Sailing and Boating Superstitions

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Sailing and Boating Superstitions


Are bad luck on board because they distracted the crew, which would anger the sea, causing treacherous conditions as revenge. However, conveniently for the male crew, naked women calmed the sea, which is why so many figureheads were women with bare breasts.

Re-naming a Boat

Never, ever, ever do this unless you want bad luck to follow you. There is hope, however, if you carefully follow each step of revered renaming rituals. Since Poseidon keeps a record of every vessel name, the rituals purge it from his book and his memory. Start by removing all (and we do mean all) physical traces of the name, then follow the rest of the ancient ceremony.


Because specific images on their body bring good luck or repel misfortune. A nautical star or compass rose that was believed to help guide them home. Roosters or pigs on their feet to protect them from drowning.


It is unlucky to set off at the start of the fishing season without having first shed some blood in a fight or in an accident.

No Whistling

Whistling or singing into the wind was forbidden as it would “whistle up a storm”


Favored hiding grounds for spiders, some of which have nasty (and occasionally deadly) bites.


The caul of a new-born child on board a ship was meant to prevent anyone from drowning. This meant that cauls were often purchased by sailors before a voyage. (A caul is a harmless membrane that covers the face and head of a newborn baby. It is very rare).

Personal Grooming

No personal grooming while sailing: Mariners often looked shaggy while at sea because trimming your nails, shaving your beard and cutting your hair were also believed to bring bad luck to the ship.

Don’t Sail On These Days

Some superstitious seafarers avoid sailing on certain days to protect against bad luck. Many seafarers avoided setting sail on these days, and the most superstitious sailors only set sail on Sundays, which were regarded as a lucky day for sailing.

  • Fridays: A bad day for setting sail because it’s the day Jesus Christ was crucified.
  • Thursdays: Are also believed to be unlucky sailing days because it is the day of Thor, the god of thunder and storms.
  • The first Monday in April, which is the day that Cain killed his brother Abel
  • The second Monday in August, which is the day that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed
  • December 31, which is the day that Judas Iscariot committed suicide

Always Step onto a Boat with Your Right Foot

Your left foot brings bad luck for the journey ahead. This remains popular among plenty of old salts today.

Red Sky at Night

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailors take warning” the old saying goes. A red sunset indicates a beautiful day to come, while a red sunrise indicates rain and bad weather.

Sailors also believed a few other unusual nautical superstitions surrounding cats:

  • A ship’s cat sneezing meant that it was going to rain.
  • A frisky ship’s cat was an omen of a windy day.
  • A ship’s cat that licked its fur against the grain signaled that a hailstorm was on its way.

While these sailors’ superstitions may sound absurd, they are actually somewhat based in reality. Due to their sensitive inner ears, cats are able to detect changes in weather more acutely than other animals. Cats can sense the low atmospheric pressure that often comes before storms at sea, and this may cause them to act restless or nervous.


Killing an albatross can bring serious bad luck. Seabirds are believed to carry the souls of deceased sailors, so it was a good omen to see one, but very unlucky to kill one.

Watch Your Mouth

Sailors are notorious for using foul language, there are some words that seafarers avoided because they were believed to bring bad luck. Saying the word “drown” while on a boat was believed to summon the event itself. “Good luck” and “goodbye” were also forbidden, and it was unlucky for sailors’ wives to wave goodbye or call after their husbands once they left the house for a sea journey.

Upside Down Bread or Mugs:

Turning a loaf of bread or a mug upside down once it had been cut or placed right-side-up brings bad luck too.

Pierced Ear

It means a sailor sailed around the world or crossed the equator. Superstitious sailors wore gold hoop earrings because they believed it brought good fortune. Some believed that the gold possessed magical healing powers or that it served as a protective talisman that would prevent the wearer from drowning.

Wine Before a Journey

To bring good luck, sailors often spit into the ocean before setting sail. For a long journey, pouring wine on the deck would bring good fortune.

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