Simon de Vlieger's training is undocumented, but his early paintings display the monochrome palette of a marine painter. Willem van de Velde the Elder also may have taught him.
From the late 1620s de Vlieger worked in Rotterdam, moving to Delft in 1634 and joining the Guild of Saint Luke there. Four years later he was in Amsterdam. He provided designs for festivities associated with Marie de' Medici's visit to Amsterdam, designed tapestries for Delft's magistrates, painted organ shutters for Rotterdam's Laurenskerk, and designed stained-glass windows for Amsterdam's prestigious Nieuwe Kerk. He also made etchings.
De Vlieger's influence on Dutch marine painting was decisive. His early tendency to portray dramatic rocky coasts gave way to placid, deeply spatial marine vistas, whose firmly structured compositions and calm seas influenced Jan van de Cappelle. Colors in his late seascapes became brighter and more blond, possibly in response to Van de Cappelle's work. Even de Vlieger's few history paintings have marine settings. His rare landscapes anticipate works by Jacob van Ruisdael and Meindert Hobbema.