He brought home the America's Cup in 1995 and 2000 to a hero's welcome, only to suffer the wrath of a nation when he left Team NZ to win the Auld Mug for Alinghi in 2003.
But from today, he will officially be known as Sir Russell Coutts.
Sir Russell is one of 88 New Zealanders recognised by Helen Clark's Government with the country's highest honours after it abolished titles.
John Key's Government gave them the option of accepting a title when it restored the old system, and their decisions are announced today. Seventy-two have accepted.
Sir Russell jumped ship for the 2003 challenge and was slammed as a "traitor to the nation".
Last night, Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron commodore Scott Colebrook was in a forgiving mood and comfortable with the prospect of calling Russell Coutts "Sir".
"He has had the award for some years. If he has chosen to take the title, that's up to him. It's his call. It's of no consequence to us."
Sir Russell, who is now sailing in San Diego, will be joined in the capital for the investiture ceremony by fellow expatriates - and new knights - Sir Peter Snell and Sydney-based CBA Bank head Sir Ralph Norris.
Other well-known New Zealanders who have accepted a title include former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, The Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall and netball coach Lois Muir.
The titles will be formally bestowed at a ceremony at Old St Paul's in Wellington on August 14.
Prime Minister John Key said the honours were "a real celebration of success".
"I am very pleased that 87 per cent of those eligible for a title thought so as well. I also respect those who chose not to change their status."
For Sir Peter Snell, his first trip back to NZ in "a couple of years" is likely to be a surreal affair. Not only will he officially receive his title, he will also unveil a statue of himself at Cook's Gardens in Wanganui.
Speaking from his home in Dallas, Texas, Sir Peter - the triple Olympic gold medallist voted New Zealand's Sportsman of the 20th Century - described his knighthood as "pretty nice, actually".
"I was a little cynical about it for a while," he said. But in the end, solid, practical advice won out. "My family said, 'Don't turn this down'."
He realised that his previous "Distinguished Companion of the NZ Order of Merit" honour - while flattering - was a little meaningless.
Also, it dawned on him that he was now sufficiently advanced in years to accept a knighthood and not feel "awkward" about it.
"At 70-plus, it's nice to be honoured in this way."
THE NEW KNIGHTS AND DAMES
Sir Paul Terence Callaghan, professor
Sir Lloyd George Geering, theologian
Sir Patrick Ledger Goodman, businessman
Sir Ralph Heberley Ngatata Love, professor
Sir Noel Crossley Anderson, judge
Sir Donald Ward Beaven, emeritus professor
Sir Peter Blanchard, judge
Sir David James Carruthers, judge
Sir Russell Coutts, yachtsman
Sir Edward Taihakurei Junior Durie, judge
Sir Eion Sinclair Edgar, businessman
Sir Bruce Reid Ferguson, Air Marshal
Sir George Vjeceslav Fistonich, businessman
Sir Alan Russell Frampton, businessman
Sir Harawira Tiri Gardiner, Maori leader
Sir David Rendel Kingston Gascoigne, lawyer
Sir Thomas Munro Gault, judge
Sir Peter David Gluckman, scientist
Sir John Packard Goulter, businessman
Sir John William Hansen, judge
Sir John Steele Henry, judge
Sir Vaughan Frederick Randal Jones, professor
Sir Douglas Kidd, former Speaker of Parliament
Sir Patrick Desmond Mahony, judge
Sir Peter Charles Maire, businessman
Sir Alan Francis Mark, conservationist
Sir Harold Marshall, academic and designer
Sir David Charles Mauger, paediatrician
Sir John Joseph McGrath, judge
Sir Sidney Moko Mead, Maori scholar
Sir Colin Earl Meads, rugby legend
Sir Ralph James Norris, businessman
Sir Noel Stuart Robinson, businessman
Sir Peter Graham Siddell, artist
Sir David Christopher Graham Skegg, professor of medicine
Sir Bruce Houlton Slane, former Privacy Commissioner
Sir Peter George Snell, athlete
Sir Kenneth Allen Stevens, businessman
Sir Archie John Te Atawhai Taiaroa, Maori leader
Sir Tumu te Heuheu, Tuwharetoa paramount chief
Sir Edmund Walter Thomas, judge
Sir Stephen Robert Tindall, businessman
Sir Andrew Patrick Charles Tipping, judge
Sir Peter John Trapski, judge
Sir Henry William van der Heyden, businessman
Sir John Wells, sports administrator
Sir Tennant Edward Wilson, sports administrator
Sir William Gillow Gibbes Austen Young, judge
Dame Malvina Lorraine Major, opera singer
Dame Doreen Blumhardt, potter
Dame Christine McKelvie Cole Catley, author, publisher
Dame Lynley Stuart Dodd, children's writer
Dame Jocelyn Barbara Fish, women's rights campaigner
Dame Patricia Mary Harrison, educationist
Dame Grace Shellie Hollander, ethnic rights campaigner
Dame Linda Jane Holloway, medical academic
Dame Margaret Mary Millard, rural advocate
Dame Deirdre Glenna Milne, lawyer
Dame Lois Joan Muir, netball coach
Dame Claudia Josepha Orange, historian
Dame Alison Burns Quentin-Baxter, lawyer
Dame Alison Mary Roxburgh, women's affairs campaigner
Dame Margaret Kerslake Shields, politician
Dame Jennifer Mary Shipley, politician
Dame Margaret June Sparrow, sexual health specialist
Dame Sukhinder Kaur Turner, former mayor
Dame Robin Adair White, painter
Dame Judith Mary Caroline Binney, emeritus professor
Dame Margaret Clark, professor of political science
Dame Mary Josephine Drayton, educationist
Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead, composer
Dame Heather Begg (deceased), opera singer
REFUSED NEW TITLE:
* Sir Ivor Lloyd Richardson, judge
* Dame Silvia Rose Cartwright, former Governor-General
Leonard Ramsey Castle, potter
Witi Ihimaera-Smiler, novelist
Sam Neill, actor
Vincent O'Sullivan, writer and poet
Ranginui Walker, academic, writer
Joy Cowley, writer
Patricia Grace, novelist
Sister Patricia Mary Hook, community worker
Penelope Ann Jamieson, former bishop of Dunedin
Sister Pauline Margaret O'Regan, educationist
Margaret Wilson, former Speaker of Parliament
* Titles previously awarded