More than 170 years ago, the Riva family of woodworking craftsmen began building what are now iconic, classically designed boats. The legacy continues today as the line has grown from elegant wooden vessels to a diverse line of luxury fiberglass pleasure boats and yachts.

The Riva Yachts history began in 1842 when Pietro Riva, a 20-year-old carpenter, left Sarnico, Italy to repair boats at Lake Iseo. His exceptional woodworking skills on a severely damaged boat led to additional work in the region to repair and build new boats.

Image 0383:
Riva's Sarnico Shipyard, 1842

As he completed orders for fishing and row boats, his business and his family grew. He and his wife, Lucrezia Taroni, had five children: Angelo, Francesco, Ernesto, Erminia and Luigi. The middle child, Ernesto, grew up to learn his father’s trade and join him as a skilled carpenter.

With great foresight, Ernesto believed that future boaters would want bigger boats equipped with engines. To meet that vision, he developed and manufactured larger vessels, and as his hunch proved correct, he built his first motorboat.

Success for the father and son’s expanding business soon necessitated they build a new boatyard. Expansion continued as Ernesto built his own boat, named Sarnico in honor of the family heritage and began the first motorized tourist boat trips on Lake Iseo.

The future of the family business was again secured when Ernesto Riva married Carolina Malighetti and the couple had six children: Francesco, Angelo, Serafino, Mauro, Anna, and Pierina. Middle son Serafino took over the business when Ernesto Riva died in a shipyard accident during a large boat launch in 1907. With a new member of the Riva family at the helm, the company focus again veered - this time from transportation to recreational boats as the availability of small inboard and outboard engines increased.


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One of Riva's early racing motorboats

When the nautical industry saw a sales boom, Serafino Riva capitalized on public interest by building racing motorboats. Serafino raced his Rivas, and early in the fairly new sport, he exceeded 24 km/h in an outboard speedboat in the Spring of 1912. Riva racing boats continued to be top competitors throughout the 1920s and prominent exposure during events helped to expand the leisure-craft market worldwide.

The family line was destined to continue, at least by marriage, when Serafino married Irma Bocchi and had three children: Carlo, Dafne (who married Gino Gervason who eventually joins Riva), and Marilena.


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A Riva motorboat racing

The Riva name continued to capture headlines during the 1920s and 30s. Prominent in the media were famous friends and competitors, Serafino Riva and Giuseppe Guerini. Each raced in Riva boats with the same outboard engines. Riva boats continued to be popular in the racing sport until political events leading up to World War II caused racing to be suspended in Italy.

During the war, production slowed but never ceased at the Riva facility. Many famous racers competed in Rivas including:

  • Dino Sestini
  • Paolo Mora
  • Carlo Pagliano, who set an endurance record in 1938 of more than four hours in an outboard Riva boat with a 250cc engine, with an average speed of 58.54 km/h
  • Speedboat racer Count Metello Rossi di Montelera ran Ronzino to win as an Italian champion in 1935 with a 1500cc engine
  • Serafino Riva won the Pavia-Venice in a Riva boat
Image 0380:
Carlo Pagliano achieves the outboard endurance record - over 4 hours on a Riva boat with a 250 cc engine