A sailing ship is a wind-powered ship. These ships were the primary means of transportation across long distances of water (e.g. rivers, lakes, oceans) before the invention of the first workable steam engines. They were used for carrying cargo, passengers, mail, supplies etc.
Sailing ships were also used in a military capacity. The Spanish convoys bringing back gold and silver from the newly discovered Americas needed protection from the pirates. Large sea battles were fought between the United Kingdom, France, Spain and the Netherlands.
There have been many different types of sailing ships, but they all had certain basic things in common. Every sailing ship has a hull; rigging; at least one mast to hold up the sails that collect the wind and power the ship. Ballast weighs down the bottom of the ship, so the wind does not push the ship over. The crew who sailed the ship were called sailors or hands.
Journeys by sailing ship could take many months, and a common hazard was becoming becalmed, or being blown off course by severe storms. This could lead to shipwreck, and the loss of all hands.
The ships could only carry a certain quantity of supplies in their hold, so they had to plan long voyages carefully to include many stops to take on provisions and especially fresh water.
The sailing ship was generally replaced by steamships during the 19th century. Steam ships were replaced by ships with diesel engines. Today's cargo vessels are faster and more reliable than sailing ships, as they do not rely on sails or the vagaries of the wind. However, sailing ships are still in use in many parts of the world, both for pleasure and work.
Modern sailing ships are largely used as pleasure vessels, for example small yachts. Sailing them is a means of recreation, and many people pay money to travel on an antique or modern-built tall ship.