Nautical lore, omens and superstitions.
Salty Superstition and Nautical Omens were born at sea where - uncertain of their fate - sailors found meaning in common events.
Salty superstition has a long history among mariners, some deeply pervade the cruising community, even now.
When to set sail, what comes aboard even behavior underway is scrutinized by salts and woe to the sailor who
disregards a telling sign. Ignore them at your peril is the unspoken warning.
It's a Myth... Right?
The story goes that the British navy, in an attempt to dispel the "Never Begin a Voyage on Friday" myth, had a ship laid
up on a Friday, splashed it down on a Friday, named it the HMS Friday and hired a Captain named Friday. The HMS Friday was said to set sail on a Friday never
to be heard from again.
Common Superstitions that Struck Fear in the Hearts of Old Time Mariners.
The farther we get from mainstream society, the deeper the trouble we can encounter.
Still true today but imagine hundreds of years ago setting sail t
o unknown lands on uncharted seas.
Many sailors never returned from their journeys and that's fodder for the superstition mill.
Bad luck superstitions were common and gave sailors a sense of control over their lives. Simply avoid the bad luck
superstitions and you'd go home safely.
Salty Superstition is heeded religiously by some and scoffed at by others but it's a rare voyager who hasn't at least heard of some of these and many hold fast to
the nautical lore and plan voyages accordingly "just in case". Even the scoffers have often adopted at least some of the salty lore, why take any chances, right?
Following is a list of events thought to bring bad mojo to mariners.
Prior to Departure
- Red heads and flat footed people bring bad luck to a ship if they are encountered while you are going to the ship.
You can circumvent any bad luck by speaking to them before they speak to you.
- Avoid clergymen and cross eyed people as you approach the ship as they are bringers of ill fortune.
- Encountering an overturned washbasin on your way to departure brings misfortune.
- Renaming a boat (unless certain protocols are followed).
- A stone thrown over a departing vessel dooms the ship and ensures she will never return.
- Naming a boat with a word that ends in "A".
- If the bottle fails to break during the launching ceremony the vessel will be plagued with bad luck.
Bringers of Bad Fortune
- Beginning a voyage on Friday or on the 13th of the month.
- Seeing rats leaving the ship (If the rats want off...well.)
- Losing a bucket at sea brings ill fortune.
- A gift of a pair of scissors should be brought aboard.
- Umbrellas on board bring misfortune.
- Sailing on a green boat.
- If someone dies aboard the ship.
- Killing an albatross or a dolphin.
- Sighting a cormorant or curlew.
- Bells heard at sea mean someone aboard will die.
- A shark following the ship. It is rumored that sharks can sense when someone is close to death.
- Crossing over a sunken ship.
- Saying the word drown while at sea can bring on the event.
- Whistling while underway could whistle up a storm.
- Simmer a pot of split pea soup at the risk of bubbling up a fog.
- Crush egg shells before tossing them overboard so that witches can't use them as boats to get to your vessel.
More Salty Superstition
- Opening tin cans upside down can cause capsize as can a shoe left upside down on board.
- Flowers on board could later be used as a funeral wreath.
- Causing harm to a gull will bring bad luck. Gulls at sea are said to hold the souls of sailors who were lost at sea.
- Looking back once your ship has set sail sets the stage for a rough passage, says one Salty Superstition.
- Throwing stones into the water will stir the seas into waves and great storms.
- Women on board anger the sea but not, apparently, if they're naked. Naked women calm the sea.
- It's bad luck to invite a priest aboard because they conduct funerals.
- Bringing a black traveling bag aboard brings misfortune.
- Cutting your hair, beard or nails at sea is just asking for trouble.
- Boarding the ship with your Left Foot first starts the whole journey off on the wrong foot.
- Lighting a cigarette with a candle can spell doom to a sailor.
- Elmo's Fire surrounding a sailor's head means he'll die within a day.
- Wearing the color red can bring ill luck.
- Throwing the cat overboard is a definite no no and will bring the ship and the souls she carries to all kinds of disaster.
- If a sailor dies, his garments must not be worn by another sailor during that journey lest the ship and all who man her be put in peril.
- A dog found near the fishing tackle can bring bad luck.
- Don't pass a flag through the rungs of a ladder.
- Repairing a flag on the quarterdeck heralds misfortune.
More Superstition on the High Seas
Good Luck Superstition
Top of page