Old Boating Superstitions
19 Things Boaters Used to Be Superstitious About
At Van Isle Marina, we have rounded up some of the most popular superstitions held by boaters. Some of these superstitions are meant to ward off bad luck, while others are meant to bring good luck to everyone on board. Many of the following superstitions date back to the earliest days of sailing – although, like most superstitions, some of their origins remain either unknown or unconfirmed.
Do you abide by any of these old superstitions while onboard your motor yacht or boat?
Bad Luck Omens
These items were said to bring bad luck, and therefore were banned from being on board.
- Bringing Bananas on Board
Back in the day, bananas brought boaters more than just bad luck. They also brought the breeding grounds for spiders and perished too quickly, leading to unpleasant rotting containers of fruit.
The notion of bananas being bad luck on boats is said to have started in the 1700s, during the height of the trading empire between Spain and the Caribbean, where several of the ships that disappeared were carrying banana cargos at the time of their disappearance.
- Changing a Boat’s Name
Changing a boat’s name is considered a huge no-no that can lead to bad luck. So, if you purchase a pre-owned vessel, it’s best to leave her name alone to avoid bad luck. The reason is based on Greek mythology, where Poseidon is said to keep a record of every vessel’s name.
If you must change the name of your boat and you are superstitious, be sure to carry through with the ceremony that involves removing all traces of the boat’s name from public record. (A little tough in the age of the Internet, however!) The paperwork with the old name ought to be burned in a wooden box, and the ashes thrown into the sea with the outgoing tide.
- Saying the Word “Goodbye” When Departing
Ancient mariners thought that saying the word “goodbye” actually doomed the voyage. Of all the superstitions on this list, this one is still quite popular. It’s a little bit like telling an actor to “break a leg” instead of wishing them “good luck.”
- Whistling Towards the Wind
Boaters have long believed that whistling towards the wind will “whistle up” stormy weather. We wonder if whistling on the accommodation deck poses the same risk?
It used to be believed that redheads in general were unlucky. They weren’t allowed on board, even as guests, and even a boater seeing a red-headed person right before setting sail was considered bad luck.
Having women onboard was also believed to be unlucky. Despite many boats being named after woman, and the presence of female sculptures being used to adorn the bows of vessels, for a time it was thought that women angered the seas, which led to dangerous voyages.
Women were also seen as distractions to ancient mariners, keeping them from their duties, which also led to dangerous voyages.
- Never Set Sail with Someone Who Has Debts to Pay
If there were no other signs of bad luck to blame when things go awry on a vessel, mariners might default to blaming any seaman on board who hasn’t settled his debts before setting sail.
- Seeing a Shark or Manta Ray
Seeing a shark’s fin swimming near your boat was said to be a bad omen; it signified that death was near – and not necessarily by the jaws of the shark. Seeing a manta ray was just as nerve-wrecking.
- Setting Sail on a Thursday or a Friday
When it comes to sailing, it’s not just Friday the 13th that should be avoided – it’s all Fridays. The superstition of Friday being considered an unlucky day to start a voyage is said to have religious roots, with some people believing it’s likely because of Jesus Christ being crucified on a Friday.
Thursdays are also considered by some to be bad sailing days because Thursdays are “Thor’s day” – Thor being the Greek god of thunder and storms.
Good Luck Omens
These items and routines were said to bring good luck, and were therefore encouraged to be on board or practiced.
- Setting Sail on a Sunday
Old sailing superstitions state that Sundays are the luckiest day to set sail.
- Tattoos & Piercings
Gold hoops were considered not just good luck, but they also signified when a boater had sailed around the world or crossed the equator. Many boaters also believed nautical tattoos were good luck, with both piercings and tattoos warding off evil spirits.
- Stepping onto a Boat with Your Right Foot
Which foot you use to take the first step onto your boat before a journey is said to bring either good luck or bad luck. The right foot is the good luck foot, while stepping on with your left foot first is to be avoided.
- Having Cats on Board
Cats served the important function of rat control onboard cargo ships back in the day. Seeing one or inviting one onto your vessel was inviting good luck to come your way (and less rats!). On the flip side, a cat thrown overboard meant extreme bad luck or even death was on the horizon. Boaters strove to keep their cats content and happy for this reason.
- Seabirds & Dolphins
Seeing an almighty albatross was considered good luck, which meant that killing one was definitely bad luck. Likewise, swallows and gulls were also considered good luck birds. The souls of perished boaters were said to live in seabirds, so their presence was welcomed.
Seeing dolphins swimming in line with your boat was also a sign of good luck.
- Pouring Wine on the Deck
In the earliest days of sailing and yachting, pouring wine on the deck was said to bring good luck. Nowadays it just sounds like a mess and a waste of wine!
- Hanging Horseshoes
Hanging a horseshoe on a ship’s mast was done to turn away stormy weather.
- Tossing Coins Overboard
Throwing a few coins into the sea as a boat left a port was said to be the same as paying a small toll to Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, to ensure a safe voyage.
- Seeing Red Skies at Night
Seeing a red sky at night, as in the phrase, “red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning” is still considered a popular superstition, and perhaps the only one on this list based on science. A red sunset is said to indicate stable air and high pressure coming from the west. On the other hand, a red sky at dawn is a marker for rain and stormy seas.
Learn more about the history of yachting.
If you’re in the market for a new boat or yacht, there is plenty to choose from here at Van Isle Marina. We specialize in Riviera Yachts and Pursuit Boats and also showcase a wide variety of pre-owned yachts. Come visit us in Sidney, BC near Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal!