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Thread: Sailor tattoos and folklore

  1. #1
    OICUR12 is offline Old Salt
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    Default Sailor tattoos and folklore

    I know some of the meanings of some sailor tattoos but I am always thirsting for more knowledge.

    For instance the pig and chicken tat on the feet to keep you afloat if your boat goes down.

    The North star so you can always find your way home.

    Swallows and the number of swallows you have designating where and how far you have sailed.

    Picture posts would be nice. Meanings behind them also welcome.

    This is your time to shine you old farts....I mean salts.

    Not just tattoos here but also any interesting folklore, history, meanings, ect.

    For instance the gold hoop in the left ear if you made have sailed around the horn of Africa or the hoop in the right ear if you have sailed around South America.

    I understand if this thread gets moved. I just thought it might get more responses if I posted it on this forum first.

    Thanks in advance.
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    Jolly Tar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Sailor tattoos and folklore

    Popular NAVY lore was that if you were ever in a ship that was lost at sea you got to sport a gold hoop. Never had that substantiated but it was fun to think about as an e-nothing.

    Gold hoops were to help pay for burial, a CHRISTIAN burial if one had the forethought to have cross tattooed prominently somewhere.

    Then there is H-O-L-D F-A-S-T tattooed on each finger to insure a firm grip would LOVE to get those. There was BM2 acting as BOSUN aboard CONSTITUTION back in 2006 who had that done. I thought it looked great.

    Quote Originally Posted by OICUR12 View Post
    I know some of the meanings of some sailor tattoos but I am always thirsting for more knowledge.

    For instance the pig and chicken tat on the feet to keep you afloat if your boat goes down.

    The North star so you can always find your way home.

    Swallows and the number of swallows you have designating where and how far you have sailed.

    Picture posts would be nice. Meanings behind them also welcome.

    This is your time to shine you old farts....I mean salts.

    Not just tattoos here but also any interesting folklore, history, meanings, ect.

    For instance the gold hoop in the left ear if you made have sailed around the horn of Africa or the hoop in the right ear if you have sailed around South America.

    I understand if this thread gets moved. I just thought it might get more responses if I posted it on this forum first.

    Thanks in advance.
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    OICUR12 (January 18th, 2011)

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    DPWinter's Avatar
    DPWinter is offline gCaptain Crew Greenhorn
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    Default Re: Sailor tattoos and folklore

    Check out the book "Naval Ceremonies, Customs & Traditions" ( http://openlibrary.org/books/OL44375...and_traditions or http://www.amazon.com/Naval-Ceremoni.../dp/1557503303 ). There is some interesting information on tattoos. We had a copy in the chart room aboard when I was a Quartermaster in the Navy.

    Some things I recall from the book: Sailors would tattoo a cross on each wrist and ankle to insure a Christian burial if washed ashore. The pig tattooed on an ankle was meant to keep from being eaten by a sharks. There is much more, I might have to buy a copy for my library.

    The meaning of some tattoos are never adequately explained. Like the QMC who had an eye tattooed on each butt cheek (the bar girls in Olongapo City found this endlessly amusing) or the BMCM who had a propeller on each butt cheek and port and stbd running lights on each breast. Of course, some are purely ornamental like the pin up girl. I got mine in Kowloon very late on night.

    Good luck with your research. It will be fun to see what others on the forum have to add.
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    OICUR12 is offline Old Salt
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    Default Re: Sailor tattoos and folklore

    My captain has "YOUR NAME" tattooed on his butt cheek. He likes to use that one every once in awhile. It usually goes something like this..."What are you laughing at? I got your name tattooed on my ass! It usually gets some puzzled looks. He is too old to want to kick his ass for saying it. But then guys wonder, "Why does he have my name tattooed on his ass? Is he serious? Why would he tattoo a man's name on his ass? He must be queer."

    Skipper says he would like to get "YOURS TOO" on his other but cheek.

    He says the Doc always remembers him when it's time for his physical.

    BTW I think the Pig tat on the ankle is to keep you from drowning if your boat goes down. The wisdom behind that is in days of wooden ships and wooden animal crates when a ship went down the pig and chicken crates would float.

    Not sure what the reasoning is behind a shark not having you for a snack because you have a pig on the ankle.

    I have seen a few old salts with these pig and chicken tats but they are usually located on the top of the foot and not the ankle.

    Welcoming more responses.

    Thanks in advance.

    PS Always wondered what the "HOLD FAST" signifcance was.
    Nothin changes but the stack symbles.................
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    kfj
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    Default Re: Sailor tattoos and folklore

    'Hold fast' was because most sailors couldn't swim and if they went over they were to hold fast to whatever line they had to keep from drowning
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    Default Re: Sailor tattoos and folklore

    IMHO..as per the googsperts


    • Sailors got their ears pierced because it helps improve eyesight (I think its an acupuncture site).
    • A black pearl earring for survivors of a sinking ship .
    • Golden earrings were used as a means of ensuring they were buried properly should they die at sea or in a foreign port.
    • In modern times a brass earring denoted a survivor of a ship sinking.
    • One left ear piercing for crossing each of the Equator, Artic Circle, and Antarctic Circle.
    • Earrings were thought to keep spirits from entering through the ear, but that's not a purely sailor thing.

    • A sparrow for every 5000 thousand nautical miles traveled,.
    • A sailor would get a swallow tattoo for every 5000 miles he had sailed.
    • A swallow because it will always find its way home.
    • A rooster and pig on the ankles are to prevent a sailor from drowning.
    • The pig and the rooster are tattooed on either the calves or the top of the feet, to prevent a sailor from drowning,. These animals were originally carried on most ships in wooden crates. When a ship goes down these crates would float and then catch currents and wash ashore with the other debris from the ship, making the pigs and roosters often the only souls to survive a shipwreck.
    • A tattoo of a pig on the left knee and a rooster (cock) on the right foot signified "Pig on the knee, safety at sea. A cock on the right, never lose a fight."
    • Tattoos of pigs and chickens were to make sure they always had their ham and eggs so that they never go hungry.
    • A turtle standing on its back legs (shellback) for crossing the equator and being initiated into King Neptune�s Court.
    • A tattoo of King Neptune if you crossed the Equator.
    • Crossed anchors on the web between the thumb and index finger for a bosn�s mate.
    • Royal Navy tattoos of palm trees for the Mediterranean cruises in WWII.
    • Many US sailors have a palm tree or hula girl from Hawaii.
    • The words HOLD and FAST were tattooed on the knuckles to help hold line.
    • Hold Fast across the knuckles to keep them from falling overboard or dropping a line.
    • Anchor tattoo for sailing the Atlantic.
    • Full rigged ship for sailing around Cape Horn.
    • Dragon Tattoo for a sailor who had sailed into port in China
    • A Golden Dragon was for sailors who had crossed the International Date Line.
    • Rope around the wrist for being a dockhand.
    • Two stars to ensure always knowing the way.
    • The anchor usually noted that the sailor was in the merchant marine.
    • Guns or crossed cannon for military naval service.
    • Harpoons for the fishing fleet.
    • Crosses on the soles of one's feet to ward off hungry sharks.
    • A nautical star, or compass rose was to always find your way home.
    • A dagger through a rose signified a willingness to fight and kill even something as fragile as a rose.
    • Many sailors also got pornographic images so that they would always have them with them.



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    Default Re: Sailor tattoos and folklore

    Quote Originally Posted by kfj View Post
    'Hold fast' was because most sailors couldn't swim and if they went over they were to hold fast to whatever line they had to keep from drowning
    Also as Irving Johnson noticed. There were no lifelines in the rigging of square riggers and holding fast was the only way to stay alive. Most sail trainees today remember his words; "It would be silly to let go"
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    Default Re: Sailor tattoos and folklore

    I new a Navy BM1 that had a naked girl on each calf.
    Each was a different type (I remember an Eskimo and Oriental).
    They were all upside down, head at his ankle and feet near his knee.
    He said he had 'em that way so he could lay in his rack and stick his legs up, wiggle 'em around and have his own private girlie show.

    I always thought that made a lot of sense.
    If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy. -Red Green
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    nau33 is offline gCaptain Greenhorn
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    Default Re: Sailor tattoos and folklore

    Cruise ships (well i only was with NCL) were pricks about tats...
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    OICUR12 is offline Old Salt
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    Default Re: Sailor tattoos and folklore

    Quote Originally Posted by nau33 View Post
    Cruise ships (well i only was with NCL) were pricks about tats...
    Understandable. If I am spending good money on a family vacation I don't want a member of "Green Day" waiting on me. Some people consider tats below the shirt line offensive. You are a marked man from that day forward. So live it.

    I don't want the lifeguard on the Disney Cruise ship to have a spider web crawling up his neck.

    If you are gonna brand yourself into the blue collar world plan on staying there unless you got the money to have that ink erased. And even that leaves a scar or discoloration.

    It's kinda like a kid that goes out and gets his ears, nose, and other appendages pierced like an African tribesman and then gives you a rude look fo staring at him while he makes you a $6 cup of coffie with milk in it.

    Anyway if you got the sand to sit through gettin inked below the shirt line why would you want to work with the public anyway? Most people I know that are "branded men" don't have jobs where your tat is an issue.
    Nothin changes but the stack symbles.................
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    soundop is offline Just Browsing
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    Default Re: Sailor tattoos and folklore

    Quote Originally Posted by OICUR12 View Post
    Understandable. If I am spending good money on a family vacation I don't want a member of "Green Day" waiting on me. Some people consider tats below the shirt line offensive. You are a marked man from that day forward. So live it.
    .
    Why be so crass? I work for a cruise line and im pretty well covered in tattoos. I personally find the idea of "some People" being offended by it and therefore my having to cover my skin while im working in a hot environment equally as offensive as well as uncomfortable, ineffective and more to the point dangerous.
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    Default Re: Sailor tattoos and folklore

    Well, I have been going to sea for over 35 years.
    I have a tattoo of plimsoll mark on my side to show when I am loaded.
    I have a branch of honeysuckle tattooed on my other side as a memorial to the most generous person I have ever known.
    I have a Yosemite Sam on my tail bone showing that I got way too loaded one time


    Quote Originally Posted by OICUR12 View Post
    I know some of the meanings of some sailor tattoos but I am always thirsting for more knowledge.

    For instance the pig and chicken tat on the feet to keep you afloat if your boat goes down.

    The North star so you can always find your way home.

    Swallows and the number of swallows you have designating where and how far you have sailed.

    Picture posts would be nice. Meanings behind them also welcome.

    This is your time to shine you old farts....I mean salts.

    Not just tattoos here but also any interesting folklore, history, meanings, ect.

    For instance the gold hoop in the left ear if you made have sailed around the horn of Africa or the hoop in the right ear if you have sailed around South America.

    I understand if this thread gets moved. I just thought it might get more responses if I posted it on this forum first.

    Thanks in advance.
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