Best Riva boats: 10 stunning boats from the famous Italian builder

No-one has ever done a better job of making timeless works of art out of mahogany. But there's more to the best Riva boats than just woodworking

Decades after Riva stopped making wooden boats, no-one has ever done a better job of making timeless works of art out of mahogany. But there always was much more to the legendary boatyard than its woodworking skills.

Power, performance and gorgeous looks have always been as crucial to the Riva boat offering as impeccably grain-matched dowels and 12 coats of varnish. And the yard has built some absolute classic motor boats in fibreglass too.

With a history that stretches back into another century, choosing just ten of the best Riva boats to write about is a tricky task but here are my personal favourites from oldest to newest.

Are Riva boats still being built?

For those with only a passing interest in motor boats the name Riva probably conjures up images of the classic Italian styled all-wood muscle boat, cruising on the waters of Lake Como.

But the desirable marque has continued to make motor yachts for many years, often at the forefront of innovation, with new sportsfly and flybridge models being built today – and a number of new more traditionally-styled open boat options too.

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Best Riva boats: Top 10 picks

The red racing hydroplane on a black background

Ronzino. Photo: Motor Boat & Yachting

Ronzino – built 1935

If Carlo Riva gave the boatyard the iconic status that we still acknowledge today, it was his father Serafino’s passion for racing hydroplanes that set the ball rolling, back in the 1920s.

Motor boats like the victorious Ronzino, built for Count Metello Rossi, shone the limelight on the Riva brand for the very first time, and set the stage for the famous high-performance runabouts that followed.

Fifteen feet long and powered by an inboard four-cylinder, 145hp, 1.5-litre BPM petrol engine, this Riva boat was built of double-skinned aviation plywood on oak formers.

A mahogany Riva Tritone, cruising away. The boat has a classic design.

Riva Tritone. Photo: Motor Boat & Yachting

Riva Tritone – built 1950

Twin-engined and more than 26ft long, the Tritone was a muscleboat before the word had been invented.

The earliest examples sported 177hp engines and had a top speed of 45 knots but the 16-year course of its 258-unit production saw the Tritone grow slightly longer and a lot more powerful, culminating in the Cadillac model with its pair of 320hp V8s.

With a less voluptuous appearance than the fabled Aquarama, which shared its hull, this motor boat is still regarded by many aficionados as the quintessential wooden Riva – powerful, authoritative and effortlessly elegant.

A black and white photo of two people at the helm of the Riva. They are sailing away from the camera.

Riva Bertram25 Sport Fisherman. Photo: Motor Boat & Yachting

Riva Bertram 25 Sport Fisherman – built 1970

In 1970 both Riva and Bertram found themselves owned by the Whittaker Corporation.

The synergies weren’t immediately obvious but Carlo Riva knew he had to get into fibreglass boatbuilding and Dick Bertram’s boats had an unequalled reputation for high-speed seakeeping thanks to their race-proven deep-V hulls.

Carlo’s decision to bring a 25 over to Sarnico to fit out as a Mediterranean luxury weekender, with an elevated finish, plenty of interior wood, and a more versatile cockpit design, was a great move and became an instant classic.

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the Riva speeding through deep blue water, with a white tail in the water.

Riva 2000. Photo: Motor Boat & Yachting

Riva 2000 – built 1973

Design legend Sonny Levi was not just a superb naval architect and brilliant engineer, he also drew some of the best-looking boats of his era.

When Riva asked him to design a triple-engined sportscruiser powered by his innovative surface drive system, the result was destined to be something special.

The 37ft, two-berth Riva 2000 packed 1,050 horsepower in a 20-degree deep-V hull, and could reach 53 knots fully loaded.

It inspired boatyards on both sides of the Atlantic to up their game, and still turns heads today, 40 years later.

Black and white boat tipped up into the air with spray flying

River Rudy. Photo: Motor Boat & Yachting

Riva Rudy – built 1972

Small, fast, fun and gorgeous to look at, the 19ft Rudy speedboat was Riva’s first in-house GRP project, its hull mould taken off a wooden Riva Junior.

With a single 190hp four-cylinder petrol engine and shaft drive, it made an ideal yacht tender, ski-boat or fun runabout, while its stylish looks, 36-knot top speed and big aft sunbed offered all the advantages of the wooden boats without the maintenance headaches.

The Riva 50 Superamerica is hanging from a crane close to the dock. The weather is sunny.

Riva 50 Superamerica. Photo: Riva 50 SuperAmerica

Riva 50 Superamerica – built 1981

In the days when the London Boat Show was squashed into the original 1930s Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre, the biggest boat on display was often the 50ft Riva Superamerica shown by Lewis Marine, behind a red rope and guarded by a uniformed commissionaire.

British boatbuilders at the time had nothing to match it, but as well as picking up some valuable marketing tips, they also saw just how cool and desirable a big flybridge yacht could be.

It took a while, but when Fairline’s 50 came out in 1986 it represented a huge step for UK boatbuilding – its two-tone gelcoat a conscious homage to its Italian inspiration.

Riva Ferrari 32 – built 1988

Early Riva boats sported engines from Chris-Craft and there was at least one Lamborghini-powered Aquarama.

The shipyard was never shy of collaborations with big brands and in the world of high-octane luxury, the Riva Ferrari is top of the list.

So although it’s a shame it didn’t have Ferrari engines, the Riva Ferrari’s twin 390hp BPM V8s with surface drives still pushed it to 53 knots, and it was designed using Ferrari’s CAD software, an idea as advanced for the time as the carbon fibre used for the radar arch.

Only 40 Riva Ferrari 32s were built.

The classy Riva Aquariva speeding away from the camera. The boat's aesthetic is classic, in brown and beige.

Riva Aquariva. Photo: Motor Boat & Yachting

Riva Aquariva – built 2000

In 1998 Riva was owned by Vickers and wooden boat manufacture had been halted two years before. The yard was floundering, but Stephen Julius, a canny entrepreneur, understood the problem, and the brand.

The result was the Aquariva, 33ft of perfectly proportioned dayboat with all the quality of its predecessors, but in fibreglass.

It paved the way for Riva’s motor boat future, and when Julius sold up in 2000, Ferretti simply had to keep going on the same path.

A sleek, grey Riva 76 Perseo speeding through the water at sunset.

Riva 76 Perseo. Photo: Motor Boat & Yachting

Riva 76 Perseo – built 2015

Given Riva’s indelible association with fast, open sports machines, it’s easy to forget how pioneering the yard has also been when it comes to the more sensible world of flybridge cruising boats.

And dazzled by the pure allure of the 76 Perseo you might be forgiven for not noticing that it too has an upper helm station, and seating up there for ten – not forgetting the spacious deck saloon and four sleeping cabins down below.

Sensible, however, it isn’t – the Perseo packs up to 3,600hp and can blast along at close to 40 knots.

The Riva Rivarmaire bobbing on calm waters. Two people are hugging on deck.

Riva Rivamarie. Photo: Motor Boat & Yachting

Riva Rivamare – built 2016

The old Riva boat spirit is alive and well in the 39ft Rivamare, a fibreglass reimagining of the legendary Aquarama, complete with a powerful flared bow, wraparound windscreen, sculpted stern and a central walkway up through the sunbed.

Times have changed, though, so it also offers a modern medium-V hull, twin 400hp Volvos on Duoprop drives, a practical galley, air-conditioning and a gyro stabiliser.

But it remains an old-school open boat, without even a radar mast, and it goes as good as it looks.


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