Also found in: Thesaurus, Acronyms, Idioms, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.


1. Nautical
a. A piece of fabric sewn together and fitted to the spars and rigging of a vessel so as to convert the force of the wind into forward motion of the vessel.
b. The sails of a ship or boat.
c. A narrow fairwater supporting the bridge of a submarine.
2. pl. sail or sails Nautical A sailing vessel.
3. Nautical A trip or voyage in a sailing craft.
4. Something, such as the blade of a windmill, that resembles a sail in form or function.
v. sailed, sail·ing, sails
1. Nautical
a. To move across the surface of water, especially by means of a sailing vessel.
b. To travel by water in a vessel.
c. To start out on such a voyage or journey: Tomorrow we sail for the islands.
d. To operate a sailing craft, especially for sport.
2. To move along or progress smoothly or effortlessly: sailed into the room five minutes late; sailed through the exam; sailed through the red light.
3. To move along through the air: The ball sailed into the stands. Nautical
1. To navigate or manage (a vessel).
2. To voyage upon or across: sail the Pacific.
Phrasal Verb:
sail into
To attack or criticize vigorously: sailed into the workmen for the shoddy job they were doing.
under sail
Nautical With the sails up; sailing.

[Middle English seil, from Old English segl. Sail into, from obsolete sail, to attack, from Middle English sailen, short for assailen; see assail.]


  • crab-skuit - A small, open fishing boat with sails.
  • haul - Originally had the nautical meaning of "to trim the sails to sail closer to the wind."
  • sail - Once meant specifically "to travel on a ship with sails," and, later, "to travel on any ship"; figuratively, it means "to go through effortlessly," as in, "to sail through the exam."
  • three sheets to the wind - Pertains to chains that regulate the angle of sails; if the sheets were loose, the boat would become unstable and tipsy.
References in classic literature ?
First of all, the sight of the water stretching so far away, those motionless sails against the blue sky, made a delicious picture that I just wanted to sit and look at.
With the landless gull, that at sunset folds her wings and is rocked to sleep between billows; so at nightfall, the Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sails, and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales.
Everywhere in the country tonight the old party politicians are studying this vote, and setting their sails by it; and nowhere will they be quicker or more cunning than here in our own city.
I think my flesh would be pretty tolerable strong, in such a case," said Phineas, stretching out a pair of arms like the sails of a windmill.
He worked himself up slowly and gradually into a sort of frenzy, and got to thrashing around with his arms like the sails of a windmill.
We met many big keel-boats on their way up, using sails, mule power, and profanity--a tedious and laborious business.
Ever since the service he rendered Jane at Weymouth, when they were out in that party on the water, and she, by the sudden whirling round of something or other among the sails, would have been dashed into the sea at once, and actually was all but gone, if he had not, with the greatest presence of mind, caught hold of her habit
Jane, I go in six weeks; I have taken my berth in an East Indiaman which sails on the 20th of June.
If we only had a little time before us; if I could only get to Aldborough and see her -- but you are going away to-morrow; your ship sails at the end of the week.
There were many things to be brought up from the beach and stored in the outhouse - as oars, nets, sails, cordage, spars, lobster-pots, bags of ballast, and the like; and though there was abundance of assistance rendered, there being not a pair of working hands on all that shore but would have laboured hard for Mr.
It was pleasant and quiet, out there with the sails on the river passing beyond the earthwork, and sometimes, when the tide was low, looking as if they belonged to sunken ships that were still sailing on at the bottom of the water.
Well, we must put up more sails on our boat," said the Doctor, "so we can go faster and get away from them.