Ocean metaphors usually refer to the ocean either as a lovely place that delivers you calm and happiness or as an angry and powerful force that could cause you harm.
Some positive metaphors include:
- The sea is my home
- The tide licked my toes
- The sea is a surfer’s paradise
Some negatives include:
- The ocean listens to no one
- The ocean is a mighty beast
- The moody sea
There are also many ocean related metaphors that were made up by sailors and are now used in our everyday language. Examples include:
- Davy Jones’s Locker
- Sailing close to the wind
- Batten down the hatches
Read on for all our ocean and sea metaphors, idioms, personification, analogies and similes!
Metaphors about the Ocean
1. The Ocean is a Mighty Beast
The ocean can be very calm at times, but it can also be very dangerous. To call the ocean a dangerous beast is to say it is something much stronger than any one person. It reminds us to have respect for this ‘beast’ that could reach out its “hand” (waves) and pull you into the water.
2. The Sea is my Home
People who love swimming and living by the ocean might call the sea their home. This of course doesn’t mean they literally live in the sea like mermaids. But it’s a phrase we might use if we feel at home near the ocean.
3. The Ocean is a Dishwasher
On a dark and stormy day when the sea is swashing back and forth in many directions, it might almost look like a washing machine – the tide goes one way then the next. As the water smashes against the rocks, it sucks back into the ocean and causes turmoil in the water. Froth and bubble rise to the surface. And you look into the ocean and feel very grateful that you’re not down there being tossed and turned like your dirty laundry!
4. Life is Like an Ocean
You might say that life is like an ocean. It’s full of high tides and low tides, which might be metaphors for life’s ups and downs in our lives. Sometimes we are full of happiness while other times we are full of sadness.
We can also think that life is full of constant change, just like the ocean. The ebb and flow of the ocean could be related to how our lives will change and move in different directions when we get a new job, new partner or move to a new town.
5. A Surfer’s Paradise
Paradise is considered to be the ultimate happy place to live – heaven. In fact, we could call this “A Surfer’s Heaven” as well, but Surfer’s Paradise is actually a place in Queensland, Australia that’s known for its amazing surfing waves.
To say that the sea is a surfer’s paradise is to say that there is no happier place for a surfer to be than by the beach with the oceans rolling in.
6. A Shark’s Buffet
I love this metaphor – a shark’s buffer or a shark’s restaurant gives us the idea that the ocean is a place where sharks are free to eat and kill the other creatures whenever they like. There’s food everywhere, and the shark can make his best pick. The shark’s buffet reminds us who’s king in the ocean: the greatest predator of them all in the ocean is the shark!
7. The Ditch
The space between Australia and New Zealand is colloquially referred to as ‘the ditch’. It’s a wide expanse of ocean, but the colloquialism is used to minimize the space between the two countries. This metaphor is therefore used by both countries as an affectionate way to state that there’s an ocean between the two countries but they nonetheless share a special close relationship.
Examples of Ocean Personification
8. The Moody or Angry Sea
While the sea can never really be angry (it doesn’t have emotions!), this personification metaphor reminds us of an ocean that is swirling, with big waves washing against the shore. Perhaps if you’re on a boat there is a huge swell that is rocking the boat back and forth, threatening to tip it. We might also associate the angry sea with dark skies and perhaps even thunderstorms.
9. The Ocean Kissed the Sky
This literary phrase can be used in short stories and novels to explain the ocean’s horizon. Of course, the ocean did not kiss the sky, but to say it did is a form of personification. We’re giving the ocean human qualities here.
You can imagine that this scene might be a sunset metaphor, where the ocean and sky touch one another on the horizon in a beautiful soft pattern of oranges, golds and pinks.
10. Swallowed into the Belly of the Ocean and Eaten Whole
To say the ocean has a ‘belly’ is to also personify it. This metaphor is often used when something is ‘swept’ into the belly of the ocean. When something or someone falls into the ocean, we might say that it’s fallen into the belly of the ocean where it is lost forever, ‘swallowed whole’ by the sea.
11. The Ocean Listens to No One
Here again is an example of personification. If we think of a person who listens to no one, they’re unruly and untamed. They will do whatever they want. You might even envisage an untrained dog running around refusing to listen to its owner.
When the ocean is the thing listens to no one, we’re saying that it will do whatever it wants. It’s out of our hands, and will roll its raging waves if it wants – and you can’t do anything about it.
12. The Waves Relentlessly Attacked
The idea that waves ‘relentlessly attack’ might be used when one large wave after another comes pounding into the shore. This metaphor gives us the sense that the waves are at war and invading the shore. Attacking and battling are very common literary devices from a sub-set of metaphors related to war.
13. The Tide Retreated
I thought it fitting to follow the ‘attack’ metaphor with the ‘retreat’ metaphor. And I think it’s fair to say some people might not consider this to be a metaphor at all. Can the tide retreat? Or is a retreat something that’s more of a military action?
Regardless, I think this could be a good metaphor when used alongside other war metaphors – the tide attacking then retreating, defending its position, then attacking again…
14. The Tide Tickled my Toes
To end the ocean personification metaphors list, I wanted to turn to a softer analysis of the ocean. Sometimes when the ocean is calm we can sit on a chair at the edge of the ocean and let our toes dip into the water. It could feel like the tide is ‘tickling’ you every time it surges and rolls over your toes.
Nautical and Sailor Metaphors and Idioms
This list of metaphors and idioms come from sailors. Some of them you might use in your everyday life and you don’t even realize that they’re related to sailing on the big blue ocean!
15. Davy Jones’s Locker
Davy Jones’s locker is said to be the bottom of the sea. While the origins of the term are unknown, sailors have for centuries used the term when referring to dead sailors who were lost to the ocean. These sailors were “sent to Davy Jones’s Locker” where their bodies will rest on the sea floor to be eaten by the fishes.
16. I’m all at Sea
To be “all at sea” is to be lost either physically or cognitively. The idea that someone is all at sea is today generally referred to someone who is confused. But we might imagine that someone who’s all at sea (in the literal sense) is in their boat in the ocean and can’t see the shore on any horizon. They’re lost, with no idea about which direction to head.
17. Our Flagship Product
The flagship was traditionally the biggest and strongest ship in a naval fleet. Today, you’re not so likely to hear that phrase in a naval context. But you may hear this term when talking about the main product in a company’s product line. Apple’s flagship product is their newest iPhone, while Tesla’s flagship product will be their best sports car.
18. Sail Close to the Wind
To sail close to the wind is to take risks. Sailing close to the wind occurs when a boat is heading in the opposite direction of the wind. This is a difficult manoeuvre and could easily lead to failure.
In everyday language, this is now an idiom long disconnected from its origins. Today we usually use this phrase when someone does something illegal or that will likely get them clipped behind the ears. You might be sailing close to the wind when you are shoplifting or saying something rude to someone.
19. Batten down the Hatches
When we say to batten down the hatches, we are telling people to lock your doors and stay put. But the term comes from when sailors would have to close all the hatches during a storm at sea so water wouldn’t enter the hull of the ship. We sometimes even use this idiom these days simply to talk about being prepared for something that’s about to happen that you’re not looking forward to – “batten down the hatches, Dad’s coming home and he’s mad.”
20. By and Large
The phrase ‘by and large’ is believe it or not a nautical phrase. To us, it means “in all conditions” or “more or less”. And to sailors, it meant the same thing. But they used this term because “by” meant to sail against the wind and “large” meant to sail with the wind. So to sail by and large is to sail in all conditions.
21. The Masthead
To you and me, we would most commonly hear the term “masthead” in reference to the logo at the top of a letter or a website. A company’s masthead is usually its logo, while a newspaper’s masthead is the very top of the front page of the newspaper.
But these terms come from the concept of the masthead which was the top of the mast on a ship. When you see a ship on the horizon, it’s often the first thing you see of the ship – so the masthead is the thing that’s the first thing to be seen and is designed to symbolize who the ship belongs to, or a ‘brand’.
Ocean metaphors can help us as writers to create more effective and persuasive texts. They can also be useful for people learning English to learn about some phrases we use in our language that might be confusing to non-native speakers. This list is by no means exhaustive, but offers you some of my favorite idioms, similes, personification, analogies and metaphors about the sea.
I’m a Scorpio, I love the outdoors, and I’ve written articles in some major online publications like Medium and The Weekly. My favorite metaphor? Anything that’s got to do with baseball. I’m fascinated by the fact our language has baseball weaved all through it. Read more about me here.