Top 15 Sailing Films

12 Jan Top 15 Sailing Films

At Halcyon Yachts we are passionate about sailing and all things to do with the ocean. Over the years there has been a steady stream of nautical films released, some of which have been slated by professionals and film critics alike.

It is clearly a difficult subject matter to film and as a professional sailor it can be frustrating at times when the artistic licence is pushed beyond the realms of realism. Films can be entertaining, inspiring, informative and emotional. For anyone looking for an on-screen sailing adventure worthy of their time, then here is a list of sailing films to get you started:

1)                 Master and Commander – The Far Side of the World (2003)

 Master and Commander The Far Side of the World

A very well produced and convincing story directed by Peter Weir. Master and Commander is an epic period action film! A British Captain (played by Russell Crowe) pushes his crew and ship to the limit whilst in pursuit of a French Warship. The film is set during the Napoleonic Wars. It is a movie that will keep you on the edge of your seat for over 2 hours. The precise detail and dramatic story line make this one of our top recommended nautical films.

2)                 Deep Water (2006)

 Deep Water Sailing Film Documentary

A fantastic documentary directed by Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell. Deep Water tells the true story of the first ever solo, non stop, round the world sailing race in 1968. The film focuses on the sailor Donald Crowhurst and perfectly illustrates the stresses and difficulties of the challenge at hand. A real insight into how such solitude can alter your mind state. An absolute must see for anyone who is interested in sailing!

3)                 White Squall (1996)

 White Squall Sailing Film

White Squall was directed by Ridley Scott and stars Jeff Bridges. It is a true story about a small group of American teenagers that embark on a voyage of a lifetime. The boys learn about teamwork and discipline whilst sailing for 8 months aboard a ship called “Albatross”. Set in the 1960’s, the film is both touching and at times harrowing. Another must sea nautical adventure!

4)                 Between Home – Odyssey of an Unusual Sea Bandit (2012)

 Between Home Sailing Film

Between Home is a low budget independent film directed by Jack Wrath. It documents the adventures of Nick Wrath, a young sailor who decides to sail his 1972 Contessa 26 from the UK to Australia. It is a captivating story; Nick interacts very naturally with the camera and has a fantastic creative eye for detail when filming. The entire trip is done on a shoestring, a brilliantly made and inspiring film that we highly recommend.

5)                 The Riddle of the Sands (1979)

The Riddle of the Sands film erskine childers

Based on the classic novel by Erskine Childers, The Riddle of the Sands was directed by Tony Maylam. The film is a British spy thriller about two British Sailors (Carruthers and Davies) who, whilst exploring the shallow waters of the FresianIslands in 1901, discover a German plot to invade the East Coast of England. Although the plot does stray from the original book, it is another beautifully shot sailing film that we highly recommend.

6)                 Wind (1992)

 Wind sailing film

A gritty sailing drama directed by Carroll Ballard. Wind is a film about the Americas Cup. It is one of the best films ever made about offshore competitive racing. It is a well produced and entertaining movie about yacht racing; the tension and atmosphere is portrayed perfectly. A must see for all sailing enthusiasts!

7)                 Swallows and Amazons (1974)

 Swallows and Amazons Arthur Ransome

Claude Whatham directs this charming adaptation of the classic novel by Arthur Ransome. It is a story set in 1929, where four children travel on holiday to the Lake District. The film is all about the children’s adventures, relationships and rivalry. A timeless family classic!

8)                 Captains Courageous (1937)

 Captains Courageous

A classic nautical film directed by Victor Fleming. The lead character Harvey Cheyne (played by Freddie Bartholmew) is a spoilt rich lad that falls overboard whilst on a cruise. Assumed dead, he is recovered by a Portuguese fishing vessel and has to then join the crew and work hard for the coming months (which is a rude awakening for young Harvey!). Captains Courageous is a touching film with some incredible acting.

9)                 Dead Calm (1989)

 Dead Calm Nicole Kidman Sam Neill Billy Zane

Dead Calm is a chilling thriller directed by Phillip Noyce. A grieving couple, played by Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill, set sail on what is supposed to be the trip of their lifetime. All is going well until they rescue a lost sailor (Billy Zane) who is drifting at sea… If you like sailing and you like to be scared then this could be the film for you. A haunting and at times terrifying film about being stuck at sea with a psychopath!

10)              The Dove (1974)

 The Dove Sailing Film

A romantic drama directed by Charles Jarrott. The Dove is the name of Robin Lee Grahams 23 foot sloop. This film tells the true story about Robin, a 16 year old boy who sails around the world. During his adventures he meets and falls in love with Patti Ratteree, another young traveller. A soppy love story that is full of exotic locations.

11)             Adrift (2006)

 Adrift Sailing Movie

Another nautical horror/thriller directed by Hans Horn. Adrift has a simple plot whereby a group of friends go sailing offshore from Mexico. They all go for a swim and end up in the water without a boarding ladder or rope to climb back aboard (oops!). The only person left on board is a tiny baby. The crying adds to the tension as the crew become more and more stressed. The film does make you think about what you might do in their situation, and it really highlights the importance of at least one adult staying on board!

12)             Turning Tide – Originally “En Solitaire” (2013)

 Turning Tide Vendee Globe Film

A gripping drama directed by Christophe Offenstein. Turning Tide is a story about the Vendee Globe, a single handed non stop race around the world. It focuses on the lead character, Yann Kermadec, who has the opportunity to replace the DCNS Skipper. After days of racing he discovers that he has a stowaway! This could mean disqualification or may force Yann to retire? The film has been made by people who clearly know the topic. It is a beautiful and moving film that gives a real insight into what life is like on board a powerful ocean racing yacht.

13)             Captain Ron (1992)

 Captain Ron Kurt Russell

A light-hearted and amusing family adventure film directed by Thom Eberhardt. Captain Ron is a story about a family that inherit a yacht and decide to set off on an adventure. They team up with the unlikely Captain Ron (played by Kurt Russell). The film is endearing, the characters are easy to relate to and it has plenty of funny lines that make it very watchable.

14)             Knife in the Water (1962)

 Knife in the Water Roman Polanski

The incredible debut feature length film directed by Roman Polanski. Knife in the Water is a story about a middle aged man, his wife and a hitchhiker that they pick up whilst on their way to their yacht. A very intense film, all shot in black and white, which explores the relationships and characters of the three crew. Light on dialogue, but captivating in every way – a very good film!

15)             Kon Tiki (2012)

 Kon Tiki 2012

Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg direct this epic historical drama. The story is about Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl. He and five others set off on a 4300 mile journey across the Pacific in an attempt to prove that South America could have been settled by Polynesians. They did this on board their vessel, a large raft called Kon Tiki, back in 1947. The trip took over 100 days and the story has captivated people’s imagination around the world. Another beautifully crafted film that we highly recommend.

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  • Meg B
    Posted at 01:50h, 14 January Reply

    Thanks, we are putting together lists for “movie night” at the sailing club. Had most of these but some are new.

    • Howard Mitchell
      Posted at 14:42h, 16 December Reply

      “Maiden” should be on the list. The movie that came out this summer of 2019. True story well filmed and very inspiring. Not to be missed by any sailor…esecially females.

  • Markus Kajo
    Posted at 00:20h, 15 January Reply


    How about all those u-boat adventures? Red October and the like? Even if submerged, they’re sailors/seamen, too, and stories about them.

    Ps my website refers to my humour podcast series TandemCentaur, and episode #4 of it is about Aircraft Carriers’ design flaws – and fixes to them.. :)


    • floater fresh
      Posted at 23:22h, 17 November Reply

      If they don’t have sails they aren’t sailboats.

  • Michel
    Posted at 02:45h, 15 January Reply

    Another great sailing film is the French movie titled “En Solitaire”. The English version is called Turning Tide. Excellent story.

    • Michel
      Posted at 02:50h, 15 January Reply

      Apologies…didn’t notice it was already listed. Still a great movie though.
      Thanks for the list

  • Andrew
    Posted at 03:33h, 16 January Reply

    How is ‘Maidentrip” not o this list?! A 14 year old, Laura Dekker, sets out on a two year, solo circumnavigation! Fantastic!

    • Richard Long
      Posted at 15:14h, 19 January Reply

      Agreed. That show was reality TV at its best, it was reality. I envy that girl. To have a dream, a passion and the will at that young age and pull it off. My hat is off to this young lady. I am impressed.

    • Eric Partin
      Posted at 16:11h, 26 March Reply

      I was wondering the same thing.

    • Guillermo del Castillo
      Posted at 14:44h, 15 February Reply

      I have a deep respect and admiration for Laura, and a bit of envy too but the film is one of the most boring I’ve ever seen. It’s an 1h30 long selfie! I find it absolutely unwatchable.

  • Andy Gray
    Posted at 14:29h, 16 January Reply

    Have you seen “Red Dot On The Ocean”?
    Matt Rutherford sailing alone and non-stop around North and South America.

  • Erik the norseman
    Posted at 11:24h, 18 January Reply

    Thank you for a great list.

    Posted at 10:17h, 19 January Reply

    Nice writeup. This list should stay open so all of us could add Movies as soon as we see a Movie which belong to this list

  • Moko Benelli
    Posted at 13:13h, 23 January Reply

    Oh my goodness, what about Robert Redford in “All is Lost”? Excellent movie.

    • Gina
      Posted at 04:53h, 07 September Reply

      I agree, fantastic film

    • Kevin
      Posted at 16:16h, 10 October Reply

      “All is Lost” is a prime example of what it looks like when someone makes a movie about something they know nothing about. Although I might share your view if it stared Sandra Bullock.

      • Howard Mitchell
        Posted at 14:39h, 16 December Reply

        I agree with Kevin, “All is Lost” was a frustrating film to watch if you know anything at all about sailing. Redford obviously had no one to council him about the film as he made it. Waking up to “discover” you have colided with a shipping container??? He must have been on drugs!

  • Jim Durfee
    Posted at 02:39h, 27 February Reply

    (1) out of the 15 listed Master and Commander top pick.

  • David Anderson
    Posted at 19:38h, 28 February Reply

    ‘With Jean-de-sud around the world’ is sadly missing from your list. You did say sailing didn’t you?

  • Carl-Johan Boucht
    Posted at 10:07h, 01 March Reply

    I note that s couple of my favourites are on the list. Legendary Joshua Slocum, who restored a boat and made two circumnavigations, navigating with the help of a sextant and an alarm clock plus complicated mathematical calculations is worthy of a place on the list, too.

    • Skip Meisch
      Posted at 21:40h, 02 March Reply

      Joshua Slocum was a pedophile and as such not deserving an honerable mention. And I don’t think anyone ever made a MOVIE from his book. This list IS about MOVIES.

    • Guillermo del Castillo
      Posted at 14:48h, 15 February Reply

      I agree, but ¿is there a film about him and his Spray? Can you tell us about it?

      • Rentz
        Posted at 03:03h, 20 August Reply

        Joshua Slocum: Around Alone.

  • John Cordery
    Posted at 18:13h, 19 March Reply

    ENDLESS SUMMER ! Best of both Worlds !!

  • Wickus
    Posted at 00:13h, 26 July Reply

    What about waterworld….. Pretty great movie

  • Tim Falkiner
    Posted at 08:47h, 31 August Reply

    I am glad to see you posted Swallows and Amazons.

  • Ken Ouwehand
    Posted at 01:42h, 28 September Reply

    Excuse me….. The Bounty? Anyone? Anyone?

  • Sam Steele
    Posted at 03:34h, 26 October Reply

    Look for this great film. Watch the trailer!

    Just made its debut at the St. Bart’s Film Festival.

  • Darren
    Posted at 11:59h, 20 February Reply

    Cant believe no one has mentioned A Perfect Storm yet. Fantastic movie. I also recommend In The Heart Of The Sea.

  • w. John
    Posted at 01:50h, 27 February Reply

    Maidentrip, yes! Wind, as well! How about “Morning Light”? True story of kids competing to race the Transpac on a Roy Disney sponsored boat. Very enjoyable.

  • harold strong
    Posted at 13:00h, 09 April Reply

    Hey guys…..what about “Pirates of the Caribbean”? with Captain Jack n all….

    • Dee C
      Posted at 19:20h, 07 July Reply

      I liked them but a better piratical movie, Id choose Geena Davis ♥ in “Cutthroat Island” every time. ☺

  • Paul Davies
    Posted at 19:20h, 21 September Reply

    The Finest Hours – amazing film..

  • Kuba Szymanski
    Posted at 16:27h, 27 September Reply

    Wow – what a list. Definitely made by someone who knows something about sailing. I am most impressed by “Knife in the Water” :) Very, very impressive indeed, and I agree with you on WIND – cannot believe it is 1992 film

  • Chris July
    Posted at 14:28h, 10 October Reply
  • Tory Salvia
    Posted at 20:20h, 26 October Reply

    Please take a look at Red Dot on the Ocean: The Matt Rutherford Story. The one-hour version of this documentary is airing on Public TV stations across the U.S. It’s also streaming free on PBS at
    The 77-minute theatrical version is available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, YouTube, Vimeo, and TheSailingChannel.TV.
    A coming of age, youth turn-around story with a gritty sailing theme from the Northwest Passage and around Cape Horn. For more about the film and Matt’s current voyages, see

  • Bo Bliss
    Posted at 14:46h, 10 February Reply

    Captain and Commander is also my favorite, but Moby Dick has to be on the list.

  • Thomas Coelho
    Posted at 15:42h, 12 February Reply

    1962 Mutiny on the Bounty with Brando – a must watch

  • kimbottles
    Posted at 15:40h, 14 February Reply

    The 1958 documentary film WINDJAMMER

  • Terje M.
    Posted at 16:22h, 22 February Reply

    Great list.

    It is a shame that just a few of them are available on Netflex.

  • John D
    Posted at 15:48h, 23 February Reply

    If you have Captain Ron, you should also add Hot Pursuit (1987):

    Robert Loggia and John Cusack sailing around the Caribbean!

  • Capt. Michael "Boot" Bouthot
    Posted at 14:23h, 25 February Reply

    I’m glad nobody mentioned “Lost”….Robert Redford got to show you just about everything you do not do in the situation he was in.. I had friends say all you’re a sailor you should watch that movie. Tell me how great it was. I said you thought that was great stay on your couch.

  • Capt Eric
    Posted at 02:43h, 26 February Reply

    If you haven’t watched White Squall (1996), you should right now.

    • Mark M
      Posted at 15:45h, 14 March Reply

      Agree with Capt Eric about White Squall, should definitely be on this list.

  • Andy
    Posted at 23:24h, 08 August Reply

    Here is another one for your collection, Sea Gypsies; The Far Side of the World. It follows us on an 8300nm Southern Ocean adventure from NZ to Chile via Antarctica. En route, we battled hurricane force winds, tore all our sails, endured almost three months in hostile waters, unwittingly became the furthest South SY in the World for 2014 and all on a handmade 120′ ferro cement run on zero budget!

  • Janna Sumner
    Posted at 23:48h, 09 September Reply

    I would add To the Ends. Of the Earth, many great actors in this terrific mini-series.

  • Steve_YYZ
    Posted at 04:03h, 11 February Reply

    Great list but geez…. how could you not include at least one, if not all three of the Mutiny on the Bounty films? Charles Laughton, Marlon Brando or Mel Gibson versions, each with a different characterization on the Fletcher Christian character.

  • James Dean
    Posted at 03:20h, 07 March Reply

    In my opinion, “Horatio Hornblower” (tv series) is even better than the very excellent “Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World”.

  • Colin Gibbs
    Posted at 12:29h, 05 June Reply

    Documentary on Joshua Slocum Sailing Alone Around the World is available on YouTube
    The original and most impressive solo sailor and one of the few spanning commercial sail and yachting..

  • Jane Doe
    Posted at 11:51h, 06 August Reply

    Why is ‘ The Mercy ‘ not on this list ? a very nice 2018 movie with Colin
    Firth, on the sailing trip of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst. It’s based on a true story !

  • Chris Cooper
    Posted at 17:04h, 06 December Reply

    This list is horribly incomplete without “The Voyage of the Yes” (1973)

    “The best movie on sailing ever made.” – IMDB

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