What Does That Ship Has Sailed Mean?

That Ship Has Sailed Meaning

Definition: That chance is now gone; it is too late.

Origin of That Ship Has Sailed

There are a few similar expressions to this one, including missed the boat, that train has left the station, missed the bus, etc. All three of these phrases refer to the same thing: being too late for something.

Imagine that you are about to make a voyage across the sea. You are running a little late, and when you arrive at the port, you find that the ship has already left. There is no way for you to catch up with it, since it is already sailing away much more quickly than you could swim or row toward it.

The exact timeline of these various expressions is unclear. Since they all express a literal reality, it would make sense that they gained popularity as travel, through bus, train, boat, etc., became widespread. This appears to be the case, as they seem to have originated in the latter half of the 1800s.

Examples of That Ship Has Sailed

the ship has sailedIn the conversation below, two friends are arguing about what to do for one of their birthdays.

Scott: Happy birthday! What do you want to do today?

Tony: Oh, nothing. It’s okay. We don’t have to do anything special.

Scott: Come on! We should do something fun!

Tony: Yeah. Well, I kept telling you I wanted to go see that play at the theater, but it’s sold out now. So I guess that ship has sailed.

Scott: Oh, I’m so sorry! I totally forgot that you wanted to go to that.

Tony: It’s okay. It will probably come back in 10 years or so.

Scott: Sorry!

Two co-workers use the expression while discussing the work party they are planning.

Richard: We are so disorganized in planning this party! It’s supposed to happen tomorrow, and we aren’t ready at all.

Miranda: I know. We are doing a really bad job with it. I just called to order the cake, and the bakery said that it is too late for us to get a custom cake. So even though we wanted to get a cake with our company’s logo on it, that ship has sailed. We’ll just have to buy one off the shelf.

Richard: Darn. Oh well.

More Examples

this ship has sailedThis excerpt is about health insurance premiums.

  • “Premiums for 2017 are based on income reported on a 2015 tax return,” says Steven Schwartz, president of Wealth Design Services. “In 2018, the relevant income information will come from the 2016 tax return. So, the significance of any actions taken today will affect 2018 Medicare premium rates and not 2017 premium rates. That ship has sailed.” –USA Today

The second example is from an article about the possibility of a professional football team changing locations.

  • And no matter how bad it’s been so far for the Chargers (1-4), they also know there’s no going back to San Diego, their abandoned home of 56 years. “That ship has sailed,” said Marc Ganis, a sports consultant who has worked with NFL owners and has helped other teams relocate to new cities. “You never say never to anything, but boy, this is as close to that as we could get right now.” –USA Today


The saying that ship has sailed means that opportunity has already passed.