Strange Boating Myths: Origins of Nautical Superstitions

Where do boat superstitions come from

Boating myths and nautical superstitions are numerous. This list is nowhere near exhaustive, but it does give a pretty good idea of how vast the world of nautical myths actually is. I did know about a few of these, but was reminded to create this list when my two best friends had an argument about bringing bananas on a fishing trip. It might seem strange, but to the superstitious it really does can a difference in their enjoyment.

Dirty Ship Disasters

Alright, so this superstition is a more modern take. Things were considerably dirtier in the early age of sail, but this one is more than just a boating myth. Care for your ship and she will care for you! A nice new coat of marine boat polish paired with a metal polish for your chrome and stainless steel? You'll be the talk of the harbor! You can learn a lot by looking at a person's boat. So keep yours as pristine as possible!

No Whistling on Board

Never challenge Mother Nature. Whistling was said to do just that, and the wind will always win that fight. Singing might also have been forbidden for this exact reason as well. Don't clap either or you might just summon a thunderstorm!

No Bananas Allowed

In the 1700s many trading vessels disappeared between Spain and the Caribbean. What was the explanation? Inclement weather? Pirates? No! It was probably all those bananas stuffed in the cargo hold. But seriously, check out what you can do to prevent piracy.

Strange Boating Myths: Origins of Boating Superstitions banana bunch

No Women on Board

This is one of the oldest and most widely spread superstitions. Women might distract sailors from their duties and could cause rifts between crew members. Having spent some time in the Navy, it's not a completely incorrect notion.

Children Born On Board Are A Good Omen!

Just in case boating myths and superstitions weren't confusing enough, here's a good one to ponder. How are children born on a boat if women are bad luck? How many children need to be born before the bad luck of a lady on board is counteracted? Are we safe with just one or does she need to have twins or triplets? These are the kinds of questions that keep me up at night.

Dangerous Redheads

People with red hair were seen as bad luck and never taken on as part of the crew. If a sailor was due to set sail and saw a redhead, they'd need to speak to them before being spoken to. This way the redhead had encountered the sailor and not the other way around.

Speak Carefully

Similar to theatre superstition, you never say "Good luck" or "goodbye". Saying the word "drown" was also thought to cause the event to occur. Swearing was also considered bad luck, but only while fishing of course.

Strange Boating Myths: Origins of Boating Superstitions speed boat

Never Rename A Vessel

You should never rename a vessel according to this nautical superstition because once a ship is named it takes on a mind of its own. Or maybe it's because Poseidon get mads when he has to update his "Leger of the Deep".

No Sailing On Thursday or Friday

Sailing on Thursday is asking for trouble. It is Thor's Day after all. You don't want to tempt the god of thunder! Friday is a day full of bad luck because Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday. Sailing and biblical history have surprisingly deep ties.

Watch Out For Jonah

This isn't just a superstition about people named Jonah. That would be highly specific. I don't know a single Jonah. In this case, a "Jonah" is a person who is running away from something. This one also has its roots in a tale from the Bible.

Let The Albatross Live

Seabirds were said to carry the souls of sailors who had died. Seeing one would bring good luck, and killing one? Well, that'd bring the worst kind of luck. Especially if that murdered bird was an albatross!

Strange Boating Myths: Origins of Boating Superstitions cat licking lips

Care For The Cat

Ship cats were kept around because they were very handy for keeping the mouse-problem that almost every vessel experiences under control. They were believed to be good luck, but they were thought to also predict the weather Which isn't too far from the truth. A cat's sensitive inner ears alert them to atmospheric pressure changes.

Get Some Tattoos

We're gonna cover nautical tattoos next week... It's a vast and wild world. Early sailors believed in symbolism. A nautical star would guide a sailor home, while a tattoo of a pig or rooster would prevent drowning. In modern sailing, a sea turtle is a symbol of having sailed across the equator.

Step Aboard With The Right Foot

You should always step aboard a ship with your right foot. Why? Because the left foot would be unlucky! There is really no specific reason for boarding with the right foot except that it's easier for most people and it's always better safe than sorry!

Strange Boating Myths: Origins of Boating Superstitions shark pic

Death Is Spelled S-H-A-R-K

Sharks following a ship was seen as a sign that death was going to make its approach. The truth is that the sharks were probably just the larger of the many sea creatures that made a lifestyle of following vessels around in hopes of a free meal.

Flowers Are Bad Luck

Flowers are associated with funerals. If a sailor's wife attempted to see him off with a bouquet of flowers they're going to be quickly thrown overboard. Flowers are meant for graves, not hearty sailing men!

Clergy Not Welcome

For the exact same reasons that flowers aren't welcome on board, neither are men of the cloth. Clergymen and priests boarding a boat is going to result in the death of a crew-member according to old boating superstitions.

No Personal Grooming

Cutting off pieces of yourself while at sea was seen as bad luck. Some say that it might mean that you can never fully return to land. This is why most old mariners looked so shaggy. Cutting your hair or beard and even just trimming your nails meant that a piece of yourself was going to stay at sea forever.