9 Crazy Nautical Superstitions
9th March 2021 Jessica Watson
Sailors, fishermen and boaties of every kind can be a superstitious lot, particularly those from years gone by who often risked their lives heading out to sea. While I don’t think of myself as particularly superstitious, I did carry quite a number of good luck charms with me on my voyage around the world. I’ll never know how much good luck they brought, but if nothing else they were lovely gestures of support and reminders of the people who’d lent them to me.
Here are some of the crazier nautical superstitions.
No bananas on boats
They might be a fantastic source of long-burning energy, but sadly bananas are a big no‑no on boats. Theories explaining this fear of bananas include the high number of banana‑carrying ships that disappeared in the 1700s, possibly due to the pressure on crews to deliver their cargos before they perished. Another more practical theory behind the banning of bananas is that they have a ripening effect on other fruit they are stored with.
No women on board
Before they knew any better, some sailors considered women on board to be bad luck. However, this superstition is quite clearly nonsense and doesn’t merit any more attention.
Whistling on board a boat is thought to call in wind, a tempting prospect for a sailor on a windless day but a temptation that is best resisted as it is widely believed that whistling will bring on a gale.
Red sky in morning
This is one superstition that is well-founded as a bright red sky at sunrise is caused by low sun shining through the underside of moisture‑bearing clouds that typically accompany bad weather. On the other hand, a red sky at night really will bring sailors delight and better weather.
Setting off on a Friday
It’s often said that setting off to sea on a Friday will bring bad luck, but even heading off on a Thursday can be problematic to the superstitious as Thursday is the God of Storms, Thor’s day.
Changing the name of a boat
Many a sailor is hesitant to change the name of their boat in case it brings bad luck. Thankfully, most believe that this bad luck can be kept at bay with a proper re-naming ceremony. You can read more about re-naming ceremonies in my post about boat names here. (link to come)
Killing a seabird, which some believe carry the souls of dead sailors, is thought to bring bad luck. But as the famous Rime of the Ancient Mariner describes, a sailor who kills an albatross is particularly certain to be plagued by tragedy.
Last stitch through the nose
This is hopefully a superstition relevant only to sailors of years gone by. When a sailor died at sea, the ship’s sailmaker would stitch the body into a cloth and it was said that he would make the last stitch through the nose, just to check the poor sailor was really dead.
Gold coin at the base of the mast
Many a sailor believes that a mast should be stepped with a coin, ideally a gold one of the same vintage of the boat, to bring good luck.
And a final superstition for those who are really pedantic: you should step onto a boat with your left foot first.
Do you give any of these superstitions the time of day? Do you have any personal superstitions?