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RIVA - La Dolce Vita!

Updated: Oct 21, 2023

Riva is one of the most famous yachting brands in the world, best known for its iconic series, such as the100' Corsaro and the110' Dolcevita that capture the Italian style of yachting and the good life it goes hand in hand with. However, in spite of Riva’s success not many people know the history behind this iconic shipyard - even though the Italian brand has been building ships for more than 170 years.

Riva boat shipyard

photo: Private Archive of RIVA - Sarnico Shipyard

Here we take a closer look at how the company came to be one of the most recognized brands in the industry today.

cantiere riva boats shipyard

photo: Private Archive of RIVA - shipyard in Sarnico

The Riva story is all about the unique, inimitable savoir-faire that is the secret of its winning beauty and style today and has always been from the very beginning.

It was 1842, and on Lake Iseo, a sudden storm had devastated the fishing fleet. Yet a young shipwright was working wonders, restoring many of the vessels to full seagoing health and earning the local people’s respect and admiration in the process. And so the Riva legend was born and, with it, that of Pietro Riva, who took his destiny in his hands the moment he arrived in the little town of Sarnico.

riva family on a classic wooden boat

photo:Private Archive of RIVA

Here, he opened the yard where he would launch the first Riva creations, craft of outstanding personality and class even then. Riva rapidly gained an excellent reputation, and the yard continued to flourish under Pietro’s son Ernesto, who introduced boats powered by internal combustion engine. The era of the large passenger and cargo boats on the lake had arrived. After World War I, it was Serafino Riva who gave the firm its definitive stamp, transforming the yard’s prestigious products into a genuine brand that would make yachting history. Production shifted from transport vessels to motorboats, still an embryonic market in those days. In the late ’20s and early ’30s, Riva’s racing yachts swept all before them, claiming countless wins and records in national and international competitions.

classic wooden boat on the sea

photo: Private Archive of RIVA

The ’50s belonged to Carlo Riva, whose talent and passion turned the brand into one of the brightest stars in the nautical firmament, as Riva boats seduced the celebrities of the day and acquired the status of design and lifestyle icons. In this decade of Italian industrial revolution, L’Ingegnere, as Carlo Riva was known, tapped into the predominant ethos – the lionisation of speed – with a series of wood-based designs of unmistakable verve.

riva classic wooden boat

photo: RIVA

From 1956, he began to collaborate with designer and architect Giorgio Barilani. And in November 1962, the legend was born: Aquarama. Her magical lines and irresistible allure made her an instant classic – the Riva icon, “the boat” par excellence, a brand within a brand.

riva classic boat design

photo: Private Archive of RIVA - RIVA Aquarama

Another historic milestone arrived in 1969, when the company began making vessels from fibreglass. Riva’s first two composite models were 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, the first cabin cruiser on a grand scale. Even as fibreglass gained ground, Riva continued to make wooden runabouts until 1996, when the final Aquarama Special, no. 784, was built. Disillusioned by the climate of industrial unrest, Carlo Riva sold the yard to the US concern Whittaker in September 1969, although he stayed on as Chairman and General Manager, handing over the reins in July 1971 to his brother-in-law Gino Gervasoni, his partner since 1950. In 1989, a year after the Riva company was fully bought out by the British group Vickers, Gervasoni’s 41-year association with the yard came to an end, bringing down the curtain on the Riva family era. Then at the 1991 Genoa Boat Show, Riva unveiled the first yacht designed by Mauro Micheli – the 58' Bahamas.In 1991 Riva showcased the 58’ Bahamas at Genoa International Boat Show, the first yacht designed by Mauro Micheli. Nine years later Riva returned to its Italian roots when the Ferretti Group acquired the shipyard on May 1, 2000, from British finance firm Stellican-Investment Bank. Norberto Ferretti took charge of the company and developed a plan to relaunch both the brand as well as its product, focusing on quality, design and style.

riva luxury boat on the sea

photo: Private Archive of RIVA

Riva Today

In May 2000, Riva became part of Ferretti Group, who restored it to where it is today, at the vanguard of world boating as a recognised icon of fine Italian yachting artistry. This felicitous journey is down to the know-how of the group Engineering department and the sensibility of designer Mauro Micheli, co-founder with Sergio Beretta of Officina Italiana Design, the studio that exclusively designs the whole Riva fleet.

That year also saw the launch of Aquariva, a 33-foot embodiment of the brand DNA that set the tone for the future output – a triumph of élan, innovation and exclusivity encapsulated in a product of revolutionary engineering, reliability and performance. In 2012, Ferretti Group announced a new majority shareholder: Shandong Heavy Industry Group (Weichai Group) of China, a true industrial giant, one of the world’s most important conglomerates in the automotive, commercial vehicles and construction machinery sectors. Weichai’s strength and strategic vision have enabled Riva to make yet another leap forward, with a flow of projects and resources assured for the long term. In 2014, the brand signalled its return to the megayacht sector, with the new Riva Superyachts division. The dream of creating Riva steel and alluminium displacement superyachts is very much inspired by Carlo Riva. His ambition and restless genius spurred him to reach for new horizons, with the celebrated Caravelle and Atlantic series megayachts in the ’60s and ’70s and, from 1970 to 1978, the six over-20-metre motor yachts in the Marco Polo series plus a 90- and a 100-foot Vespucci.


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