We say:

I drive a car/taxi/truck etc

I ride a bike/motorbike/horse.

I row a boat.

The dictionary says:

sail: to control a ship or boat (especially one that has sails) while traveling on water.

She's sailing a boat in tomorrow's race.

The ship was sailed by a crew of 8.

The dictionary says "especially one that has sails", does it mean we only use "sail" with boats / ships with a sail?

There are some boats (see the below pictures) that use engine and I don't know what they are called.

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Can I use the verb "I sail a boat" when the boat does not have a sail but an engine?

  • The upper picture shows a motor boat. RMS Titanic was powered by steam engines. Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 7:25

1 Answer 1


Yes, you can sail a boat that has no sails. Lexico has


1.1 Travel in a ship or boat using sails or engine power. [my bolding]
the ferry caught fire sailing between Caen and Portsmouth

1.2 Begin a voyage; leave a harbour.
the catamaran sails at 3:30

1.3 Travel by ship on or across (a sea) or on (a route)
plastic ships could be sailing the oceans soon

1.4 Navigate or control (a boat or ship)
I stole a small fishing boat and sailed it to the Delta

The verb can be used in other senses too

2 Move smoothly and rapidly or in a stately or confident manner.
She sailed across the room
I sailed through my examinations
The ball sailed through the air

  • But anyone with an actual sailboat will think you are poser. You can "set sail" without ambiguity, but to say you sailed a boat implies a level of seamanship only a very small minority of boaters is actually capable of. Even Sailboaters will admit to motor sailing when they combine the two forms of propulsion. - Guy with a sailboat.
    – boatcoder
    Commented Oct 17, 2022 at 21:07
  • @boatcoder this is an English question, not expert boating. Those are not my quotes, but from a dictionary, although Lexico has changed so the link is broken. If you have a better answer, post it. PS I did have an actual yacht. We don't call it a "sailboat", that is "dumb speak". Commented Oct 17, 2022 at 21:20
  • So you get my point about perception. Yacht is just snooty talk for people that own sailboats to feel like all that money they poured into the ocean is special. Any "yacht" under 100 feet is kind of funny though.
    – boatcoder
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 12:43

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