17 Best Sailing Movies & Documentaries

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sailboat on open water

Not much beats a good movie binge – so I’ve compiled a list of some of the best sailing movies and documentaries to inspire and humble even the saltiest sailors.

The best movies about sailing tug at the lines in our hearts and leave us yearning for life on the water. They also remind us of the power of the ocean.

I’ve personally watched the 17 movies on this list to give you a movie overview from a sailor’s perspective and my thoughts on why you should watch them!

I’ve also included links to the great sailing movies below if they are available on a streaming service such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, Tubi, and more. Let’s get started!

Sailing Adventure Movies

These films about sailing tell stories of true adventure on the high seas. Packed with action and the occasional twists and turns, you will definitely be in for hours of entertainment.

1. All is Lost (2013)

With only one cast member and just 51 spoken words, this Robert Redford sailing movie represents what managing a crisis alone on the open ocean looks like.

A survival sailing film, the plot of All is Lost follows a solo sailor as he manages the fallout after a collision with a shipping container damages his sailboat.

You’ll see everything unfold step-by-step as this resourceful sailor handles the growing damage to his boat. Whether or not he makes the correct choices or if the situations are accurate is somewhat criticized by the sailing community. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Even if you find the sailor’s circumstances less than accurate, the portrayal of a silent character as he faces his mortality is a very unique approach for a sailing film. The emotional performance by Redford is surprisingly relatable, and the plot will leave you unsure of the character’s fate until the very end.


2. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

A sailing film based on a series of 19th-century navel novels, it’s one of the most underrated and historically accurate films of its era.

Master and Commander is set during the Napoleonic Wars and follows the Royal Navy Captain Jack Aubrey and his crew aboard the HMS Suprise.

The film’s incredible casting includes Russell Crowe as the ship’s confident and respected captain and Paul Bettany as Dr. Stephen Maturin, the onboard surgeon and captain’s confidant.

Rather than retreat to England, the captain opts for an ocean chase around South America as the Surprise seeks to repair damages while also outmaneuvering the superior French vessel to complete its mission.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: From start to finish, you feel like one of the crew. All scenes follow the vessel, giving an especially real depiction of the aftermath of battles, factors in the decision-making, and the incredible loyalty and patriotism of the crew as they sail thousands of miles from home, fighting for their country.

The plot begins as the Surprise is given the order to capture a French privateer. The initial battle leaves the Surprise at a disadvantage when it’s revealed that the French ship is both bigger and faster than the Royal Navy vessel.


3. Pirates of the Caribbean (2003 – 2017)

This popular movie series based on the ride at Walt Disney World has had an incredible run starting with the first movie in 2003, The Curse of the Black Pearl.

The film stars Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. True to Depp’s style, the actor defined the character from day one, and the uniqueness has made the series what it is.

From pirate curses to Davy Jones’ locker – this is a wild ride you want to be on. Get ready to binge! 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Even though Pirates of the Caribbean has become a pop culture series, we love the thrill of this sailing adventure and still get chills when Jack Sparrow delivers the line, “Now… bring me that horizon”.


Sailing Comedy Movies

These adventure comedy sailing films are great movie night choices for a fun time and a few good laughs.

4. Captain Ron (1992)

Thirty years after its debut, Captain Ron is still a popular cult classic. This film has to be one of the top sailing movies on this list. The hilariously wild plot makes it enjoyable whether or not you are a skilled sailor.

This sailing comedy starring Kurt Russell is about a carefree captain for hire and a Chicago suburban father (Martin Short) seeking a real adventure for his family.

When the father inherits a sailing yacht in the Caribbean, he decides his family should sail it back to Florida to sell it. They hire the incompetent Captain Ron to help them sail the boat to Miami.

A slew of crazy mishaps follows, including the consequences of the captain’s questionable past and pursuit by pirates through the Caribbean.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Although this is one of Kurt Russell’s only comedic roles, after watching the film, you can’t imagine anyone else as the easygoing Captain Ron. This movie not only makes you laugh but also includes plenty of sailing nostalgia that will have you planning your next Caribbean Charter.


5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

This Wes Andersen film features an oceanographer who is a washed-up documentary filmmaker, Steve Zissou (played by Bill Murray), and his search for revenge on a rare shark that killed his friend and crewmate. 

Zissou sets out on his voyage with a quirky crew, including a pregnant oceanic reporter (Cate Blanchett), his estranged wife (Anjelica Huston), and a man who he recently discovered might be his son (Owen Wilson).

As the story unfolds, a series of unfortunate events lead to unexpected developments with the characters and ultimately bring them together for a spectacular ending that will delight ocean lovers.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The Life Aquatic is a Wes Andersen film for marine lovers. If you’re a sailor who likes Wes Andersen’s style, you’ll be left completely satisfied at the end of this wet and wild story.


True Story Sailing Movies

These sailing movies based on true stories take you on a journey with the sailboat crews that experienced extraordinary situations on the ocean.

6. Adrift (2018)

As far as sailing survival films go, this film is one of our favorites.

Adrift is the true story of Tami Ashcraft and Richard Sharp. Two adventurous people who find love on their travels and then face a deadly hurricane on a sailing yacht delivery across the Pacific.

The movie opens with Tami, played by Shailene Woodley, waking up in the hull of a very damaged sailboat. As she frantically searches for Richard, she goes on deck to realize that his tether has broken.

Cut to five years earlier, where we meet Tami getting off a charter vessel. As the movie progresses, we bounce back and forth between the story of the couple’s meeting and Tami trying desperately to stay alive.

You can find the highly recommended book on this story (and many other books on which these movies were based) on our list of books for sailors.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Although the book of this tale (authored by Tami) is arguably better – our sailing soul still relates to the romanticized parts of this sailing survival movie, as well as the pain and loss that come with the tragedy at sea.


7. White Squall (1996)

White Squall is a sailing movie based on the true story of a group of college-age boys in the 1960s who spent a semester on a tall ship in the Ocean Academy sailing halfway around the world. 

This movie starring Jeff Bridges, is about an old salt captain whose job is to build the character of this group of boys. Some were sent to him for discipline, some an escape, and various other reasons.

We follow the young men as they come together as a crew and ultimately face a terrible unpredicted storm on the sea.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Sailors will love the nostalgia that comes with a tall ship as the primary setting for the film. More than that, this story is about a group of misfits coming together to achieve a goal that bonds them for life.


8. The Perfect Storm (2000)

This movie is based on a non-fiction book that recounts the “Perfect Storm” or “No-Name Storm” that hit North America in the fall of 1991.

The Perfect Storm is somewhat loosely based on the book but follows the events of the swordfishing vessel Andrea Gail and her crew.

George Clooney plays Billy Tyne, the vessel’s captain with something to prove. The film also stars Mark Wahlberg as Tyne’s right-hand man.

After coming back to port with a disappointing catch, the crew heads back out late in the season only to be caught in one of the most devastating storms in history.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Sailors will find Captain Tyne’s passion and love for the sea completely relatable. You’ll also get a rarely portrayed image of what it’s like for the people who work on the ocean for weeks or months at a time – often risking their lives for their work.

(Also on MAX)

9. Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain Phillips is the true story of a 2009 hijacking of a U.S. container ship off the coast of Africa by Somalian pirates.

The movie follows the decisions of Captain Phillips and his crew leading up to the hijacking and the intense series of events that unfold after the ship is under the pirates’ control.

It’s reported that although Hollywood’s version of the story casts Phillips as a hero, in reality, it was a more straightforward hostage situation. Even so, we love watching Tom Hanks in the role of Captain Phillips.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: This is an action thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat as the captain, crew, and U.S. navy work to resolve an intense situation. 


10. True Spirit (2023)

This Netflix original movie is based on the true story of an Australian teen, Jessica Watson, who in 2009 set out to be the youngest person to sail unassisted and nonstop around the globe.

True Spirit follows the sixteen-year-old girl’s journey and her family and coach as they monitor her circumnavigation back home in Sydney.

We see the struggles unfold for everyone involved during the 23,000 nautical mile sail, as well as the challenges Jess and her family face with the doubting views of the local media.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Despite some of the cringe-worthy visual effects in this film, the story holds up and does a great job of communicating the emotional aspect of this young sailor’s journey. You really feel the moments of solitude and intensity during the storms, and you’ll be rooting for Jess the whole way.


11. In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

In the Heart of the Sea is an adventure film directed by Ron Howard based on the story of the sinking of the whaleship Essex in 1820, which inspired the novel “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville.

The film follows the crew of the Essex, led by Captain George Pollard Jr. and first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), as they set out from Nantucket, Massachusetts on a perilous voyage hunting whales for their oil.

After venturing to remote whaling grounds off South America, they encounter a massive and vengeful white sperm whale. The crew is stranded at sea for 90 days, facing hunger, dehydration, and extreme weather conditions.

The film is framed as a flashback, with Melville interviewing Thomas Nickerson, the last surviving member of the Essex crew, about the events that took place. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: In the Heart of the Sea is a gripping tale of maritime survival, exploring the complexities of human nature under extreme circumstances. The film also highlights the brutality of the whaling industry and its devastating impact on the sailors and the whales.


12. Kon-Tiki (2012)

Kon-Tiki is the true story of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s daring 1947 expedition across the Pacific Ocean on a balsawood raft.

This film takes audiences on a thrilling journey as Heyerdahl and his small crew set out on a balsawood raft from Peru to prove his theory that ancient South American civilizations could have reached Polynesia by sea and settled the area.

The film beautifully captures the awe-inspiring vastness of the ocean and the camaraderie of the crew as they battle against treacherous storms, sharks, and their own doubts about the expedition.

Kon-Tiki delves into the complexities of Heyerdahl’s determination, faith, and the audacity of his scientific pursuit, making it a thought-provoking cinematic experience.

This movie is based on the 1950 Oscar-winning documentary Kon-Tiki, directed by Thor Heyerdahl himself.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: With its gripping narrative and meticulous attention to historical accuracy, Kon-Tiki immerses you in the harrowing challenges Heyerdahl and his crew faced during their 101-day journey of 4,300 miles across the Pacific. I personally really enjoyed this film.


13. The Mercy (2018)

The Mercy is a drama film that brings to life the remarkable true story of British amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst’s ill-fated attempt to compete in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race.

Directed by James Marsh, the film delves into the complexities of ambition, moral dilemma, and the fear of failure. 

Crowhurst’s desperate voyage, driven by the desire for fame and fortune, takes a dark and tragic turn as he faces isolation and the harsh realities of the open sea.

Colin Firth delivers a compelling performance, capturing the gradual unraveling of Crowhurst’s sanity and the inner turmoil of a man caught between his family’s well-being and his own obsession for adventure.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The Mercy explores the emotional and ethical challenges accompanying extended solitary voyages as dreams clash with the brutal forces of nature. It’s a compelling narrative if you’ve never heard the story. However, it’s similar to witnessing a captivating but tragic event unfold.


Best Sailing Documentaries

These are a few of our favorite sailing documentaries about some of the most memorable sailboat races and adventures.

14. Maiden (2018)

This sailing documentary is the story of 26-year-old Tracy Edwards and an all-female crew that entered the Whitbread Round the World yacht race in 1989.

A former charter boat cook, Tracy defied the odds when she fixed up a second-hand boat and put together a team to enter a race no female boat skipper had ever entered before.

Not only is this an extraordinary story of overcoming inequality, but it’s a reminder of how courageous, determined, and resourceful the women’s sailing community can be.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Maiden is an inspirational story of a group of incredible women who overcame tremendous odds and doubts to complete a nine-month, 33,000-mile sailing race.


15. Maidentrip (2013)

Maidentrip is a documentary that follows Laura Dekker, a 14-year-old Dutch girl, as she becomes the youngest person to sail alone around the world. 

The film depicts how Laura faced not only opposition from nature, but resistance from the Dutch government and child welfare organizations who tried to prevent her solo trip.

The film recounts her two-year journey as she navigates through rough seas and equipment failures and experiences the beauty and isolation of being at sea. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: During this true coming-of-age story, you’ll be inspired by Laura’s strength and determination to pursue her dreams. We also love how the film reminds us of the spirit of adventure that drives people to explore it.


16. Chasing Bubbles (2016)

This sailing movie documentary is about a young man named Alex Rust, who quit his office job in Chicago, bought a small sailboat, and jumped headfirst into adventure.

The documentary recounts Alex’s experience as he teaches himself to sail, meets new people, and sets out on what would be a four-year sailing trip over thousands of miles.

Alex’s wild adventures take him to some of the most remote places on the planet. Chasing Bubbles shows the unexpected impacts he has on the many people that sail with him and the communities he visits along the way.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Alex’s appetite for adventure will nudge that little piece inside you that tells you to forget everything and sail away into the great unknown. 


17. Deep Water (2006)

This documentary, narrated by Tilda Swinton, recounts the 1968 Golden Globe Race from the perspective of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst.

Crowhurst enters this non-stop solo sail race with an unseaworthy boat and much financial pressure. What follows is a series of events that lead to a hopeless situation.

The Deep Water documentary includes images, interviews, and other media pieces from the era, including audio from Crowhurst himself.

In addition to this documentary, a movie was released in 2018 titled The Mercy starring Colin Firth as Donald Crowhurst.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: This story is not just about the events or happenings of one man’s experience but a dive into the psychological impacts of a nine-month solo sail in some of the deadliest waters on the planet.


Wrapping Up the Best Sailing Films

We hope you found some good sailing movies to fill your passion and desire for cruising on the open sea! If you didn’t find what you were looking for, we’ve listed a few more of our favorite sailor movies below. Fair winds and happy watching!

More of the Best Movies About Sailing

  • Dead Calm (1989)
  • Moana (2016)
  • Waterworld (1995)
  • Styx (2018)
  • Moby Dick (1956)
  • The Old Man and the Sea (1958)

More Sailing Movies Inspired by True Stories

  • Wind (1992)
  • Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)

More Documentaries About Sailing

  • Morning Light (2008)
  • Sea Gypsies: The Far Side of the World (2017)
  • Losing Sight of Shore (2017)
  • 180° South (2010)
  • Kon-Tiki documentary (1950)

YouTuber Documentaries About Sailing

  • Untie the Lines (2018), a documentary from White Spot Pirates, watch on Vimeo
  • 80 North: Sailing on Top of the World (2020), documentary from SV Delos, 80northseries.com

Read Next

Want to find more sailing inspiration?

Check out our lists of sailing quotes, songs, books, and more that inspire this lifestyle.

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