I'm looking for an adjective that describes the fact that a ship is sailing at sea. Much as "afoot" describes a person being in the state of walking. I was hoping "asail" would be a word, but can't find it from Google.

The word would replace the square brackets in the following example:

In Plato's ship of state metaphor, a ship is [sailing at sea], helmed by a captain ...

  • 4
    asea: at sea merriam-webster.com/dictionary/a-sea The word also means 'seaward'.
    – Kris
    Jun 5, 2014 at 10:56
  • Oh okay, that's probably even better than afloat :).
    – Lou
    Jun 5, 2014 at 10:57
  • Afloat does not have to be on the sea, it could be in the bath tub even.
    – Kris
    Jun 5, 2014 at 11:01
  • 2
    ... But alake/ acanal / areservoir / abathtub are sadly not available. Jun 5, 2014 at 11:10
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth ELL is for people who are learning or teaching English as a foreign language. In Lou's bio, they state they're a SE user from England and, therefore, they're very likely a native speaker. So this question isn't a good candidate for ELL. It's also almost ten years old with 7 answers here. May 4 at 22:52

7 Answers 7


You are looking for afloat:

  1. floating
  2. out at sea
  • Oh, silly me, I know that word; I don't know why I didn't think of it. You and Elian gave the same answer, I'll accept yours simply because you answered about 9 seconds quicker :P.
    – Lou
    Jun 5, 2014 at 10:44
  • Well aware, cheers. It wouldn't let me click it until a certain period of time had elapsed - I only found out now that there was a grace period.
    – Lou
    Jun 5, 2014 at 10:55
  • 1
    +1 and much better than adrift.
    – bib
    Jun 5, 2014 at 11:10
  • The vessel is at sea, not out at sea, really. And floating and afloat? Hmm, not really. A ship can be afloat and not at all at sea or out at sea.
    – Lambie
    May 27, 2020 at 18:14

“Afloat,” though, all too conspicuously lacks any connotation of purposeful motion. The nautical term you seek is, I believe, “underway”:

a. Naut. Of a vessel: under way; having begun to move through the water. [OED]

  • Well, indicating motion isn't necessarily important for Plato's ship of state metaphor: the captain is a deaf idiot with no idea how to sail; the crew no better; it's a miracle they're even afloat, let alone underway :). Still, +1 for another good word.
    – Lou
    Jun 5, 2014 at 11:05

Another alternative would be simply at sea: "In Plato's ship of state metaphor, a ship is at sea, helmed by a captain . . ."

  • "asea" is just a contraction of "at sea".
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 11, 2019 at 19:48

seaborne: transported or traveling by sea

Per M-W:

1 : borne over or on the sea >
a seaborne invasion

2 : carried on by oversea
shipping seaborne trade


What comes to mind is afloat.

In Plato's ship of state metaphor, a ship is afloat, helmed by a captain ...

afloat: floating on water; being at sea


I submit for everyone's approval, remove the word "is" and use the phrase, "while under sail".

a ship while under sail, helmed by a captain ...


It it common to say "on duty" but that changes the metaphore.

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