Which variant is correct here :

  1. I travel in a submarine.
  2. I sail in a submarine.
  3. I sail on a submarine.

If I mean I am just a traveller, I don't control the submarine. Sail means to travel on water, but I saw an example of using this verb with the word "submarine" (underwater machine) in Cambridge dictionary https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/submarine?q=Submarine

  • 2
    Submarines aren't usual methods for passenger travel. For the verb you need to think what type of submarine? Are you meaning on a tourist submarine that makes a short shallow trip, going straight down on an unfortunate tourist vessel to visit the wreck of the Titanic, on an oceanographic voyage, or on a military submarine. It'll depend if you're crew, serving in military (or similar), working in some other occupation (e.g. as a scientist), a tourist, etc. And whether you're primarily going down or using it for transport between ports
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 30 at 11:20
  • Of course. strictly speaking only a sailing vessel can 'sail' somewhere, but the meaning of the verb has been extended to travelling on, or navigating, any kind of ship - including a submarine, as shown by the Cambridge example. Commented Jun 30 at 13:52
  • You certainly don't want to be on it when it dives. I go by submarine.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 30 at 17:05

1 Answer 1


#2 is correct.

As Kate Bunting points out, "sail" only makes literal sense for a ship with sails, but we use it for any sort of trip involving water. "Our cruise ship sails on Thursday", etc.

We say "in" a submarine. This makes literal sense. You wouldn't ride on top of a submarine as it submerges, you'd be drowned.

Not that the preposition used for vehicles always makes literal sense. We say you travel "on" an airplane, when you clearly travel "in" it. I do not want to fly "on" a plane. Similarly we say "on" a bus or a train. But "in" a car. We say "on" a motorcycle but that makes literal sense.

  • The Beatles Yellow Submarine lyrics don't actually resolve the question of whether you travel in or on a submarine. Verse 2 starts So we sailed on to the sun \ Till we found the sea of green, but on to there just means towards, in the direction of. On the other hand, the verse does continue with And we lived beneath the waves \ In our yellow submarine. Whereas you live on a house-boat, and you spend your holiday on a cruise ship even if your (cheap) cabin is totally inside the vessel. Commented Jun 30 at 17:34
  • I flew to Toulouse in an Airbus A320 last month, and a week later, back to Bristol. Commented Jun 30 at 20:51
  • @FumbleFingers - there are specialised usages. The Royal Navy used to say e.g. 'He was Gunnery Officer in Indefatigable', and Doctor Johnson said (with my full agreement) 'No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.' Commented Jun 30 at 21:50
  • @FumbleFingers - they still do, I think He was Flag Lieutenant to the Flag Officer Naval Air Command between 1970 and 1972 and then joined 809 NAS in ARK ROYAL Commented Jun 30 at 22:06
  • @FumbleFingers Not sure what you mean by the beginning of your statement about Yellow Submarine. Did someone claim that this song WAS an authoritative declaration. As you point out, "sail on" doesn't mean "sail on a submarine" but "sail on toward a destination". And in any case, even if the song did say "sail on a submarine", I wouldn't take any song lyrics as a definitive authority on langauge usage.
    – Jay
    Commented Jul 1 at 15:47

You must log in to answer this question.