March 28, 2024

11 min


Learnings from a life at sea & the sailing quotes that capture it

yacht by iceberg in svalbard

Being at sea is one of the most genuine and uncompromising environments one can experience. In an era increasingly dominated by the nuances of feelings and perceptions, the sea remains indifferent to such subtleties. It poses a direct challenge, often probing the very core of our being, demanding unequivocal responses. The ocean does not entertain excuses or partial efforts; it is a realm where only tangible preparedness and action hold value. If the sails are set wrong, if the equipment needed is not ready, or if you don’t have the requisite knowledge in the moment of need, the sea exposes these shortcomings without mercy. It rigorously tests one’s skill, determination, bravery, and character, offering no refuge or scope for concealment. This relentless scrutiny and honesty is a rarity in contemporary society, much to our detriment. Life on the ocean cultivates virtues like integrity, resilience, and mental clarity, explaining why seasoned mariners often exude remarkable self-sufficiency, tranquillity, and ingenuity. The ocean is our relentless instructor, our friend and a proving ground like no other. So these are the key lessons the sea teaches us.

  1. Adaptability and Resilience

Being at sea is to accept constant change, with conditions that can shift from calm to furious with little warning; equipment can suddenly break; sea states can be unexpected; whales can crash into your hull: Sailors must constantly adapt their strategies, make rapid decisions, and remain resilient in the face of adversity. The sea is too great a force to argue with – it is just what it is at that moment, and a sailor will simply adapt to it the best they can. They cannot fight it and they cannot give up. They just keep going, and usually with a smile on their face.

  1. The Value of Preparation

Before we set off to sea, there is meticulous planning and preparation. We have to ensure we have the right equipment, the right tools, enough spares, enough food and so forth. Once we are out at sea, we are alone in a bubble of self-reliance. If you have forgotten or missed something, the sea doesn’t care. The wind will keep blowing, the waves will keep rolling through and the currents will keep pulling. Too many once majestic ships that once conquered the oceans now lie at their bottom, never to be seen again, the ocean has swallowed them as if they were never there.

  1. Respect for Nature

At sea, one quickly learns to respect the power and unpredictability of nature. The extraordinary power of the wind can sweep all away in its path. It can take your breath away and leave you struggling to think. One only has to think of giant surfing waves to know the power of the water, watching in awe as they come crashing onto shore with a noise and fury that excites and scares. Out at sea, we see these same waves, but maybe 30-40 feet high, with vast foaming tops and an inability to avoid them, only to ride them as best we can. One cannot help but develop a deep sense of humility and true appreciation for the environment. It teaches us the importance of living in harmony with the natural world and reminds us of our responsibility to protect it.

  1. Patience and Perseverance

I often tell new crew that if they had wanted to get from A to B, the very best way to have done so would be to have flown. It is fast, simple and painless. If they had wanted just the romance of the sea, they should have taken a cruise liner. Yet they have chosen to go on a sailboat, which will travel at 6-10 knots, often in the wrong direction, and with a lot of pitching, yawing and discomfort along the way. So why? Why have they chosen to take this route? That is for a different article, but what is clear is that sailing requires patience, from waiting for the right wind to participating in long voyages. If the sea is not ready for us, it doesn’t matter what timings or requirements we may have, we will have to wait. You’ll find that ocean sailors are great at staying the course, showing long-term commitment and accepting that things often can’t happen ‘now’.

  1. Self-Reliance and Teamwork

Sailing on the ocean is a real mix of developing your self-reliance but also learning the true value of teamwork. It is easy to ‘hide’ in a crew and let others do the heavy lifting. Maybe you don’t volunteer to go forward when it’s rough or you cook a quick meal when it’s your rota, instead of a good, nourishing meal. When you’re tired, cold, nervous and confused, you’ll find your character gets tested. You may want to give up, hide or avoid taking responsibility – but this is exactly when you have to. Having and building that self-resilience is key. Conversely, it is that self-resilience that then allows you to be a true team member of the crew. You will pull your weight, take one for the teamwork for the common good, simply because you are no longer looking out for number one.

  1. The Power of Silence and Solitude

The sea offers moments of profound silence and solitude that allow for introspection and personal growth. It teaches us the importance of taking time to reflect, clear our minds, and reconnect with ourselves, fostering mental and emotional well-being. In the modern world, we are bombarded with messages and stimuli every second of every day, and as a result, we never rest. Try communicating or thinking in a noisy room – it’s hard – yet this is what we ask ourselves to do every day. On the ocean, for those out on sailing ships especially, there is true peace and we have just ourselves or a small crew with us. These are the moments you will come to treasure.

  1. Facing Fears and Embracing the Unknown

True adventure, unlike its packaged and tame cousin, means embarking on something without having an assured outcome. How you think, act, work and create will affect the outcome. Even then, it may not work out as you want. Heading away from land and out into the unknown, into the vastness of the ocean, can be scary, especially when we know things are going to be tough out there. We may be on a yacht we don’t know well, with crew we don’t know and an uncertain forecast. It is easy in such a situation to ‘push away’ and try and avoid the next few moments, hours, or days. Instead, what the sea reached you is to do the opposite. Pull the uncertainty or discomfort toward you. To be safe and successful, you need to embrace the situation and own it. Do this and you will find your anxiety diminishes and your ability to succeed increases exponentially.

  1. Appreciating the Moment

The beauty of a sunset at sea, the tranquillity of the water, or the thrill of a whale sighting teaches every sailor, every day, the importance of being present and appreciating life’s simple pleasures. As every true sailor knows, it reminds us to slow down, savor the moment, and find joy in the journey. There is so much we take for granted in modern-day life and from which we no longer get any joy. But go without hot water for a few days and it is magical to feel that warm rush on your hands. Get cold and wet up on deck and coming below into the warmth and dry is beyond wonderful. Those moments are of pure joy – yet we have warmth, dry environments and hot water every moment of our lives and barely notice them. This leads us to search for ever more sources of happiness, which themselves then become normalised and unnoticed. Joy and happiness have no relation to money spent or possessions. they come from what you do what you see and what you experience, and most of that comes very simply.


The lessons learned from life on a sailing ship out on the ocean are as vast as the ocean itself and we are all still learning. They remind us of our strengths and vulnerabilities, teaching us about resilience, preparation, respect for nature, and the value of silence and solitude. These experiences shape our character, guide our choices, and enrich our journey through life. To finish, there are some truly inspirational sailing quotes that I have collected over the years and that capture all these lessons beautifully. Enjoy!

Author: Bruce Jacobs, March 28 2024

Inspirational Sailing Quotes

  • “To reach a port, we must sail—Sail, not tie at anchor—Sail, not drift.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • “It’s remarkable how quickly a good and favorable wind can sweep away the maddening frustrations of shore living.” – Ernest K. Gann
  • Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be Pirates.” – Mark Twain
  • She found out that having something to do prevented you from feeling seasick, and that even a job like scrubbing a deck could be satisfying. She was very taken with this notion, and later on, she folded the blankets on her bunk in a seamanlike way put her possessions in the closet in a seamanlike way, and used ‘stow’ instead of ‘tidy’ for the process of doing so. After two days at sea, Lyra decided that this was the life – Phillip Pullman
  • “You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Christopher Columbus
  • “Sailors, with their built-in sense of order, service and discipline, should really be running the world” – Nicholas Monsarrat
  • “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that 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.” – Mark Twain
  • He that will not sail till all dangers are over must never put to sea.” – Dr Thomas Fuller
  • “The art of the sailor is to leave nothing to chance.” – Annie Van De Wiele
  • “The sea hates a coward.” – Eugene O’Neill
  • “A sailor is an artist whose medium is the wind.” – Webb Chiles
  • The days pass happily with me wherever my ship sails.” – Joshua Slocum
  • “It is not that life ashore is distasteful to me. But life at sea is better.” – Sir Francis Drake
  • How inappropriate it is to call this planet Earth, when clearly it is Sea.” – Arthur C. Clarke
  • “That’s what a ship is, you know—it’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails, that’s what a ship needs. But what a ship is, really is, is freedom.” ― Captain Jack Sparrow, “Pirates of the Caribbean”
  • A sailing vessel is alive in a way that no ship with mechanical power ever be.” ― Aubrey de Selincourt
  • If you are a boat that wants to sail in windy weather, you must be more stubborn than the waves! – Mehmet Murat ildan
  • The goal is not to sail the boat, but rather to help the boat sail herself. Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm. It is the set of the sails, not the direction of the wind that determines which way we will go. A smooth sea never made for a skilled sailor. Come sail away with me. Sail on. A man is never lost at sea. – Ernest Hemingway
  • To be successful at sea we must keep things simple.” – Pete Culler
  • “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” – John A. Shedd
  • “Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate.” – Captain Jack Sparrow, “Pirates of the Caribbean”
  • You must never despise the port you were born in because no matter how small or how bad it is, it is the place you have started sailing to the universe! – Mehmet Murat ildan
  • “I wanted freedom, open air and adventure. I found it on the sea.” – Alaine Gerbault
  • “The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.” – Vincent Van Gogh
  • If you are going to do something, do it now. Tomorrow is too late.” – Pete Goss
  • She watched the gap between ship and shore grow to a huge gulf. Perhaps this was a little like dying, the departed no longer visible to the others, yet both still existed, only in different worlds. – Susan Wiggs, The Charm School
  • There is no better tool or equipment you can have on board than a well-trained crew.” – Larry Pardey
  • “No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed to an uncharted land or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.” ― Helen Keller
  • “On a day when the wind is perfect, the sail just needs to open and the world is full of beauty.” – Rumi
  • “The sea speaks a language polite people never repeat. It is a colossal scavenger slang and has no respect.” ― Carl Sandburg
  • “The sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.” ― Joseph Conrad
  • “To desire nothing beyond what you have is surely happiness. Aboard a boat, it is frequently possible to achieve just that. That is why sailing is a way of life, one of the finest of lives.” – Carleton Mitchell
  • “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
  • “A bad day sailing is 100 times better than a good day at work.” – Anonymous
  • The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever – Jacques Yves Cousteau
  • “The sea finds out everything you did wrong.” – Francis Stokes
  • “I can’t control the wind, but I can adjust the sail.” – Ricky Skaggs
  • “He who lets the sea lull him into a sense of security is in very grave danger.” – Hammond Ines
  • “Sailing a ship through a storm is like dancing with nature in its rawest form.” – Unknown
  • “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” – William Arthur Ward

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