’s wife loved the presidential yacht
- Vessel: The Mayflower
According to the White House Historical Association, the Mayflower was the most grand of all the presidential yachts. It certainly impressed many presidents and their first ladies. William Howard Taft’s wife, Helen, poetically described a cruise along the coast of Maine in the summer of 1910.
The first lady wrote, “I know of no other way for (a president) to get short intervals of rest than by boarding the presidential yacht and steaming away out of the reach of crowds.” She added that the Mayflower would work well for any president “if he happens to be a good sailor.”
Next: This president was photographed feeling a little seasick.
7. Calvin Coolidge didn’t always enjoy the presidential yacht
- Vessel: The Mayflower
The White House Historical Association reports that another notable moment in the life of the Mayflower yacht came during Calvin Coolidge’s tenure. Coolidge seems to have struggled with seasickness, as memorialized by a photographer.
The historical association reports that Coolidge, “decidedly queasy after a long afternoon in rolling seas reviewing passing battleships, sank, grim-lipped, into a Mayflower deck chair and managed a final salute, the fingers of his right hand touching his favorite yachting cap.” The association adds, “A photographer chose that moment to snap a picture.”
Next: This president put his favorite yacht on a White House Christmas card.
8. Herbert Hoover decommissioned one yacht but christened another
- Vessels: The Mayflower and the Sequoia
Town and Country reports that Herbert Hoover decommissioned the 318-foot Mayflower as an austerity measure early in his term. But he grew quite fond of the yacht that came next: the USS Sequoia. The vessel was officially commissioned by the Navy in 1933, and President Hoover promptly took it to Florida for a fishing expedition.
Hoover grew so fond of the Sequoia that he featured it on a White House Christmas card, a move that “many construed as callous as he sought to steer the country out of the depths of the Great Depression,” Town and Country explains.
Next: This president met with the British prime minister on a yacht.
9. Franklin Roosevelt met with Winston Churchill on a yacht
- Vessels: The Potomac and the Sequoia
Business Insider reports that in 1934, Franklin D. Roosevelt commissioned the USS Potomac to serve as a presidential yacht. And he put the vessel to good use. The White House Historical Association notes that Roosevelt needed a covert way to meet with British prime minister Winston Churchill in the months before the United States entered World War II. So they arranged meetings on the Potomac.
Town and Country notes that Roosevelt and Churchill also discussed military strategies during the war on the Sequoia. Those meetings “required FDR to officially decommission the ship to accommodate the prime minister, who would not drink on a Navy vessel.” The official change enabled them to sip “Churchill martinis” during their meetings.
Next: This president took the presidential yacht on his vacations.
10. Harry S. Truman took a yacht on his 11 vacations to Florida
- Vessel: The Williamsburg
Business Insider reports that the USS Williamsburg served as a presidential yacht from 1945 to 1953, under Harry S. Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. The White House Historical Association notes that Harry S. Truman “found Williamsburg a pleasant setting for an afternoon nap or a convivial game of poker, but was far less happy when she bucked and pitched in the open ocean.”
Truman took the yacht on his 11 vacations to Key West, Florida. There, the yacht served as a communications center. And it also provided accommodations for the president’s overnight guests.
Next: This president got rid of one vessel, but acquired two more.
11. Dwight Eisenhower made only 1 voyage on the yacht before having it decommissioned
- Vessels: The Williamsburg, the Barbara Anne, and the Susie E.
According to Business Insider, Dwight Eisenhower made only one voyage on the Williamsburg before he had the vessel decommissioned in 1953. The Washington Post notes that Eisenhower said he would retire the vessel because he considered it a “symbol of needless luxury” and because it cost $600,000 a year to maintain.
But the Post reports that when Eisenhower got rid of the Williamsburg, he acquired two other Navy yachts. He also rechristened the new vessels the Barbara Anne and the Susie E., after his granddaughters.
Next: This vessel became the longest-lived presidential yacht.
12. The Sequoia became the longest-lived presidential yacht
- Years: 1933 to 1977
Business Insider characterizes the Sequoia as the largest and longest-lived presidential yacht. Town and Country reports that the vessel was built in 1925. And beginning in 1933, it served a total of eight presidents, beginning with FDR.
Roosevelt fished from it, and installed an elevator so he could move around by wheelchair. Harry Truman added a piano to the main salon. Lyndon B. Johnson lowered the floor of the shower to accommodate his height, and replaced the elevator with a wet bar. John F. Kennedy added a king-sized bed — and supposedly entertained Marilyn Monroe.
Next: This president escaped the Secret Service on his yacht.
13. John F. Kennedy liked to get away from the Secret Service on his yacht
- Vessels: The Honey Fitz, the Patrick J., and the Manitou
The Post reports that John F. Kennedy renamed the yachts commissioned by Eisenhower (to Honey Fitz and Patrick J.) and used both during his short presidency. Kennedy also acquired a racing yacht called the Manitou.
The White House Historical Association reports that whether Kennedy cruised on a private or presidential yacht, he enjoyed escaping the stresses of Washington — including his Secret Service detail, which trailed him on an escort vessel. Kennedy used his time at sea to read history, biographies, or fiction, to entertain family and friends, and to watch local sailing races.
Next: This president retired the vessels used by JFK.
14. Lyndon B. Johnson retired both yachts used by JFK
- Vessels: The Honey Fitz and the Patrick J.
The Washington Post notes that in 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson announced that he “had no requirement for the use of” the Honey Fitz or the Patrick J. He wanted the vessels retired, and cited savings of $10,000 per year plus crew expenses. However, the Post notes that Johnson did later use the Honey Fitz.
Johnson wasn’t the only president to cite maintenance costs in decommissioning a yacht. Later, Richard Nixon would order that the two yachts used by Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson be sold at public auction in order to save maintenance costs of $200,000 a year. Nixon made the Sequoia the presidential yacht once again.
Next: This president temporarily escaped a major scandal by going out on the water.
15. Richard Nixon escaped on a yacht during the Watergate scandal
- Vessel: The Sequoia
While in office, Richard Nixon took 88 voyages on the Sequoia. To escape the stresses of Washington during the Watergate scandal in the late summer of 1974, Richard Nixon boarded the Sequoia, according to the White House Historical Association.
Nixon “cruised on the Potomac and pondered resigning rather than face impeachment. But the seclusion he sought proved an illusion,” the historical association explained. Each time the yacht passed under a bridge, photographers would appear. Nixon’s daughter Julie recounted, “Being on the Sequoia was like bobbing along in a glass bottle.”
Next: This president ended the concept of the presidential yacht.
16. The era of the presidential yacht ended with Jimmy Carter
- Vessel: The Sequoia
The White House Historical Association reports that the era of the presidential yacht ended with Jimmy Carter. Seeking to end what he called the “imperial presidency,” Carter sold the last yacht, the USS Sequoia. The yacht had been used by every president since Franklin Roosevelt.
Town and Country reports that the tab for keeping the yacht staffed and maintained had reached about $800,000 a year. Carter viewed the expense as unnecessary. So he auctioned the vessel off for $236,000.
Next: This president designated his own ‘official’ yacht.
17. But Ronald Reagan still commissioned a yacht as a Coast Guard vessel
- Vessel: The Electra
Even though Carter ended the era of the official presidential yacht, Ronald Reagan still spent time at sea during his presidency. Reagan designated a historic yacht called the Electra as his official yacht in California.
Reagan even commissioned the Electra as a Coast Guard vessel. And he enjoyed use of the yacht when he visited Newport during his tenure as president.
Next: Donald Trump bought a very expensive yacht.
18. Donald Trump bought a yacht that cost $35 million to build (and even more to decorate)
As Boat International explains, the yacht that Donald Trump bought was originally commissioned by Saudi Arabian arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. The vessel cost about $35 million to build, and Khashoggi also commissioned an interior that supposedly cost more than the yacht itself, with cabin walls covered in chamois leather and bird’s eye maple, plus bathrooms featuring hand-carved onyx.
The yacht also included a patisserie, a three-chair hair salon, a screening room, and a hospital with an operating theatre. It could accommodate a crew of 52, and the refrigerators could carry a three-month’s supply of food for 100 people.
Next: Here’s how much Trump actually paid for the vessel.
19. Trump paid $30 million for his yacht
Boat International reports that when Khashoggi’s empire “began to crumble,” he procured a loan for $50 million and put up his yacht as collateral. He defaulted on the loan in 1987. That’s when Donald Trump bought the yacht for $30 million, sight unseen.
Trump even got the price reduced by $1 million by agreeing to change the name of the vessel from Nabila (Khashoggi named it after his daughter) to Trump Princess. Trump then spent $8.5 million to have the yacht updated and refitted. But not long thereafter, in 1991, the real estate market forced Trump to sell. He sold the yacht for $19 million to Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a member of the Saudi royal family.
Next: This is how the yacht looked when Trump owned it.
20. Donald Trump’s yacht showed off his love for luxury
While it was in his possession, Donald Trump’s yacht showed off his love for luxury. House Beautiful reports that Donald and Ivana Trump welcomed New York press aboard the vessel in 1988, showing off all the renovations.
The yacht featured a pool, a movie theater, a disco, three elevators, two dining rooms, 11 staterooms, and 210 telephones. It even had gold-plated accents, and a helipad emblazoned with a “T.”
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