Salty Superstition

Salty Superstition was born at sea where - uncertain of their fate - sailors found meaning in everyday occurrences.

When to set sail, what comes aboard and behavior underway were all scrutinized for the potential to put the voyage or ship in peril.

Although these beliefs have been relegated to myth status, even today you'll be none too welcome aboard some vessels if you can't control your whistling or some other small thing that is seen as a major infraction by a superstitious captain or crew member.

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 to unknown lands on uncharted seas.

Many sailors never returned from their journeys and that's fodder for the superstition mill.

Common Superstitions - Leaning Toward the Salty Side

Bad luck superstitions were common and back in the day you'd have been hard pressed to find a mariner who ignored them completely.  Simply avoid the bad juju and come home safely.

Heeded religiously by some and scoffed at by a few, salty superstition has taken its place in nautical lore and even today modern boaters consider some of them and plan voyages accordingly "just in case". Some will avoid beginning a journey on a Friday if there's an alternative. Even the scoffers have often adopted at least some of the common superstitions, why take any chances, right?

Following is a list of events thought to bring bad mojo to mariners.

Prior to Departure

  • Try to avoid encountering red-heads and flat footed people on your way to the ship - they'll bring bad luck to the journey. But, if you speak to them before they speak to you it'll cancel the bad luck.
  • Avoid clergymen and cross eyed people as you make your way to the ship - they bring ill fortune.
  • Encountering an overturned washbasin on your way to departure brings misfortune.
  • Renaming a boat (unless certain protocols are followed).
  • If a stone is thrown over the vessel as it departs the ship will be doomed to 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

  • Seeing rats leaving the ship (If the rats want off ... well)
  • Losing a bucket at sea brings ill fortune.
  • Umbrellas on board bring misfortune.
  • Sailing on a green hulled boat is a no-no.

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.

  • Beginning a voyage on Friday or on the 13th of the month.
  • 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.
  • Some captains won't allow flowers aboard because one salty superstition states that flowers 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.
  • Saint Elmo's Fire surrounding a sailor's head means he'll die within a day.
  • Wearing the color red can bring unfavorable 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 while on board.
  • Repairing a flag on the quarterdeck heralds misfortune.

Get Ready for the High Seas

Good Luck Superstition

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