Myths and Superstitions of Pirates and Sailors

Sailors and Pirates were very superstitious and would throw salt over their left shoulder. Throwing salt over your shoulder a way of keeping the devil at bay. Early seaman believed that a sailor who died from violence or being lost at sea was said to go to "Davy Jones Locker". Sailors weren't the only ones that were superstitious as people on the land would say if you "Watch a ship out of sight, and you will never her again". If someone was sick they would mix with salt and spittle, and apply the plaster to the ear of the sick person. And most bad luck could be expelled by having the person responsible turn around to the right three times, then spitting or farting.

17th century sailors who would knock on the wood hull of their ships to listen for worm or rot, hearing a solid sound would imply that the hull was in "ship shape" When in a conversation a reference is made to 'Good luck' they would sometimes say 'Touch wood' and touch some part of their wooden vessel. The 'good luck' they were implying also referring to the luck they were having and hoping to have while their wooden hull held true and fast during their voyage at sea.


Good Luck

1. A figurehead in the form of a naked woman, perched on the bow, calms the sea and her open eyes will guide it to safety .A naked woman on board was thought to be good luck. (guess they were hoping to get lucky)
This is the reason for naked figureheads. (on Bowsprit)

2. Swallows seen at sea are a good sign, as are dolphins swimming with the ship.

3. Tattoos and piercing are said to ward off evil spirits
for sailors to wear gold hoop earrings was good luck

4. It's good luck to spit in the ocean before you sail.

5. Coins thrown into the sea as a boat leaves port is a small toll to Neptune, the sea god, for a safe voyage,

6. Horseshoes on a ship’s mast will turn away a storm.

7. Cats brought luck. If a ship's cat came to a sailor, it meant good luck.

8.A child to be born on a ship was good luck (probably not for the child)
* this is where the term "Son Of A Gun" comes from

9. St. Elmo's fire is the discharge of static electricity from points on a ship, such as masts and spars. According to some superstitious sea stories, if one flame appears, it means bad weather is coming. If two flames appear, it means the weather will be clear.

10. Pouring wine on the deck will bring good luck on a long voyage.


Bad Luck

1. Women onboard a ship distract the crew and place it in peril.(probably true)

2. CUT NEITHER NAILS NOR HAIR AT SEA. Cuttings of nail and hair were offerings to Prosperine, the Roman Goddess of the infernal regions, and it would make Neptune angry to have offerings to somebody else made in his domain. Doing so would bring bad luck.

3. It is unlucky to start a cruise on Friday.
This is the day Christ was crucified on.

*The reluctance of seamen to sail on a Friday reached such epic proportions, that in the 1800s the British Government decided to take strong measures to prove the fallacy of the superstition. They laid the keel of a new vessel on Friday, selected her crew on a Friday, launched her on a Friday and named her HMS Friday. They then placed her in command of one Captain James Friday and sent her to sea for the first time on a Friday. The scheme worked well, and had only one drawback ... neither ship nor crew was ever heard from again. HMS Friday is an urban legend and believed to be false

4. Never start a voyage on the first Monday in April.
This is the day that Cain slew Able.

5. Avoid people with red hair when going to the ship to begin a journey.
Red heads bring bad luck to a ship, which can be averted if you speak to the red-head before they speak to you.

6. Whistling - One widespread and universal superstition forbids whistling in the wheelhouse or anywhere onboard for that matter. Whistling onboard will raise a gale, hence "whistling up a storm".

7. Scottish Fisherman, landing a left boot rather than a fish is considered the ultimate in bad luck. Whenever a left boot showed up in the catch inside a trawling net, fishermen would instantly spit on it before tossing it back into the water. On the other hand, those same Scots considered the right boot to be a sign of good fortune. Coming up with a right boot in the net was looked upon as favorable and the boot would be fastened to the mast in the belief that it would bring good fortune to the fishing expedition

8. It is bad luck to name a ship for an engaged woman
this will make the ship jealous

9. Sailors believed that if a cat licked its fur against the grain it meant a hailstorm was coming; if it sneezed, rain was on the way; and if it was frisky, the wind would soon blow.

10. Killing a swallow, albatross, gull or dolphin will bring bad luck.
Seabirds are thought to carry the souls of dead sailors

11. Priests are not lucky to have on a ship.
They dress in black and perform funeral services.

It’s bad luck to change the name of a boat. but if you have to: write the soon-to-be-exorcised name on a piece of paper, fold the paper, and place it in a small cardboard or wooden box. Burn the box. Scoop up the ashes and throw them into the sea on an outgoing tide. If you live on a lake, do it at night and only during a new moon. River dwellers should send the ashes downstream.

13. Sailors believed cats could start storms with the magic stored in their tails so they always kept them well fed and contented

14. A rabbit or salmon found on board the boat was one of the stranger nautical superstitions, and would have prevented a fisherman from sailing that day.

15. Pigs
Atlantic seamen in the West Indies had a bizarre superstition related to swine. Pigs themselves were held at great respect because they possessed cloven hooves just like the devil and the pig was the signature animal for the Great Earth Goddess who controlled the winds. As a result, these fishermen never spoke the word "pig" out loud, instead referring to the animal by such safe nicknames as Curly-Tail and Turf-Rooter. It was believed that mentioning the word "pig" would result in strong winds. Actually killing a pig on board the ship would result in a full scale storm.

16. When the clothes of a dead sailor are worn by another sailor during the same voyage, misfortune will befall the entire ship

17. If the ships cat approached a sailor and then went away, it was bad luck.

18. To see rats leaving a ship is bad luck

19. To name the boat with a word ending in "a" is bad luck

20. A black “sea bag” is bad luck for a seaman.



1. It is said that a ship’s bell that rings without human aid is an omen of death.

2. Disaster will follow if you step onto a boat with your Left Foot first.

3. A stone thrown from a vessel putting out to sea ensures she will never return.

4. If a cat was thrown overboard, a storm and very bad luck and maybe death would follow.

5. The word "drown" can never be spoken at sea or it may summon up the actual event

6. A shark following the ship is a sign of inevitable death

7. Manta rays, also known as devilfish or sea devils, were feared as much as sharks, for sailors believed these sea creatures could attach themselves to a ship’s anchor and drag her under the waves to Davy Jones’ Locker.


If a woman sees a robin flying overhead on Valentine's Day, it means she will marry a sailor. If she sees a sparrow, she will marry a poor man and be very happy. If she sees a goldfinch, she will marry a millionaire.






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