the activity of a person or thing that sails.
the departure of a ship from port: The cruise line offers sailings every other day.
Navigation. any of various methods for determining courses and distances by means of charts or with reference to longitudes and latitudes, rhumb lines, great circles, etc.

Origin of sailing

before 900; Middle English seiling, Old English seglung. See sail, -ing1
Related formswell-sail·ing, adjective




an area of canvas or other fabric extended to the wind in such a way as to transmit the force of the wind to an assemblage of spars and rigging mounted firmly on a hull, raft, iceboat, etc., so as to drive it along.
some similar piece or apparatus, as the part of an arm that catches the wind on a windmill.
a voyage or excursion, especially in a sailing vessel: They went for a sail around the island.
a sailing vessel or ship.
sailing vessels collectively: The fleet numbered 30 sail.
sails for a vessel or vessels collectively.
(initial capital letter) Astronomy. the constellation Vela.

verb (used without object)

to move along or travel over water: steamships sailing to Lisbon.
to manage a sailboat, especially for sport.
to begin a journey by water: We are sailing at dawn.
to move along in a manner suggestive of a sailing vessel: caravans sailing along.
to move along in a stately, effortless way: to sail into a room.

verb (used with object)

to sail upon, over, or through: to sail the seven seas.
to navigate (a vessel).

Verb Phrases

sail in/into, Informal.
  1. to go vigorously into action; begin to act; attack.
  2. to attack verbally: He would sail into his staff when work was going badly.

Origin of sail

before 900; (noun) Middle English sail(e), seille, Old English segl; cognate with German Segel, Old Norse segl; (v.) Middle English seillen, saylen, Old English siglan, seglian; cognate with Dutch zeilen, Old Norse sigla
Related formssail·a·ble, adjectivesail·less, adjectiveun·sail·a·ble, adjectiveun·sailed, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for sailing

Contemporary Examples of sailing

Historical Examples of sailing

  • The icebergs had weighed anchor, and were sailing out into the open sea.

    The Field of Ice

    Jules Verne

  • He secured a berth on the Geranium, sailing from Liverpool, and cabled Brant to that effect.

  • "But I don't understand a sailing vessel in these waters," speculated Leonard.

  • Do you mean you object to sailing this tug on account of some imaginary thing?

  • It rained, I remember, all that day, but the next was bright and clear for our sailing.

    The Harbor

    Ernest Poole

British Dictionary definitions for sailing



the practice, art, or technique of sailing a vessel
a method of navigating a vesselrhumb-line sailing
an instance of a vessel's leaving a portscheduled for a midnight sailing



an area of fabric, usually Terylene or nylon (formerly canvas), with fittings for holding it in any suitable position to catch the wind, used for propelling certain kinds of vessels, esp over water
a voyage on such a vessela sail down the river
a vessel with sails or such vessels collectivelyto travel by sail; we raised seven sail in the northeast
a ship's sails collectively
something resembling a sail in shape, position, or function, such as the part of a windmill that is turned by the wind or the part of a Portuguese man-of-war that projects above the water
the conning tower of a submarine
in sail having the sail set
make sail
  1. to run up the sail or to run up more sail
  2. to begin a voyage
set sail
  1. to embark on a voyage by ship
  2. to hoist sail
under sail
  1. with sail hoisted
  2. under way

verb (mainly intr)

to travel in a boat or shipwe sailed to Le Havre
to begin a voyage; set sailwe sail at 5 o'clock
(of a vessel) to move over the waterthe liner is sailing to the Caribbean
(tr) to manoeuvre or navigate a vesselhe sailed the schooner up the channel
(tr) to sail overshe sailed the Atlantic single-handed
(often foll by over, through, etc) to move fast or effortlesslywe sailed through customs; the ball sailed over the fence
to move along smoothly; glide
(often foll by in or into) informal
  1. to begin (something) with vigour
  2. to make an attack (on) violently with words or physical force
Derived Formssailable, adjectivesailless, adjective

Word Origin for sail

Old English segl; related to Old Frisian seil, Old Norse segl, German Segel
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for sailing

Old English seglinge, verbal noun from the source of sail (v.).



Old English segl "sail, veil, curtain," from Proto-Germanic *seglom (cf. Old Saxon, Swedish segel, Old Norse segl, Old Frisian seil, Dutch zeil, Old High German segal, German Segel), of obscure origin with no known cognates outside Germanic (Irish seol, Welsh hwyl "sail" are Germanic loan-words). In some sources (Klein, OED) referred to PIE root *sek- "to cut," as if meaning "a cut piece of cloth." To take the wind out of (someone's) sails (1888) is to deprive (someone) of the means of progress, especially by sudden and unexpected action, "as by one vessel sailing between the wind and another vessel," ["The Encyclopaedic Dictionary," 1888].



Old English segilan "travel on water in a ship; equip with a sail," from the same Germanic source as sail (n.); cognate with Old Norse sigla, Middle Dutch seghelen, Dutch zeilen, Middle Low German segelen, German segeln. Meaning "to set out on a sea voyage, leave port" is from c.1200. Related: Sailed; sailing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with sailing


In addition to the idioms beginning with sail

  • sail close to the wind
  • sail into
  • sail through
  • sail under false colors

also see:

  • (sail under) false colors
  • plain sailing
  • set sail
  • smooth sailing
  • take the wind out of one's sails
  • trim one's sails
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.