A boat is on/in the water.

hboo

Senior Member
Chinese
Hi,

Would you say:"A boat/ship is on the water/sea/ocean." or "A boat/ship is in the water/sea/ocean.", to say when a boat/ship is berthing or sailing?

Thank you.
 
  • Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    In general, you can stay with "on" when the boat is on the surface of the water, and "in" when it's underwater. There may be exceptions that don't immediately come to mind.
     

    hboo

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Thank you, Copyright. Do you mean a ship or a boat in a normal situation is on the water, but when they sink they are in the water?
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    Yes, but ... :)

    If you and I are going fishing and we drive to the lake, pulling my bass boat behind the pickup truck, when we got there I might ask you to guide me as I back up in order to put the boat in the water. And I wouldn't be sinking it.

    So what I've said about in/on isn't a hard and fast rule.
     

    emanko

    Senior Member
    Arabic- Egyptian
    Hello

    Could you please tell me which sentence means that the ship is sailing (not sinking):

    Three Indian ships are now in the Mediterranean Sea.
    Three Indian ships are now on the Mediterranean Sea.

    And will there be any difference in our choice of preposition if we used "are sailing" instead of just "are"?

    Thank you.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Hello

    Could you please tell me which sentence means that the ship is sailing (not sinking):

    Three Indian ships are now in the Mediterranean Sea.
    Three Indian ships are now on the Mediterranean Sea.

    And will there be any difference in our choice of preposition if we used "are sailing" instead of just "are"?

    Thank you.
    Both suggest the boats are floating. "In" is used because the Mediterranean Sea is a specific area which the boats are within, very much like saying that something is in China. "On" is possible because they are on the water. Which one is best depends on the context in which you are using the sentence. In any case, in British English at any rate, it is quite normal to say that a boat is in the water, meaning it is floating on top. "On" tends to get used only for lightweight craft that skim the surface such as racing dinghies and rowing eights, hovercraft and hydrofoils, not container ships or oil tankers.
     

    emanko

    Senior Member
    Arabic- Egyptian
    Both suggest the boats are floating. "In" is used because the Mediterranean Sea is a specific area which the boats are within, very much like saying that something is in China.
    Thank you.
    What if we just say, "They sailed in the sea.", without specifying a certain sea? Do we still use "in"?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    No. A boat can be in the water or in the sea, but it usually sails on the water or on the sea. I am sure there are all sorts of exceptions (apart from submarines), but "sail on" is the usual form, unless you name the sea, turning it into a geographical area.
     

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Around here, it's common to keep medium-sized boats on shore, under some sort of protection, during the winter months. (Very small boats are often taken out after each use. Large ones can't be brought on shore easily.) In the spring, they are put in the water - never on. In April, I might ask a boat owner "Is your boat in the water yet?" to which he might reply "Yes, it's moored in Fairhaven" or some such.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    There is just no exact explanation of which is "right".

    You definitely put boats in the water if they are out of the water. But once they are there they can be in or on, depending on many factors. Boats can sail in, on, over, through and across the water.

    When you say a boat is in the Mediterranean Sea it's not a reference to the water, it's a reference to the geographic area. That's what "in" means.

    If people say "We spent yesterday on the water." that means they were in a boat which was in or on the water.
     

    Wordies

    New Member
    Greek
    When we use the word "sea" we usually say at sea: "The ship is/sails at sea".
    Not sure if we use "in" for specific seas as geographic areas (i.e. in Baltic sea)
    However, when we use the word "water" at least in the shipping industry, we say in the water: "X shipping company has 30 Tanker ships in the water"
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Not sure if we use "in" for specific seas as geographic areas (i.e. in Baltic sea)
    Yes, it can be used that way, too.

    They were fishing in the Baltic sea when their boat sank.

    "In" here is not a reference to the water. Fishing always takes place in water. "In" is a reference to their geographic location.

    "X shipping company has 30 Tanker ships in the water"
    In this case, "in the water" really means "in use". It's not like they are going to have some in water and some in oil and some in ketchup. It's a contrast to being out of use (and maybe physically out of the water) for repairs or whatever other reason.
     
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