Nautical Quotations

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"On the sea there is a tradition older even than the traditions of the country itself and wiser in its age than this new custom.

It is the tradition that with responsibility goes authority and with them accountability.

...for men will not long trust leaders who feel themselves beyond accountability for what they do.

...And when men lose confidence and trust in those who lead, order disintegrates into chaos and purposeful ships into uncontrollable derelicts."

"On The Collision of Wasp and Hobson"
Wall Street Journal
- Editorial 14 May 1952

"It is by no means enough that an officer of the navy should be a capable mariner. He must be that, of course, but also a great deal more. He should be as well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor.

He should be the soul of tact, patience, justice, firmness, and charity. no meritorious act of a subordinate should escape his attention or be left to pass without its reward, even if the reward is only a word of approval. Conversely, he should not be blind to a single fault in any subordinate, though, at the same time, he should be quick and unfailing to distinguish error from malice, thoughtlessness from incompetency, and well meant shortcoming from heedless or stupid blunder."

Based on Letters to the Naval Committee
By John Paul Jones    
14 September 1775


"The safety of a yacht and her crew is the sole and inescapable responsibility of the owner, or owner's representative, the captain, who must do his best to ensure that the yacht is fully found, thoroughly seaworthy and manned by an experienced crew who are physically fit to face bad weather. He must be satisfied as to the soundness of the hull, spars, rigging, sails and all gear. He must ensure that all safety equipment is properly maintained and stowed and that the crew know where it is kept and how it is to be used."

"We teach sailing and seamanship at the naval academy for one purpose:
to make competent seamen of our midshipmen, who will then be the naval leaders of the future. We aren't interested in making yachtsmen of them. We enter races to find an atmosphere which, like combat, stretches ability and endurance to the limit and allows character to emerge which can reach beyond those previous limits for that extra margin required for victory, where decisions must be made instantly and be coupled with competent execution of complex evolutions. Where Numerous variables must be integrated to derive tactics and strategy in interaction. And we send them to sea to learn the fundamental characteristic of the professional seaman:
a deepseated sense of humility in the face of nature and her master. But we never lose sight of our objective -- to produce the best possible officer for the fleet, whether he or she is assigned to a surface ship, a submarine or an aircraft."

Captain J.B. Bonds, USN

"Victory awaits those who have everything in order?

- People call that luck.

Defeat is certain for those who have forgotten to take the necessary precautions in time ?

- That is called bad luck."

Ronald Amundson  14 December 1911

"The First Rule For Coastal Cruising: start early; finish early."


"Wind and sails were made for each other."


"Sailors work like horses at sea and spend their money like asses ashore."


"He began in a tone of great taste and feeling, to talk of the sea and the sea shore."

Jane Austen

"The dolphin wheels, the sea-cows snort,
And unseen mermaids pearly song
Comes bubbling up, the weeds among."

Thomas Lovell Beddoes

"I start from the premise that no object created by man is as satisfying to his body and soul as a proper sailing yacht."

Arthur Beiser 1978
The Proper Yacht

"For the truth is that I already know as much about my fate as I need to know. The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze."

Richard Bode
First You Have to Row a Little Boat

"Never go into strange places on a falling tide without a pilot."

Thomas Gibson Bowles

"One cannot look at the sea without wishing for the wings of a swallow."

Sir Richard Burton

"They that go down to the sea in ships; and occupy their business in great waters; these men see the works of the Lord; and His wonders in the deep"

Book of Common Prayer

"Give me a spirit that on this life's rough sea, loves t' have his sails filled with a lusty wind."

George Chapman

"No more beautiful sight can be imagined than a morning at sea, with these magnificent vessels racing in mid-ocean, perhaps two or three of them in sight at one; the sun rising among golden clouds; the dark blue sea flecked with glistening white caps; long, low black hulls cleaving a pathway of sparkling foam; towering masts, and yards covered with snowy canvas which bellies to the crisp morning breeze as if sculptured in marble..."

Captain Arthur H. Clark

A shipowner was about to send to sea an emigrant ship. He knew that she was old, and not overwell built at the first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often had needed repairs. Doubts had been suggested to him that possibly she was not seaworthy. These doubts preyed upon his mind, and made him unhappy; he thought that perhaps he ought to have her thoroughly overhauled and refitted, even though this should put him to great expense. Before the ship sailed, however, he succeeded in overcoming these melancholy reflections. He said to himself that she had gone safely through so many voyages and weathered so many storms, that it was idle to suppose that she would not come safely home from this trip also. He would put his trust in providence, which could hardly fail to protect all these unhappy families that were leaving their fatherland to seek for better times elsewhere. He would dismiss from his mind all ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of builders and contractors. In such ways he acquired a sincere and comfortable conviction that his vessel was thoroughly safe and seaworthy; he watched her departure with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.
What shall we say of him? Surely this, that he was verily guilty of the death of those men. It is admitted that he did sincerely believe in the soundness of his ship; but the sincerity of his conviction can in nowise help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him. He had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts...

William K. Clifford
The Ethics of Belief

"A passage under sail brings out in the course of days whatever there may of the sea love and sea sense in an individual whose soul is not indissolubly wedded to the pedestrian shore."

Joseph Conrad

"The true peace of God begins at any point 1,000 miles from the nearest land."

Joseph Conrad

"The humblest craft that floats makes its appeal to a seaman by the faithfulness of her life."

Joseph Conrad

"And biased by full sails, meridians reel,
Thy purpose -- still one shore beyond desire!
The sea's green crying towers a-sway, beyond."

Hart Crane

"There was a grandeur in everything around, which gave almost a solemnity to the scene; a silence and solitariness which affected everything. Not a human being but ourselves for miles; and no sound heard but the pulsations of the great pacific."

Richard Henry Dana

"It is the weather, not work, that wears out sails."

Thomas Fleming Day

"A sailing vessel is alive in a way that no ship with mechanical power ever be."

Aubrey de Selincourt

"No one likes an ugly boat, however cheap or fast."

Roger Duncan

"The god ship darts through the water all day; all night, like a fish, quivering with speed, gliding through liquid leagues, sliding from horizon to horizon."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Do they ask me what pleasure I find on the sea?
- Why, absence from land is a pleasure to me:
A hamper of porter, and plenty of grog,
A friend, when too sleepy, to give me a jog,
A coop that will always some poultry afford,
Some bottles of gin, and no parson on board,
A crew that is brisk when it happens to blow,
One compass on deck and another below,
A girl, with more sense than the girl at the head,
To read me a novel, or make up me bed --
The man that has these, has a treasure in store
That millions possess not who live upon shore."

Philip Freneau

"Of course he doesn't (want to go).
It's easy to fight when you've got a lot of ships to work with. The real crunch comes when you're down to almost nothing. Then you either play it safe and you probably lose it all or you take a chance...
They didn't want to go.
They didn't want to get blown out of the sky and leave b5 defenses, and they sure as hell didn't want to die. But they did it because sheridan told them to do it and because it was right...
You don't follow an order because you know for sure that it's going to work out. You do what you're told because the C.O. has the moral authority that says you may not come back but the cause is just, and fair and necessary."

Mr. Garibaldi

"She had a voice of silver and lips of coral red. She climbed the dolphin-striker and kissed the figure-head."

Crosbie Garstin

"I wanted freedom, open air, adventure. I found it on the sea."

Alain Gerbaul

"O Mighty God,
Grant Weather, Wind and Tide,
Till On my Country Coast
Our Anchor Fall."

Barnabe Googe 1563

"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

Kenneth Grahame
Wind in The Willows

"Many emergencies involving the crew or vessel can be avoided by preliminary and on-going physical and mental preparation. Before embarking on an off-shore passage, you ought to be in good physical shape, properly garbed, and psychologically prepared."

Richard Henderson
Sea Sense

"It was with a happy heart that the good odysseus spread his sail to catch the wind and used his seamanship to keep his boat straight with the steering-oar"


"I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: to reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it -- but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor."

Oliver Wendell Holmes   1858
The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table

"You are not going to find the ideal boat. You are not even going to have it if you design it from scratch."

Carl Lane

"The acquisition of the knowledge of navigation has a strange effect on the minds of men."

Jack London

"The clink of an anchor - chain, the 'Yo-Ho!' of a well time crew, the flapping of huge sails - I love all these sounds."

John 'Rob Roy' MacGregor

"It was a strange and pleasant life for me all summer, sailing entirely alone by sea and river..."

John MacGregor  1867
The Voyage Alone in the Yawl Rob Roy

I must go down to the seas again,
To the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by..."

John Masefield

"I must go down to the sea again
For the call of the running tide
It's a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied."

John Masefield

"We saw her first from the top of the cliff. she turned at her chains to every attack of wind, swaying, airy, and buoyant, as through cut of fragile porcelain on the sea below. She was a two-masted schooner..."

Richard Maury
The Saga of Cimba

"Why is almost every robust, healthy boy with a robust, healthy soul in him, at some time or other, crazy to go to sea? Why, upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land?"

Herman Melville
Moby Dick

"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp drizzly november in my soul... Whenever I find myself involuntarily passing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand on me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off -- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."

Herman Melville
Moby Dick

"There never was a great man yet who spent all his life inland."

Herman Melville

"There is a pleasure unknown to the landsman in reading at sea."

William McFee

"To insure safety at sea, the best that science can devise and that naval organization can provide must be regarded only as an aid, and never as a substitute for good seamanship, self-reliance, and sense of ultimate responsibility which are the first requisites in a seaman and naval officer."

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

"On the day we lost the cereal account i finally decided to go to sea."

Eric Newby
The Last Grain Race

"The ocean... exemplifies the background against which, both at the start and at the finish, we see our lives as cast."

Charlton Ogburn, Jr.

"The expert and prudent navigator will act as his prudence dictates... One is more exposed to have misfortune in navigation than good fortune, due to [the channels'] narrowness and the lack of any way out, or places too difficult to pass, which is the case when within it with the cross winds."

Juan Pantoja Y Arriaga  1782
The Log of the Frigate Princesa

"Voyager upon life's sea;
To yourself be true,
And what'er your lot may be,
Paddle your own canoe."

Dr. Edward P. Philpots 1844

"A ship is different from anyplace on earth. it's dangerous at sea, as you've surely grasped by now. Dangerous, and separate. A captain has absolute power out there, extending -- and it still does -- to death. To trust a man with the lives of others is a grave thing. Only three principles make it work: authority; responsibility; accountability.

"Authority is the root of command. We delegate it only for a time, only in exercise of an office, only as defined by custom and law. Never as an individual, never for very long, never as if by right, never without bounds.

"Responsibility defines what a man is trusted with, with the ship, with the conn, whatever. So it's all clear, up front, and everybody understands his duty.

"To be accountable means to be subject to justice. To punishment, if you will. If you fail your trust -- are derelict in your duty, misuse your power, make a professional error -- you will pay a price.

"In our profession, this accountability is absolute. When a naval officer accepts authority, he knows he will answer for the actions of his ship, whether or not he is directly and personally responsible in the way a civilian court would understand. For it is his responsibility to know and govern all that goes on aboard her, her flaws, her limitations, as well as her strengths.

"If error occurs, no matter whose, the fault is rightfully and inevitably his. Each commander knows this and accepts it as part of the job. No previous service, however meritorious, can make up for it."

David Poyer
The Circle

"No matter how important a man at sea may consider himself, unless he is fundamentally worthy the sea will someday find him out."

Felix Riesenberg

"No literature is richer than that of the sea. no story is more enthralling, no tradition is more secure."

Felix Riesenberg

"Ships are the nearest things to dreams that hands have ever made, for somewhere deep in their oaken hearts the soul of a song is laid."

Robert N. Rose

"And a sailor you must be if you're going to try ocean voyaging. You'll need a modicum of sailing aptitude, some grasp of mechanical concepts, and a willingness to pitch in and work. Most veteran world sailors fall into the classification of restless adventurers who are always looking at distant horizons."

Hal Roth
After 50,000 Miles

"Men who cannot enter into the mind of the sea, cannot for the same reason enter into the mind of ships."

John Ruskin

"...Yet still, even more now, my spirit within me
Drives me seaward to sail the deep,
To ride the long swell of the salt sea waves.
Never a day but my heart's desire
Would launch me forth on the long sea path..."

"The Seafarer"   circa  1900's

"To know the laws that govern the winds, and to know that you know them, will give you an easy mind on your voyage round the world; otherwise, you may tremble at the appearance of every cloud."

Joshua Slocum
Sailing Alone Around the World

"Today; Yachtsmen all over the world are perpetuating the traditional skills of the romantic era of sail that are their rightful heritage."

Hervey Garrett Smith

"In splicing, practice makes perfect, and in the doing you will learn more than from reading any ten books on the subject."

Hervey Garrett Smith

"For will anyone dare to tell me that business is more entertaining than fooling among boats? He must have never seen a boat, or never seen an office, who says so."

Robert Louis Stevenson

"I will go back to the great sweet mother,
Mother and Lover of Men, the Sea"


"...Every master and pilot prided himself on knowing exactly how much way his ship was making. He knew the ship, he considered the wind, he watched the sails, he watched the water. In fact, it was a matter which just could not be explained to the landsman. A good sailor knew his ship, and that was all."

E. G. R. Taylor

"Although it smacks of seamanlike efficiency; to say that we got our anchor and sailed out is not strictly accurate. It leaves much unsaid."

H. W. Tilman

"The sea's most powerful spell is romance."

H. W. Tilman

"There is something about a voyage you are barely aware of while you are making it."

H. M. Tomlinson

"The first lesson a yachtsman should learn is to join the ropes together, sailor fashion."


"Of all the things that man has made, no is so full of interest and charm, none possesses so distinct a life and character of its own, as a ship."

Henry Van Dyke

"Trawlermen have the heart of lions."

Alan Villiers

"Even now; with a thousand little voyages notched in my belt. i still feel a memorial chill on casting off."

E. B. White

"O Captain! My Captain ! Our fearful trip is done, the ship has weathered every rock, the prize we sought is won, the port is near, the bells i hear, the people all exulting."

Walt Whitman

"The sea's a rumbistcal place."

Bill Wigg

"How calm! How still! The only sound the dripping of the oar suspended."

William Wordsworth

"The charm of singlehanded cruising is not solitude, but independence."

Claud Worth

"It is as hard to describe the fascination of the sea as to explain the beauty of a woman, for, to each man, either it is self-evident, or no argument can help him see it."

Claud Worth  1926
Yacht Cruising, 3rd ed.

We hope that you enjoyed this opportunity to view some traditional nautical thoughts. Our Managing Director, Peter, is always looking to expand his 30 year collection of notable quotations and definitions. Please contact us if you have any additional suggestions to supplement this wonderful treasury of nautical ideas.


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