Greatest hits: The history of Riva

25 May 2021

Even after more than 180 years and a string of successes, not many people know the history behind this iconic shipyard. Here we take a closer look at how Riva came to be one of the most recognised brands in the industry with its impressive and ever-growing fleet.

On Lake Iseo in Sarnico, Italy, Pietro Riva founded the Riva shipyard and began building commercial boats as a family-run company. By 1920, Serafino Riva, Ernesto Riva's third-born son, steered the company away from the production of transportation vessels to powerboating. During this time, the yard made a number of racing yachts which set a number of records in both international and national competitions. After World War I, Serafino Riva went on to transform the yard’s into a genuine brand which was soon taken over by Carlo Riva, son of Serafino Riva, who witnessed the era where Riva boats became well-used among the celebrities of the day.

From 1956, designer and architect Giorgio Barilani became a key collaborator with the brand and gave birth to the 8-metre “Riva icon” Aquarama in November 1962 that came with a top speed of 73 km/h.

Soon after, the company began making vessels from fibreglass with the first two composite models being the day cruiser Bahia Mar 20' and the cabin cruiser Sport Fisherman 25'; others would follow over the next three decades, notably the St. Tropez and the Superamerica. Even as fibreglass-builds gained ground, Riva continued to make wooden boats until 1996 when the final Aquarama Special was delivered. However, the yard changed hands and was sold to the US company Whittaker in September 1969 but remained with the Riva family as partners.

The family era came to an end in 1989, a year after the Riva company was fully bought out by the British group Vickers. Then, at the 1991 Genoa Boat Show, Riva unveiled the first yacht designed by Mauro Micheli – the 58' Bahamas.

The Ferretti Group acquired Riva in 2000 and gave the shipyard the infrastructure required to build larger yachts and superyachts that benefit from the Group’s Engineering department and the designs of Officina Italiana Design.

In 2014, the brand broke into the larger yacht sector with its Superyachts Division which is held at the Riva Ancona yard – which happens to be one of the largest shipbuilding facilities in Europe. This is where the steel and aluminium Riva 50m was created.