What Does Run a Tight Ship Mean?

Run a Tight Ship Meaning

Definition: To keep strict rules or close control over a group or activity.

Origin of Run a Tight Ship

This idiom originated around the mid-1900s.

It comes from the idea of a literal ship with tight ropes. This expression alludes to a ship with taught (tight) ropes and well caulked seams. In other word, everything on the ship, down to the smallest details, is orderly and controlled.

The run in the expression means manage. This usage is common in other expressions such as to run a company.

This phrase isn’t limited to ships, however. People can use it to refer to a school, a business, a home, or any other type of group or organization. It usually has a positive connotation.

Examples of Run a Tight Ship

i run a tight shipIn this conversation, a mother and daughter are discussing the new chores and responsibilities that the daughter will take on.

Daughter: What is this list?

Mother: This is a list of all your daily, weekly, and monthly chores.

Daughter: This is too much! I have schoolwork to do. How will I have time to do all these chores as well?

Mother: I was thinking about your upbringing, and I am worried that I have not prepared you well enough for life after you move out. When you get to college, I want you to know everything you have to in order to manage your home and life. No longer will I be relaxed about chores! My own mother ran a tight ship in her household, and I plan to start doing the same.

Daughter: What will that entail?

Mother: All your activities will be more closely regulated, in order to benefit you!

Daughter: This sounds awful.

define tight shipIn this example, two coworkers are discussing the strict rules at their friend’s workplace.

Dave: I’m so sick of the arbitrary rules at this company. Paul works for a competitor, and it sounds like that company is much better than ours.

Ben: How so?

Dave: They also have strict rules. I mean, they run a tight ship. However, all of their rules make sense and actually help improve morale and productivity.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about people buying homes in foreclosure.

  • Despite the good-humored banter, Wagner runs a tight ship, requiring those who want to bid to submit the proper paperwork by 9:45 a.m. for the 10 a.m. auction. –Denver Post

This excerpt is from an article about a basketball coach whose team has not performed well recently.

  • “Byron runs a tight ship,” Kupchak said, adding, “there was total and complete respect.” –OC Register


To run a tight ship is another way to say to regulate closely and in an orderly fashion. It has a positive connotation.