Famous Sailing Quotes and Sayings

There must surely have more sailing quotes than for any other sport or leisure activity. Perhaps it’s because sailing/yachting has existing for hundreds of years and many sailing sayings/quotes help the sailor to remember important instructions (especially for illiterate sailors in days of old). And on long voyages there is plenty of thinking time for inspiration to strike!

You might also be interested in Sailing Terms.

Here are some of my favorite sailing quotes

‘Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.’ This newspaper headline was featured in 1996 when 70 year-old English sailor Les Powles arrived home four months late, having completed his third solo circumnavigation of the world. This quote was no doubt inspired by Mark Twain’s quote, which appeared in the New York Journal of 2 June 1897: ‘The report of my death was an exaggeration’.


‘It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.’ According to Wikipedia, the origin of this saying is not what myself and most other people think it is: ‘It is often stated that the phrase originated from the use of a brass tray, called a “monkey”, to hold cannonballs on warships in the 16th to 18th centuries. Supposedly, in very cold temperatures the “monkey” would contract, causing the balls to fall off. However, nearly all historians and etymologists consider this story to be an urban legend. This story has been discredited by the U.S. Department of the Navy, etymologist Michael Quinion, and the Oxford English Dictionary.’


‘Don’t approach a dock faster than you want to hit it.’ Unknown origin

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‘There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.’ Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows)


‘To reach a port we must set sail –
Sail, not tie at anchor
Sail, not drift.’ Franklin D. Roosevelt


‘We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails’ from that great sailor, Dolly Parton! Obviosly applies to more than just sailing.


‘Seas the day’ Unknown


‘Rising tide lifts all boats.’ John F. Kennedy, 1962.


The old square-rigger sailing crews had sayings and rhymes galore relating to the weather and tides, and while they were not always 100 percent reliable, most contained basic wisdom that is as true today as it was then. A few are well worth remembering:

‘Red sky at night, shepherds’ delight’ The red sky is the reflection of the setting sun on high westerly cloud formations usually associated with a high-pressure system, or ‘high’ as they are known. As most of our weather comes from the west, this foretells fair weather and the next day should be fine. But treat the saying with some caution; fine weather does not necessarily mean light winds.

‘Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning’ A red sky at this time of the day is the reflection of the rising sun off much lower-altitude clouds associated with a low-pressure system, or low’. As lows are more compact than highs, expect the weather to deteriorate rather rapidly over the next few hours. This saying is usually reliable.

‘Wind before rain, the sun will shine again’ If the wind freshens before the rain arrives, the squall will generally be short lived and conditions can be expected to revert to what they were originally once the squall has passed. Works well!

‘Rain before wind, take tops’ls in’ If the rain comes before any wind increase, be prepared for a change for the worse. The wind will generally increase quickly soon after the rain starts and remain strong after it stops. Also works well!


‘If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot.’ Unknown origin


“I can’t cover them if I can’t see them” As said by Ray Davies, navigator aboard Emirates Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup boat, to skipper Dean Barker, whilst sailing against Oracle in the 2013 America’s Cup. The problem was that the fog in San Francisco Bay that day was so thick that the boats had zero visibility of each other.


‘If you live a life of make-believe, your life isn’t worth anything until you do something that does challenge your reality. And to me, sailing the open ocean is a real challenge, because it’s life or death.’ Morgan Freeman


‘The beautiful yacht may not be the driest, most comfortable or even the fastest; she may even be as lacking in the principal virtues as the beautiful woman often is, but still she will always be the most desirable. Her faults will be overlooked and it will b a pleasure to correct her shortcomings.’ L. F Herreshoff (1890-1972) (The Common Sense of Yacht Design)


‘To enjoy boatbuilding one must be ready to take on an endless stream of problems, and solving them must be considered part of the fun.’ Richard Birmingham (Boat Building Techniques Illustrated)


‘New Zealand is a haven for yachting probably unlike any place in the world. Besides its location it is blessed with good yachting weather and geography that enhances cruising.’ Earl R. Hinz (Lanfalls of Paradise)


‘Cooking is the most important (and often most difficult) job aboard. Anyone can navigate, but everyone can’t, or won’t cook at sea.’ Ross Norgrove (The Cruising Life)


A wet sheet and a flowing sea,

A wind that follows fast

And fills the white and rustling sail

And bends the gallant mast. Allan Cunningham (1784-1842)


“Definition of a boat: A hole in the water that you pour money into.” Unknown


“BOAT: Break Out Another Thousand (dollars)” Unknown


“Time and tide waits for no man.” St. Marher(1225)


“The Americas Cup is now New Zealand’s Cup” Peter Montgomery


“Them that know, go slow…them that know more, go slower.” Paul Ouellette


“No wind blows.” Melissa Campbell


“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.


“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” Oscar Wilde. This saying can obviously apply to more than sailing, but I think most of us who have managed to get a lot of time on the water can relate to this saying – whether through having set aside the standard lifestyle path to go long distance cruising/racing, or the incredible adrenaline rush of sailing in high winds, with the spray flying, on the edge of complete wipe-out.


“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” Louisa May Alcott (November 29 1832 – March 6 1888). From chapter 44 of her novel Little Women (1868). Some people interpret this passage as representing the personal growth gained from the difficult times in life.


Know any other good sailing quotes or sayings?

Let me know on the Contact page and I’ll try and add it to this page.



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