sailing man / sailor


Senior Member

Reading a book, I came across the term "sailing man" in this sentence "It reminds me of when I was a sailing man. One day, we were sailing up the Saint-Lawrence (..)".

Is there a real difference in English to say "sailing man" and not sailor", especially here. Does it have to do with commercial navy / military or is it just a way of speaking (familiar) ? Or a temporary job vs. a career ?

Thanks for your feedback
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    I'd say this is just a phrase used by someone who used to work at sea and who does so no longer. There's really no big difference between "sailing man" and "sailor", yet somebody who uses "sailing man" would probably regard being a sailor as a fine thing. It definitely sounds nostalgic and a little old-fashioned to me.


    Senior Member
    British English
    A 'sailing man' is like an amateur (=non-professional) sailor.

    Hence, a sailor would be in the British navy, or work in the mercantile (=commercial cargo) shipping. Being a 'sailor' is his job, his livelihood or his profession.

    A 'sailing man' would be a person who was passionate about boating/yachting, and spend as much time sailing his boat as he could.

    ( We also say of someone who likes the great outdoors (camping, hiking) 'he is an outdoors man', but not all activities that someone is passionate about are expressed that way e.g. 'sports car enthusiast')
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    Senior Member
    Also, Domingo, using "sailing man" would make more sense for a professional to use back in the days when navies still used sailing vessels rather than those powered by engines. If your text refers to some period in history when wind-power was normal for commercial and military ships, then "sailing man" could indeed refer to somebody who did that for a living.

    Nowadays, it sounds a little like fake pirate talk, or something used by somebody who sails for leisure.


    American English
    I read a lot of naval history of the sailing-ship period, and I can't say that I've ever seen "sailing man." The standard terms for a man experienced at operating a sailing ship (or, nowadays, any ship at sea) is "sailor" or "seaman." "Mariner" is a rarer term. I think "sailing man" was used by the uncited author for variety or to show some creativity, not to make a technical distinction between himself and a "sailor."


    Senior Member
    Thanks to all of you for your accurate replies.

    I must say all of them fit in the context as this is a (short) story about an old man who talks about his past and this text was probably written in the 1930's so I get the general feeling and understanding. I see now why he uses "sailing man"...
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