Right the Ship – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you in a management meeting, and one of the executives mentions that the board needs to “right the ship?” If that is the case, you might have to start looking for another job if they can’t identify the problem causing issues with its profitability.

This post unpacks everything you need to know about the meaning and origin of this phrase.

Right the Ship Meaning

To “right the ship” was a nautical term used exclusively by sailors. However, with the change in the maritime industry, the phrase now only serves a use in the corporate sector. If someone tells you that they, or you, need to right the ship, they are referring to a company that is in organizational or financial distress.

The company may require more capital funding or a new management team to change the company’s trajectory and return to profitability. Typically, you’ll hear the phrase in management or executive meetings, and it serves to state the importance of preventing the company or organization from going under.

To “right the ship” means to implement a plan that will prevent the company from going bankrupt or preventing the company’s stock from dropping in value in the market.

Right the Ship Example Usage

“The new management team arrived with the goal to right the ship and restore the business to profitability.”

“The business is underwater and needs a huge capital injection to right the ship.”

“We’re undergoing restructuring right now to cut out the dead weight in the business and right the ship.”

“The boat capsized, and we had to call for rescue to right the ship.”

Right the Ship Origin

To “right the ship” originates from maritime sayings. The original literal use of the term was its original meaning, referring to balancing the ship or vessel to prevent it from capsizing. In nautical terminology, a vessel is “listing” when it starts to tilt too far to the left or right, resulting in the danger of swell capsizing the boat.

Listing can occur due to the incorrect loading of the vessel while at the port, causing an uneven spread of the load across the boat’s hull, resulting in the listing effect when at sea.

So, to stop the listing effect at sea, the sailors would go below deck and move the goods around to stop the listing effect and “right the ship.” However, with modern shipping technology advancing over the last 500 years, ships no longer have problems involving listing.

As a result, the term found a new home in the corporate world, appearing in literature and sayings as far back as the 1920s.

Phrases Similar to Right the Ship

  • Pull it right.
  • Turn things around.
  • Get unstuck from the situation.

Phrases Opposite to Right the Ship

  • Burn it all down.
  • Let it sink.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Right the ship.
  • Righting the ship.

Ways People May Say Right the Ship Incorrectly

Right the ship suits use in social and formal conversations. However, it’s more of a business term in everyday use, and using it outside of the business world has limited applications. Some people may use “steer” the ship instead of “right” the ship, and that’s the incorrect use of the term. While you could use the phrase in maritime scenarios, this is not the more common use for the idiom.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Right the Ship

You can use “right the ship” in professional settings to tell people that you need to change the current trajectory of the business. Typically, you’ll use the phrase when the company is not doing well financially or has a management problem that needs addressing.

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