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
  • Without further context, I think the choice between the various suggestions here is not obvious. '[Out] at sea' itself (the captain wouldn't be 'helming' if the ship weren't sailing) seems the obvious choice, 'asea' being omitted from some quality dictionaries, doubtless because it is archaic. Jun 5, 2014 at 11:17

6 Answers 6


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

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


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

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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