Sailors have attributed superstitions to almost all aspects of their work
and life on the sea. One of the common traits of superstitious belief is that the subject
matter of the superstition usually involves some uncertainty and because of our desire to
feel secure, we create superstitions to account for all the possible outcomes, thereby
minimizing our lack of control (or making us feel as though we have reduced the risk.)
This concept can be seen most clearly in the sailing profession and is largely due to the
uncontrollable weather that the sailors life and work is powerless before. The job, more
so in the past than in the present and in the days of pirates, was a very dangerous one
and the slightest mistake could spell disaster for all on board. To deter any type of
dangerous action and behavior, superstitions could serve as a warning and therefore
minimize future calamities. It also brought comfort to passengers and crew.

One of the most repeated verses that originates from a sailor superstition
is below:

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight
Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning

For sailors, it was lucky:

  • to smash a bottle against the boat just before sailing
  • for sailors to have tattoos
  • to throw an old pair of shoes overboard just after launch
  • to have a black cat on board
  • for a child to be born on the ship
  • for sailors to wear gold hoop earrings
  • to touch the collar of a sailor
  • to step aboard using the right foot first

For sailors, it was unlucky:

  • to name the boat with a word ending in "a"
  • to have the bottle not break when used in the launch ceremony
  • to change the name of a boat
  • to sail on a green boat
  • to sail on a Friday
  • to see rats leaving a ship
  • to have someone die on the ship
  • to whistle on board a ship
  • to cross an area where another ship once sunk
  • to lose a bucket at sea

Other sailing superstitions:

  • Women and clergymen as passengers bring bad luck
  • If you meet someone with red hair, a clergyman, or someone with cross-eyes on the way to
    the harbor, you are encouraged not to set sail
  • A bell ringing by itself on the ship is a death omen for one of the crew
  • The word "drown" can never be spoken at sea or it may summon up the actual
  • A ship without its figurehead will not sink
  • Horseshoes on a ship’s mast help turn away storms
  • A ship will sail faster when fleeing an enemy
  • A ship carrying a dead body will sail slower
  • Seabirds are thought to carry the souls of dead sailors
  • Whistling, cutting nails and trimming beards at sea will cause storms