June 15, 2024

17 min


The Ultimate List of Sailing Songs: The 50 Best of All Time

sailing songs

Sailing has inspired so many songs, capturing the spirit of the open sea, the freedom of the wind, and the camaraderie of the crew. The songs effortlessly conjure up images of wind and sea, navigating a stormy ocean or anchoring off deserted islands. In fact, we reckon there’s a song for every sailing mood. Over the years we have sailed with so many crew, all of whom have made their own suggestions for our list and helped us refine it. Now, here’s our ultimate list of what we think are the 50 best sailing songs of all time, spanning genres and decades, and perfect for when you need to be transported off onto the ocean.

1. “Sailing” by Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart’s rendition of “Sailing” is such a powerful and emotive anthem and an absolute classic and has to be our number 1! Originally written by Gavin Sutherland of The Sutherland Brothers, Stewart’s version was released in 1975. The song’s soaring vocals and stirring melody capture the essence of the longing and freedom associated with sailing. Its heartfelt lyrics and passionate delivery have made it a timeless favorite for sailors and music lovers alike.

2. “Sail” by AWOLNATION

A modern track with such a powerful beat, “Sail” by AWOLNATION is a massive Rubicon 3 favorite. Released in 2010, the song features a brilliant blend of electronic rock and alternative melodies. The intense vocals and driving rhythm make it a high-energy anthem perfect for ocean sailing. Pump up the volume!

3. “Sloop John B” by The Beach Boys

A traditional folk song brought to life by The Beach Boys, “Sloop John B” is a story of a troublesome voyage. Rooted in the tradition of sea shanties, the song’s origins date back to the Bahamas, but it was The Beach Boys’ 1966 version that became famous. The lovely harmonies and upbeat arrangement contrast with the various tales of mishaps at sea, making for a really memorable and enduring track. It’s a classic Beach Boys song that really evokes the carefree spirit of sailing.

4. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot

A haunting ballad, Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” released in 1976, tells the tragic story of the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior. The song has beautiful lyrics and a somber melody that capture the disaster. Lightfoot’s narrative style and the song’s atmospheric arrangement make a powerful tribute to the lost crew. Its historical significance and emotional impact make it a poignant addition to our sailing playlist.

5. “Sail Away Sweet Sister” by Queen

The Game’s “Sail Away Sweet Sister” by Queen is a wonderfully melodic and heartfelt track that captures the essence of longing and farewell that every sailor knows so well. From their 1980 album “The Game,” the song features Brian May’s emotive vocals and signature guitar work. The lyrics talk about parting and hope, with sailing the metaphor for moving forward. Its gentle melody and poignant message make it much loved on a Rubicon 3 boat.

6. “Sailing” by Christopher Cross

Christopher Cross’s 1979 hit is one of the true classics that perfectly captures the serenity and freedom of sailing. A smooth melody and gentle lyrics make it a prime example of the ‘yacht rock’ subgenre, and one we love to put on when the sun’s out and we’re relaxing on the water. The song won Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Arrangement.

7. “Come Sail Away” by Styx

A rock anthem that takes listeners on a truly emotional voyage, this is a staple on the boats. The song starts with a soft, piano-driven introduction before building into a really powerful rock crescendo. The song tells the story of a man longing to leave behind his worldly troubles and sail off to a better place.

8. “Southern Cross” by Crosby, Stills & Nash

This iconic song paints vivid truly images of a journey under the Southern Cross constellation, blending beautiful harmonies with nautical imagery, including the metaphor of a sailing ship to achieve one’s dreams. Written by Stephen Stills, Richard Curtis, and Michael Curtis, the song reflects Stills’ experiences sailing in the South Pacific. It has evocative lyrics and rich vocal harmonies that we love.

9. “Sail On” by The Commodores

Lionel Richie’s soulful voice and the smooth rhythm make “Sail On” a wonderful song about the importance of moving forward. The lyrics tell the story of someone deciding to leave a relationship and start anew. Released in 1979, it quikcly became a hit song and one of The Commodores’ biggest hits.

10. “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass

A tale of a sailor’s love and the sea, this 1972 hit is a storytelling gem that captures the life of a sailor’s love. The song’s protagonist, Brandy, works as a barmaid in a port town, admired by a sailor who loves her but ultimately chooses the sea over her. With its catchy melody and narrative lyrics, “Brandy” became a defining song of the early 70s. Its wistful, nostalgic feel continues to captivate many a Rubicon 3 crew out on the ocean.

11. “Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image

A call to adventure and exploration, “Ride Captain Ride” is a classic rock track that embodies the spirit of sailing. Released in 1970, the song tells the story of a captain and his crew setting off on an adventurous voyage. It has an upbeat tempo and really infectious chorus that makes it a perfect song for our trips. The track reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

12. “Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin

Bobby Darin’s rendition of “Beyond the Sea” is an enduring classic, evoking the romance of the sea. Adapted from the French song “La Mer” by Charles Trenet, Darin’s version features big-band arrangements and his always charismatic vocals. It’s a timeless love song, about a longing to reunite with a loved one across the sea.

13. “A Pirate Looks at Forty” by Jimmy Buffett

Jimmy Buffett’s famous ode to a life lived on the water. Jimmy Buffett was a keen sailor, and often sang about sailing and beach life, especially in his popular song ‘Son of a Son of a Sailor’. Written from the perspective of an aging pirate, this touches on longing, nostalgia, and acceptance.

14. “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)” by Enya

Enya’s immediatley recognizable and ethereal voice and the song’s soothing melody create a perfect backdrop for a peaceful sail. Released in 1988, “Orinoco Flow” became a worldwide hit, known for its superb production and haunting atmosphere.

15. “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison

With soulful lyrics and a mystical feel, Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” is a perfect sailing song. The track, from his acclaimed 1970 album “Moondance,” features a blend of folk, soul, and jazz influences. Much like the storytelling by Bob Dylan in ‘When the Ship Comes In,’ Morrison’s lyrics speak of a spiritual journey, using nautical imagery to convey a sense of longing and transcendence. Morrison’s passionate delivery and the song’s rich instrumentation create an evocative and timeless piece.

16. “The Downeaster Alexa” by Billy Joel

Billy Joel’s tribute to the struggles of a fisherman, this song is really a powerful narrative set to music. The track, from his 1989 album “Storm Front,” tells the story of a Long Island fisherman facing economic hardships. The somber lyrics and Joel’s passionate delivery highlight the challenges and resilience of those who make their living from the sea and is well known to every single handed sailor. Its haunting melody and poignant storytelling make it a standout in Joel’s catalog.

17. “Sailing to Philadelphia” by Mark Knopfler and James Taylor

A beautiful duet that intertwines historical narrative with haunting melodies. The song, from Knopfler’s 2000 album of the same name, is inspired by the book “Mason & Dixon” by Thomas Pynchon. It tells the story of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, who charted the Mason-Dixon Line in the 18th century. The interplay of Knopfler’s guitar work and Taylor’s soothing voice is captivating. Play this out on a sunny day and you’ll be in heaven.

18. “Ocean” by John Butler Trio

An instrumental masterpiece that wonderfully captures the vastness and beauty of the ocean. “Ocean” showcases John Butler’s exceptional guitar skills, with intricate fingerpicking and mesmerizing rhythms. The song evolves over its long duration (it’s around 12 minutes) and is a mesmerizing piece that we often listen to at sea.

19. “Sail On, Sailor” by The Beach Boys

This lesser-known Beach Boys track is a soulful and powerful anthem to perseverance. Released in 1973, the song features lead vocals by Blondie Chaplin and a blend of rock, soul, and gospel influences. It’s about overcoming adversity and just carrying on forward. Feeling ready to quit? Play this!

20. “Calypso” by John Denver

A tribute to Jacques Cousteau and his ship, the Calypso, this song celebrates exploration and discovery. John Denver’s 1975 track captures the awe and wonder of the ocean and the adventures it holds. It has an upbeat melody and the lyrics capture a joy and admiration for the sea. It’s a fitting homage to Cousteau’s pioneering work in marine conservation and his love for the ocean.

21. “Sail Away” by David Gray

David Gray’s poignant song from his 1998 album “White Ladder” blends his signature acoustic melodies and heartfelt lyrics. “Sail Away” is a contemplative track that speaks to the desire to escape and find solace. Gray’s emotive voice and the song’s gentle arrangement are soothing and reflective. Need a moment of introspection? Here’s your

22. “Sailing on the Seven Seas” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD)

This classic high enery synth-pop track from OMD’s 1991 album “Sugar Tax” combines catchy hooks with various nautical themes. “Sailing on the Seven Seas” features some driving rhythms and an infectious chorus, making it a lively anthem for sailing enthusiasts and great memories for anyone over a certain age. We love the song’s timeless upbeat tempo and dynamic production.

23. “Cool Change” by Little River Band

A reflective and serene song, “Cool Change” by Little River Band is all about the tranquility of the sea, much like traditional sailor songs. Released in 1979, the track features super smooth harmonies and melodies. The lyrics speak to the desire for a simpler, more contemplative life on the water. It’s a timeless song that resonates with many Rubicon 3 crew.

24. “Sailor” by Petula Clark

This 1961 hit by Petula Clark is a really charming and nostalgic ode to a sailor’s return. “Sailor” features a really catchy melody and Clark’s distinctive vocals, telling the story of a woman waiting for her sailor to come home. It’s got a super cheerful arrangement and heartfelt lyrics.

25. “Sailing Away” by Chris de Burgh

A dreamy and romantic song, “Sailing Away” by Chris de Burgh from his 1988 album “Flying Colours” captures the longing for adventure and escape that many of share. The track features de Burgh’s signature storytelling and emotive vocals. The lyrics paint a vivid picture of setting sail for distant shores, seeking freedom and new experiences.

26. “Rock the Boat” by Hues Corporation

A disco classic from 1974, “Rock the Boat” by Hues Corporation is an upbeat and fun addition to our sailing list. The song’s got an infectious rhythm and really catchy chorus that make it impossible at times not to dance along to, even when heeled hard over!

27. “Ship to Shore” by Chris Rea

Chris Rea’s “Ship to Shore” is a soulful and reflective song that captures the longing and connection between sailors and those they leave behind. From his 1985 album “Shamrock Diaries,” the track features Rea’s distinctive gravelly voice and bluesy guitar work.

28. “Sailing Shoes” by Little Feat

“Sailing Shoes” by Little Feat is a funky and bluesy track that brings a real sense of groove to the Rubicon 3 boats. From their 1972 album “Sailin’ Shoes,” the song has catchy guitar riffs and fun, playful lyrics.

29. “If I Had a Boat” by Lyle Lovett

A highly whimsical and introspective song, “If I Had a Boat” by Lyle Lovett from his 1988 album “Pontiac” explores the simple pleasures of sailing. The track features Lovett’s distinctive voice and acoustic guitar work.

30. “Sail Away” by Randy Newman

Randy Newman’s “Sail Away” from his 1972 album is a satirical and poignant song about the American dream. The track has Newman’s signature piano work and distinctive vocals. The lyrics, while seemingly optimistic, carry a deeper and more critical message about the promises of a better life.

31. “Sailor Song” by The Decemberists

Her Majesty the Decemberists’ “Sailor Song” is a lively and theatrical track that really captures the spirit of maritime adventures. From their 2003 album “Her Majesty the Decemberists,” the song is packed full of storytelling lyrics and a folk-rock arrangement.

32. “Sailor” by The Steve Miller Band

The Steve Miller Band’s “Sailor” is a classic rock track with a laid-back vibe, perfect for a day on the water. From their 1969 album “Brave New World,” the song features smooth guitar riffs and Miller’s distinctive vocals. The lyrics evoke a sense of freedom and exploration, capturing the essence of the sailing experience. Its relaxed groove and melodic charm make it a timeless favorite for sailing enthusiasts.

33. “Sailing Away” by Whitesnake

“Sailing Away” by Whitesnake is a power ballad that combines rock elements with a sense of longing and adventure. From their 1987 album “Whitesnake,” the song features David Coverdale’s emotive vocals and soaring guitar solos.

34. “Ship of Fools” by World Party

World Party’s “Ship of Fools,” released in 1987, is a thought-provoking song that uses various nautical images to comment on societal issues of the time. The track is a blend of pop and rock elements, with Karl Wallinger’s distinctive voice and melodic sensibilities.

35. “Sail Away” by The Rasmus

A modern rock track, “Sail Away” by The Rasmus from their 2005 album “Hide from the Sun,” is soaked in melancholy and reflection. The song has powerful vocals and great atmospheric instrumentation.

36. “Sailing” by Mike Oldfield

An instrumental track by Mike Oldfield from his 2014 album “Man on the Rocks,” “Sailing” features Oldfield’s usual high production values and intricate melodies that capture the beauty of the sea. The song is a showcase to Oldfield’s enduring musical talent and ability to create atmospheric soundscapes.

37. “Sail Away” by The Allman Brothers Band

Hittin’ the Note, The Allman Brothers Band’s “Sail Away” is a soulful and bluesy track that brings a sense of groove to the sailing experience. From their 2003 album “Hittin’ the Note,” the song features powerful vocals and impressive guitar work. It taps into the desire for freedom and escape, leaving behind troubles to boot.

38. “Ships” by Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow’s “Ships” from his 1979 album “One Voice” is a heartfelt ballad exploring themes of separation and reunion. The song features Manilow’s emotive vocals and a sweeping orchestral arrangement.

39. “Sailing” by Avantasia

Avantasia’s “Sailing” is a powerful and epic track from their 2016 album “Ghostlights” that brings a sense of grandeur to the sailing experience. Tobias Sammet’s soaring vocals and a dynamic rock arrangement make this a classic, focusing on the adventure and freedom of setting sail.

40. “Sailor Song” by Regina Spektor

Regina Spektor’s “Sailor Song” from her 2004 album “Soviet Kitsch” is a wonderfully quirky and whimsical track that captures the more playful side of sailing. The song features Spektor’s distinctive voice and imaginative lyrics.

41. “Sail Away” by Hans Zimmer (from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End)

Hans Zimmer’s “Sail Away” from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack is an instrumental masterpiece that evokes the thrill of big adventures at sea. The track features Zimmerman’s typical sweeping orchestral arrangements and dramatic themes, capturing the essence of the high seas. Its epic and cinematic sound makes it a brilliant accompaniment for our sailing adventures.

42. “Sailing to Nowhere” by Bad Religion

Bad Religion’s “Sailing to Nowhere” from their 1992 album “Generator” is a great punk rock track that brings a sense of energy and urgency to the sailing experience. The song features fast-paced rhythms and powerful vocals with lyrics exploring the aimlessness and uncertainty of life.

43. “Sailboat” by Ben Rector

Ben Rector’s “Sailboat” is a gentle and introspective song. From his 2013 album “The Walking in Between,” the track features Rector’s wonderfully soothing voice and acoustic guitar work.

44. “The River” by Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks’ “The River” is a country ballad that uses sailing as a metaphor for life’s journey. From his 1991 album “Ropin’ the Wind,” the song features Brooks’ heartfelt vocals and a rich country arrangement. The lyrics encourage listeners to pursue their dreams and navigate life’s challenges, creating a genuinely inspirational message. Its uplifting and motivational nature makes it a standout choice.

45. “Sailing” by Alabama

Alabama’s “Sailing” is a country track that captures the freedom and joy of being on the water. From their 1997 album “Dancin’ on the Boulevard,” the song features smooth harmonies and a catchy melody. The lyrics speak to the sense of adventure and escape that comes with sailing, creating a feel-good vibe. Its cheerful and relaxed nature makes it a perfect addition to our sailing playlist.

46. “Sailor’s Lullaby” by Heidi Talbot

Heidi Talbot’s “Sailor’s Lullaby” is a soothing and tender song that captures the gentler side of sailing. From her 2008 album “In Love + Light,” the track has Talbot’s ethereal voice and delicate instrumentation.

47. “Sailing on the Seven Seas” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD)

This energetic synth-pop track from OMD’s 1991 album “Sugar Tax” has crazily catchy hooks, driving rhythms and an infectious chorus, making it a lively anthem for sailing crew. The song’s upbeat tempo and dynamic production really capture the excitement and adventure of our trips.

48. “Sail Away” by The Oak Ridge Boys

The Oak Ridge Boys’ “Sail Away” is a wonderful country track with soaring, rich harmonies. From their 1979 album “The Oak Ridge Boys Have Arrived,” the song features smooth vocals and a melodic arrangement. The lyrics speak to the desire for freedom and adventure, using sailing as a metaphor for life’s journey. Its heartfelt and uplifting nature makes it a great addition to our playlist.

49. “Sail” by Armin van Buuren

Armin van Buuren’s “Sail” is an electronic dance track that brings huge energy and excitement to any moment and yes we love it! Released in 2006, the song has driving beats and great production. The instrumental ballads allows crew to lose themselves in the rhythm and flow of the music.

50. “Sailor’s Tale” by King Crimson

King Crimson’s “Sailor’s Tale” is a progressive rock instrumental. From their 1971 album “Islands,” the track has really intricate guitar work and super dynamic arrangements.

So there you have it. Our 50 best songs featuring sailing, as voted for by us and our crew on many a voyage. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

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