Seafarer superstitions

Share this:

Seafarer Superstitions: Exploring the Mystical Beliefs of Sailors

Seafaring is a risky profession that requires courage, perseverance, and a lot of hard work. For centuries, sailors have been navigating the treacherous waters of the oceans, braving the storms and battling the elements. But besides their skills, seafarers also rely on something else - their superstitions.

Superstitions have been an integral part of seafaring since ancient times. Sailors believe that certain rituals, gestures, and objects can bring them good luck and protect them from harm. From the famous albatross to the dreaded black cat, seafarer superstitions are fascinating and diverse. In this article, we will explore some of the most popular seafarer superstitions and their origins.

The Albatross

One of the most famous seafarer superstitions is the albatross. According to legend, killing an albatross is a surefire way to bring bad luck to a ship and its crew. The origins of this superstition can be traced back to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," in which a sailor kills an albatross and is cursed for his act.

The albatross superstition is also rooted in reality. Albatrosses are large seabirds that can travel great distances and are often seen by sailors as a sign of good luck. However, killing an albatross was seen as a betrayal of this good omen and a disrespect to the bird's spiritual significance.


Another seafarer superstition that may seem harmless is whistling. However, whistling on a ship is considered bad luck and is believed to summon strong winds. The origins of this superstition are not entirely clear, but one theory is that whistling resembles the sound of the wind and may confuse the spirits that govern the weather.

Another theory is that whistling on a ship was once associated with mutiny. In the days of sail, sailors would often use a whistle to signal their intention to revolt. As a result, whistling became associated with rebellion and was banned on ships to prevent mutiny.

Black Cats

Black cats have been associated with bad luck since ancient times, and seafarers are no exception. It is said that having a black cat on board brings misfortune to the ship and its crew. Some sailors believe that black cats are witches in disguise and that they can bring a curse to the vessel.

The origins of the black cat superstition are unclear, but it may have something to do with the fact that black cats are nocturnal animals and were often associated with darkness and evil. In medieval times, black cats were also believed to be the familiars of witches and were often persecuted along with their human companions.

Red Sky

Sailors are known for their keen sense of observation, and one of the things they pay close attention to is the color of the sky. According to seafarer superstition, a red sky at night is a sailor's delight, while a red sky in the morning is a sailor's warning.

The red sky superstition is based on the fact that the color of the sky can indicate the weather. A red sky at night is often a sign of fair weather, while a red sky in the morning can mean that a storm is on the way. This superstition is not exclusive to sailors and has been observed by farmers and other people who depend on the weather for their livelihood.

Crossing the Equator

Crossing the equator is a significant event for seafarers, and many sailors have special ceremonies to mark the occasion. One of the most famous traditions is the “shellback” ceremony, in which sailors who have never crossed the equator before are initiated into the Order of Neptune by older sailors who have already done so.

Friday the 13th

Just like on land, Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky day by many seafarers. Some believe that the superstition arose because Friday was the day on which Jesus was crucified, and 13 is an unlucky number in many cultures.

Changing the Name of the Ship

Another common seafarer superstition is that it's bad luck to change the name of a ship. According to this belief, a ship has a soul, and changing its name is like changing its identity. Sailors believed that this could anger the gods of the sea and bring bad luck to the ship and its crew. This superstition is so deeply ingrained in nautical tradition that many ships still carry their original names, even after being sold or transferred to new owners.


Another common superstition among seafarers is the belief in mermaids. Many sailors have claimed to have seen these half-human, half-fish creatures while out at sea. According to legend, mermaids would lure sailors to their deaths by singing beautiful songs and tempting them to jump overboard. While there is no scientific evidence to support the existence of mermaids, the idea of these alluring sea creatures continues to capture the imagination of seafarers and landlubbers alike.

Red and Green

Sailors also have a number of superstitions surrounding the colors red and green. Red is considered to be a bad luck color on board ship, as it is associated with blood and danger. Sailors believed that painting a ship's hull red would make it more vulnerable to attack or storm damage. Green, on the other hand, is considered to be a lucky color, as it represents the green seas that sailors must navigate. Many ships have a green stripe on their hull, and some sailors even wear green clothing or carry green talismans for good luck.


One of the most important superstitions for seafarers is the belief in the protective power of tattoos. Many sailors have tattoos that are meant to protect them while out at sea. For example, a tattoo of a rooster on one foot and a pig on the other was said to protect sailors from drowning. The rooster was thought to have the power to summon a storm, while the pig represented safety on land. Other popular tattoos included anchors, stars, and the names of loved ones.

Lucky Charms

Finally, many seafarers believe in the power of lucky charms. These can take many forms, from a rabbit's foot to a horseshoe to a lucky coin. The belief is that these objects will bring good luck and protect the wearer from harm. While there is no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of lucky charms, many seafarers continue to carry them as a way to bring a sense of comfort and security while out at sea.

While many of these superstitions may seem strange or illogical, they offer comfort and reassurance to seafarers facing the dangers of the high seas. Whether they are based on legend or experience, these beliefs are an important part of seafaring culture and history. So the next time you embark on a journey across the ocean, remember to respect the superstitions of the sea and to stay safe on your voyage.

Tags: life at sea,seafarers stories