International Yacht Training Worldwide



Sailor Tattoos and Meaning

Sailor Tattoos – What these historic tattoos mean tells and interesting story!
Over the years many sailor tattoos have taken on significant meaning and some tattoos taking on more than one. Here is a list of famous tattoos from the like of tattoo artists like Sailor Jerry and others.
The Pig and Rooster tattoos have been around for hundreds of years. Chicken and pig where crated on ships and in the event of a ship wreck they often floated on the currents to shore and survived. Legend also has it that if you placed a Pig off your ship’s bow it would always swim the shortest distance to land. As a result both Pig and Rooster are good luck and said to prevent you from drowning. A common spot for these tattoos are on the calves or the top of the feet.

The North Star is a universal navigation reference for all sailors. A Star tattoo was a good luck charm and ensured a safe return home. Both Fletcher Christian and George Stewart of Captain James Cooks famous ship the Bounty had stars tattooed on the left of their chests.
This tattoo was earned for sailing the Atlantic. From Europe the passage took your south and across the Atlantic with stops in the Azores and then back up the Coast of North America and across on the North Atlantic current.
A sailor who had logged 5,000 nautical miles under sail earned the right to have a Swallow tattoo. 10,000 miles: two Swallows.
Rope around wrist
Indicates a deckhand.
The words “HOLD FAST” tattooed across the knuckles of each hand was to ensure a good strong grip when the sailor was up in the rigging.
Turtle on Hind Legs – or Shell back Turtle
This tattoo was for crossing the Equator and being initiated into King Neptune’s court.
Fully Rigged Ship
This was earned when a sailor rounded Cape Horn one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world.
Crossed Cannon
A tattoo for military service in the navy.

Was a symbol that the sailor had served in China.
Golden Dragon
Was a symbol that the sailor had crossed the International Date Line.
For a member of a whaling or fishing fleet.
Often on the soles of the feet, this was thought to help ward off hungry sharks.

If you have a story to share or folklore about ancient mariners and their superstitions, feel free to send us an [email protected]

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