The Iconic brand of Riva continues to produce sleek and stylish boats with eye-catching lines, and eye-watering turns of speed. The Aquariva Super embodies all of the traditional values that put Riva on the map, but with all the refinements of a modern motorboat, including a two-speed gearbox.

Aquariva Super

Putting the Aquariva through her paces on Lake Iseo.

A famous pedigree

When the Como-based carpenter Pietro Riva set up a temporary workshop beside Lake Iseo in 1842, he had no idea he was about to found one of Italy’s most famous brands.

After 158 years of family ownership, the Riva brand is now part of the Ferretti Group, which acquired Riva in 2000 and vowed to protect this Italian icon with some solid investment.

Riva is probably best known for its Aquarama and Aquariva range of powerful, stylish and richly varnished wooden motorboats that were developed in the 1950s. Passionately marketed by Carlo Riva, Pietro’s great grandson, these runabouts found favour with the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot, who endorsed the brand by association, and helped propel it to international fame.

Riva in build

Riva made the switch to fibreglass hulls in the late 1960s.

A tour of the birthplace

Riva’s factory beside the lake at Sarnico remains a time capsule to those heady days, and was given a guided tour to see the modern Riva’s being built. Better still, we were given a spin on the lake in an Aquariva Super, probably best described as a modern classic, and the direct descendant of the Aquarama range.

Although the amount of timber used in each build remains awesome, Riva made the switch to fibreglass hulls in the late 60s, horrifying the purists, but also allowing the company to develop much larger vessels. Nowadays, you can order your very own Riva superyacht, and have it custom built at a brand-new facility at La Spezia.

Riva Aquariva

Notice the unusual stick shift gear and throttle control to the right of the wheel.

Out on the water

The 10m (33ft) Riva Super, however, will have you grinning for every luscious mile as you power across the languid waters of Lake Iseo – or anywhere else for that matter. The twin-engine, 6.69 ton (laden) model is also ideally suited as a deck-stowed tender for a superyacht, so you can arrive in style for a trip ashore.

Officina Italiana Design, responsible for all of Riva’s concepts for the past 16 years developed this model in 2000, with naval architecture and engineering from AYT (Advanced Yacht Technology), Ferretti’s own in-house team of researchers. Final touches have come from Centro Stile Ferretti Group, and the result is a beautiful craft with a startling turn of speed. The price tag is around US$1,000,000, but there has been no shortage of takers. Riva has since built over 100 Aquariva Supers, with two recent limited edition variants, the Aquariva by Marc Newson, and the Aquariva by Gucci.

Riva Aquarama

Powering across the languid waters of Lake Iseo.

At first glance, you’ll notice the large mahogany foredeck, inlaid with maple strips for a two-tone effect. A total of 20 coats of Stoppani varnish give it a glass like appearance, with the very first coat being painstakingly run in to the hairline gaps of the virgin deck to seal it tight In fact, rich mahogany wood is everywhere, from the rounded gunwales to the cockpit sole, and great efforts are made to ensure the finish is long-lived. The dark blue GRP hull compliments the woodwork, and highly polished stainless steel fixtures and fittings add some functional highlights.

Sportscar styling

Riva originally styled its runabout models on big American cars, all the rage after the end of the Second World War, and traces of this obsession remain in the Super. The cockpit, with the wheel and dashboard to port, fills about a third of the hull length, with two companionable seats side by side. The rest of the seating is in a U shaped sweep behind the helmsman.

Riva Aquarama

An Aquariva Super alongside the factory quayside.

Rather like a sports car, this model is intended mainly for couples, so there is a large double berth below, with a discreet toilet, and a double sunbed recessed into the sloping aft deck. A small galley is to starboard, just outside the low entrance to the cabin, and the wrap around tinted windscreen stretches almost the full 2.8m (9ft 2in) beam at the boats widest point. Looking down on the hull, you can fully appreciate the wonderfully tapered shape, with two large spray-rails emerging in the last few feet to give additional lift.

Riva Aquarama engine

Inside the Aquariva Super - note the twin fuel tanks, and twin Yanmar 380hp diesels with their low slung gearboxes.

Power comes from a pair of Yanmar 6 LY3/UTP 380hp diesels on shafts, giving a claimed top speed of 41 knots. The engines are both mounted aft under the sunbed, and noise levels are low. Despite being a classic design, the Super is modern in every system, even down to the electronic two-speed gearbox that gives greater control over the engines when docking.

The deadrise of 16.5 degrees gives a smooth ride, although on such a balmy day we weren’t really able to test out the hulls ability in a chop. Our compensation was see the modern production line in full swing, and we were impressed with the attention to detail from the teams of skilled craftsmen.

Riva factory

Most of the joinery is done by hand - here a spray rail is being scarfed from several baulks of timber

In the joinery department, for example, large baulks of rich mahogany –responsibly sourced, we were assured – were being hand-planed into shape. Years of experience have taught the Riva joiners just how to feather the sections together to avoid temperature distortion. Most of the components are made on site, with other Italian firms used to source some of the refinements. Italy is famed for its stainless steel yacht fittings. The factory, styled around a ‘ship’ theme, has it’s own Riva museum, where you can see early examples of Riva’s obsession with detail. Simple things were important, such as aligning the slots (or crosses) in all the exposed screw heads in a hull, or on a stainless steel rubbing band, even when there were hundreds. That same obsession continues today.

Riva Aquarama

A total of 20 coats of varnish are applied, the first 15 by hand, and the final layers sprayed in a rigidly controlled environment

Two variants

The two variants of the Aquariva Super continue Riva’s development of the model. Marc Newson, internationally famed as a visionary in the styling of aircraft and automobiles, has collaborated with Officina Italiana Design to produce a run of just 22 boats that feature some interesting innovations. Perhaps the most striking is the use of a textile-based laminate called Micarta (phenolic composite) to replace all the wood. It can be polished to a very high luster, and from a distance looks very much like mahogany, but with the advantage of being far more durable.

The other variant, the Aquariva by Gucci, is a model customised by Gucci’s Creative Director Frida Giannini. Both variants are built to order, with the Newson design being exhibited in several famous art galleries. You can see why. When admiring the Aquariva range from the quayside, you have to admit, they are definitely works of art. Unfortunately, unlike a Monet or a Picasso, they aren’t yet appreciating in value on the second-hand market. You can still pick up a used Aquariva Super for less than the original purchase price – for the time being, at least. For more details see Riva Boats.

Aquariva Super Specifications