5 strange boating superstitions you need to know about

In the spirit of Halloween, and all things boating, we dug into the weirdest boating superstitions of all time. Mariners sure are a superstitious lot, and the ones reported here are just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some of the strangest.


  1. Banana ban

In the 1700s numerous trading ships sailing between Spain and the Caribbean disappeared. Many were transporting bananas at the time, so as logic follows, it must have been the fault of the bananas on board. Even now, many mariners are superstitious about banning bananas.


Another belief was that bananas prevented anglers from catching fish. This may have originated from the fact that ships carrying bananas had to travel fast, in order to keep the bananas fresh and unspoiled –the speed of the ships made it difficult to catch fish.


But there’s more. Sailors used to think bananas were bad luck because they caused other fruit to go rotten faster. Now we know this is because of the ethylene gas bananas emit, which helps to ripen fruit close by. Banana really did get a bad rap.


  1. Ships cannot be renamed

It’s bad luck to change the name of a boat, and this belief still stands strong today. Legend has it that every boat’s name is recorded in a, ‘Ledger of the deep’. When a boat is renamed, the God of the Sea (AKA Neptune) thinks he is being tricked, so naturally he gets really mad.


Some sailors believed that once a boat is named, the vessel in question takes on its own sense of self or mind. But perhaps the most logical explanation is the best – in the early years of trading, ships established their own reputations in port. So, if a ship took on a new name it just confused everyone.


Superstition says that if a ship absolutely has to be renamed it needs to have a de-naming ceremony. This usually means writing the previous name of the ship on paper, folding it up and then putting it in a box. The box is then burned, and the ashes must be discarded into the ocean, as the tide goes out. (Downstream in a river or in a lake by the full moon is also okay.)


Any traces of the ship’s original name must also be completely eradicated from the ship – this includes any paperwork, the logbook and even its presence on the hull. A ship can only be christened with a new name once this ceremony is complete.


  1. Tattoos welcome

Tattoos were a must-have in the olden days of sailing. That’s because sailors were superstitious about symbols and omens, so they believed having certain imagery tattooed to your body could ward off bad stuff and welcome good luck.


Mariners believed that having symbols, like the compass or nautical star, tattooed to their bodies, would help to guide them if they were lost or shipwrecked. Roosters and pigs were another common tattoo.


Sailors had them tattooed on their feet in the hope it would stop them from drowning. They thought that if the Gods saw the images, the sailor would be scooped up and safely planted on land.


Why? Because roosters and pigs tended to survive shipwrecks, since their lighter crates floated on water. Swimming lessons might help too.


  1. Other boating superstitions

  • No redheads – redheads were deemed unlucky. However, if a mariner met a red-head before boarding, they could cancel the bad luck by talking to the red headed person before the red-head talked to the sailor. Makes perfect sense.
  • Bad words – yes sailors were known for their foul mouths, but certain words onboard were taboo. Saying the words, ‘drown’, ‘good bye’ or ‘good luck’ were considered a bad omen. Also. When fishing, a sailor should never swear.
  • No Jonahs – In the Bible, Jonah is a prophet who is told by God to sail to Nineveh. He goes the other way instead, and God sends violent seas and storms to punish him. So, if someone is seen as a ‘Jonah’ they’re chucked off the ship.
  • Thank God it’s not Friday – superstition says sailing on a Friday is bad luck, since it was the day Jesus died. Thursdays are also considered to be an unlucky day to sail because ‘Thor’ is the god in charge of storms and thunder.
  • Come abord (with your right foot) – it used to be considered unlucky to step aboard a boat with your left foot first. So, mariners were careful to come aboard with their right foot forward.
  • No flowers – flowers were seen as bad omens because of their association with funerals. (Like when a bunch of flowers is placed on a grave or a wreath on a coffin.) If a sailor received flowers before a voyage, they’d be thrown off the boat ASAP.


  1. Having no insurance

Okay, this one isn’t a superstition but it does make good sense. Having your boat covered, just in case something unexpected happens, will give you the peace of mind you deserve. You could also tattoo a rooster to your foot and ban bananas – but it might not work too well.


Get in touch for a free quote today, and stay safe out there!