sailing superstitions

9 Sailing And Boat Superstitions

Ancient maritime lore is filled with superstitions. Although sailing is much safer, seafaring superstitions are still deeply ingrained in sea goers.

1. No Women Allowed

Women were said to bring bad luck on board and insight violent seas. Women on board were said to arouse the passions of sailors, causing friction on board between the men onboard.

Ironically, a naked woman was believed to calm the seas and was carved into figureheads on ships.

2. Avoid Redheads

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Redheaded people were not welcome on board because they were perceived as unlucky. If a sailor happened across a redhead before setting sail, the sailor had to speak to the redhead before the redhead could speak to them.

This way, the sailor could mitigate any bad luck before setting sail.

3. Never Rename a Ship

Once a boat was named and christened, changing the name was considered bad luck.

There are several possible roots of this superstition that include boats taking on a mind of their own once they’re named to incurring the wrath of the Sea God Neptune.

A more practical reason behind this myth is that trading ships developed reputations at port based on their names. 

4. Care for the Cat

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Cats have been sailing companions since ancient times. A cat’s primary role on board was to catch and kill rodents, which prevented the disease-carrying vermin from gnawing on ropes and wood and eating food stores.

Cats were believed to bring good luck because they helped solve the rodent problem and also provided companionship. Seafarers kept cats well-fed and happy for this reason. 

5. No Whistling Onboard

Sailors believed that whistling on board would bring bad weather. Whistling was thought to challenge the wind and cause it to bring a storm.

This superstition includes clapping, singing, umbrellas, and throwing stones into the water.

Sailors were rightly terrified of storms, and anything that could bring a storm was considered taboo. Sailors would sometimes nail a horseshoe to the ship’s mast to avoid tempting fate.

6. Collect a few Tattoos

Early sailors strongly believed in the power of symbols and omens. They often tattooed specific symbols on their bodies to bring good luck and repel misfortune.

Roosters, the nautical star, compass roses, and pigs were common tattoos for sailors.

7. Never Start a Voyage on a Friday

Superstitious sailors avoided setting sail on certain days to protect against bad luck. Friday is historically associated with death as the day Jesus Christ was crucified.

Thursday was another unlucky day for sailing as it was the day of Thor, the god of thunder and storms. 

8. No Bananas On Board

Ships used to transport bananas from the tropics centuries ago. Sailors found out the hard way that spiders favored the yellow fruit as an excellent hiding spot.

These spiders could have a potentially deadly bite, and the banana on boat superstition was born.

9. Don’t Say Goodbye When Departing

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Ancient sailors believed that uttering “goodbye” would doom the voyage to never return to shore. This is one superstition that fishermen and captains still practice today.

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