What Do Sailors Say When They Say Goodbye?

Fair Winds and Following Seas: The Meaning Behind a Common Sailing Farewell

Saying goodbye can be hard, especially when we’re saying farewell to someone who has been an important part of our life, such as a family member or close friend who’s going away for a while, whether on deployment or retirement from service in the military.

In the United States Navy, one common way to say goodbye is with the phrase “fair winds and following seas”, which carries with it a special meaning that has been around since 1813 and still holds its significance today.

In this article, we will discuss what “fair winds and following seas” means, its origin, how it is used within and outside of the Navy, and some tips for sailors on how to use it correctly in their own farewells.

Origin of “Fair Winds and Following Seas”

The phrase “fair winds and following seas” is thought to have originated from 1813 with British Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood as he said his final goodbye to Lord Nelson upon his death after the Battle of Trafalgar.

The words were subsequently written down in Collingwood’s journal as “May Heaven grant you fair winds and good luck.” Since then, sailors from all around the world have adopted this sentiment to wish each other safe journey on their travels at sea or when leaving for deployment or retirement from service in the military.

What Does It Mean?

The phrase “fair winds and following seas” is essentially an expression of good wishes for safe travels on someone’s voyage at sea, wishing that they will have favorable winds pushing them forward (the fair winds) and calm waters underneath them (the following seas).

It’s meant to be a blessing that covers all aspects of their journey: safety from storms, safe navigation across choppy waters, and good fortune throughout their travels—all at once!

Significance of Phrase in Navy

In the US Navy, “fair winds and following seas” is more than just a mere expression, it has become something akin to a mantra among those who serve in its ranks—a source of pride, courage, comfort, and hope for those departing on deployment or retiring from service in the military—and an assurance that they will always be remembered by their fellow sailors even after they are gone.

In addition to being used as a farewell between individuals within the Navy, it also serves as an official sendoff for ships setting sail, where crew members will line up on deck to wave goodbye as their ship leaves port with those three powerful words ringing out over loudspeakers: “Fair winds . . .and following seas.”

How Is It Typically Used?

Typically within the US Navy, this phrase is used as a formal ceremony when someone retires or departs on deployment by having all personnel present recite it together before they depart, however there are also several informal ways in which it can be used by individuals saying goodbye between themselves such as offering handshakes while saying these words or writing them down on cards or letters sent back home while away at sea—allowing one’s loved ones know that they are always remembered no matter how far away they may be.

Other Uses of Phrase

This particular phrase isn’t just limited to sailors within the US Navy, it has become popular among other mariners around world due its powerful meaning behind its heartfelt message—not only wishing safety at sea but also wishing luck and success along one’s journey wherever that may take them.

It has even become popular among non-maritime folk who wish each other well with these same sentiments when embarking on any kind of journey such as business trips or long-term travel abroad.

Popularity Outside Of The Navy

This particular phrase has gained significant popularity over time due its strong emotional impact, not only does it offer reassurance during difficult times but can also bring about feelings of joy during happy occasions such as weddings or graduations where one wishes another person success along their journey ahead!

Additionally, due its poetic nature many people have incorporated this phrase into songs lyrics or written works such as poems which further contribute to its widespread recognition outside of maritime circles—even becoming part of popular culture today!

How To Use The Phrase In A Sentence

The best way to use this particular phrase is by offering your heartfelt wish before you bid another person farewell: “I wish you fair winds and following seas.” This way you can make sure that your sentiment comes across clearly without any misunderstandings about your intentions!

Additionally if you want to add an extra layer of emotion behind your words you can add a personal touch by mentioning something specific about your relationship with that particular person before you say goodbye: “I hope our friendship stays strong throughout your deployment–may fair winds & following seas guide you home safely!”


No matter what kind of journey someone is embarking upon–whether they’re travelling across land or sea–the sentiment behind “fair winds & following seas” remains strong through its timeless message offering safety & success along any voyage ahead! Its significance within military circles provides an additional layer meaning behind these powerful words which serves both formal & informal purposes depending on how it’s used–making it an ideal parting phrase for anyone embarking upon any kind of adventure!

Tips For Sailors

As sailors we should always remember that these three simple words carry much more weight than we think, not only are we wishing another person safety & success along their voyage but also conveying our care & support during difficult times such as deployments where loved ones must part ways temporarily until reuniting again later down the line!

Additionally we should take extra care when using these words during formal ceremonies, making sure that everyone present understands what we are wishing them before saying our final goodbyes!

Final Thoughts

No matter where life takes us–whether across land or sea–the sentiment behind “fair winds & following seas” remains strong through its timeless message offering safety & success along any voyage ahead! Whether between individuals within military circles or people wishing each other well without any connection whatsoever–this powerful expression continues to hold its significance through generations providing comfort & hope during difficult times & joy during happy occasions alike!

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