On In History & Culture

Ever Wondered What Do The Traditional Tattoos Of Sailors Mean? 

Mostly known as nautical tattoos, the traditional sailor tattoos were more than just what many people get on their bodies nowadays. The traditional tattooing started in the 17th century when Captain James Cook's crew arrived at the Pacific, and since then, the tattoos became an integral part of sailors. As soon as this particular inking on bodies started, it spread like a wildfire, and even today many people get their bodies tattooed in sailor's style.Here in this story, I have tried to gather some detailed information about the nautical tattoos like the crossed anchor, diving swallows, and stars. So, keep reading and know about the traditional sailor tattoos. 

1. Full-Rigged Ship

A full-rigged ship is a great tattoo which both men and women can try. For sailors, the tattoo indicated their travels around the Cape Horn, a headland in Chile.  


Hold Fast is the tattoo which is written on the knuckles of both the hands of sailors. It evolved as a good luck for sailors while in a bad weather. These words reminded them to hold on in bad times. 

3. Nautical Star 

The reason behind getting this star inked on the body is superstitious. The tattoo represents the North Star that is used for navigation. Many sailors used to believe that the star will help them through the night to reach the destination safely.  

4. Swallow

Swallow is the most common tattoo idea among sailors. Initially, the tattoo was obtained when the sailors used to set the sea for the first time, but now it is being inked for every 5,000 miles sailed. 

5. Golden Dragon

The golden dragon tattoo indicates that a sailor has crossed the International Date Line (IDL), which is an imaginary line that runs from North to South pole and is used for navigation purpose.  

6. Hula Girl

The Hula girl tattoo on the body of a sailor indicates that he is stationed in Hawaii or is sailing in that area. 

7. Harpoon 

Harpoon is a really sexy tattoo which many people even consider getting today. Back in the days, Harpoon referred to a member of the fishing fleet.

8. Rope 

A rope around the wrist is a recognition of a sailor who is or was a member of a deckhand. It means the person whose tasks include cleaning, mooring, and cargo handling. 

9. Anchor

Anchor is probably the most well-known tattoos which we've ever seen and is associated with sailors. The meaning of this tattoo is that the sailor has achieved the rank of Boatswain or Chief. But, in the past, it had a different meaning, and that was sailing across the Atlantic. 

10. Chicken and Pig

The tattoo of chicken and pig is done on foot of the sailors to protect them from drowning in a shipwreck. 

11. Dice 

The tattoo of dice indicates the sailor is a risk taker and can take chances. The flames indicate the sailor's love towards gambling.

12. Dragon

Simple dragon on the body of a sailor describes that s/he has been to Asia.