The origin of the quote “Fair Winds and Following Seas” is unknown. It is often said to have been lifted from a poem, phrase, or literary work, but to the best of this researcher’s knowledge, it wasn’t. Over the last century at least, the two quotes “Fair Winds” and “Following Seas” have evolved, by usage, into a single phrase which is often used as a nautical blessing.
“Fair Winds”: The Dictionary of American Regional English defines “Fair Wind” as “safe journey; good fortune.” An early example of the phrase’s use is in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, published in 1851, where it says near the end “Let me square the yards, while we may, old man, and make a fair wind of it homeward.” In other words, let me square the yards (add on all sail) and make a safe journey home.
“Following Seas”: Defined by Bowditch’s American Practical Navigatoras “A sea in which the waves move in the general direction of the heading.” It further defines “Tide” as “the periodic rise and fall of the water resulting from gravitational interactions between the sun, moon, and earth. . . . the accompanying horizontal movement of the water is part of the same phenomenon.” In simple terms: the movement of the water, the waves, and the surface, correspond with the movement of the tide.
“Fair Winds and Following Seas” is really two quotes originating from different sources. The two quotes are a nautical phrase of good luck–a blessing as it were–as the person, group, or thing it is said to departs on a voyage in life. It is often used at a “beginning” ceremony such as a commissioning ceremony of a ship or people, as well as in retirement, change of command, or farewell ceremonies.
Source: Researched by Samuel Loring Morison.