Sea Tattoo Guide

Sea Tattoo Guide

How do you know a sailor before he opens his mouth?
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We've all seen them. They decorate the arms, legs, chest of both sailors and people who never went out to sea. If you know more than two people with tattoos, most likely at least one of them has a nautical tip. Swallows, anchors, compasses - all these tattoos originally spread among sailors. But what did they mean?

Charity organization Sail Training International has made a list of its favorite marine tattoos and their values. The list is divided into four blocks. The first block lists the tattoos that are used to indicate marine achievements; the second block lists the tattoos that sailors have made in memory of some events; the third block lists the tattoos that are used to indicate good luck; and the fourth block lists the tattoos that identify the wearer.

Maritime Achievements


Each swallow means 5,000 miles covered. A swallow is a symbol of hope in the sea: it never flies far from the ground, so if you see swallows in the sky, the shore is nearby.


If you see a dragon on a sailor's body, it means he went to a Chinese port. The mythical animal is perhaps the most obvious symbol of this Asian country.

A ship full of sailing weapons...

That's the tattoo a sailor gets by circling Cape Horn.


A sailor will anchor after successfully crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

Symbols of luck

«Hold Fast»

The inscription ««Hold Fast» on the knuckles originally indicated that the wearer was a deck sailor.»Over time, however, this tattoo has become a symbol of luck for sailors. It is believed to protect against falling overboard. That's what the crew sounded like in the storm: it meant it was time to give up your business and hold on tight to the tracker.

Pig and rooster

Tattoos depicting a pig and a rooster are usually made on their feet, one for each. They give luck to the victim of a shipwreck. The roosters and pigs usually survived shipwrecks because they were kept on board in wooden crates that kept well afloat.


This tattoo indicates a polar star. It gives navigators luck in plotting the course and helps them find a safe way home.

Tattoos in memory

The dagger that goes through the swallow

This tattoo is made by sailors in memory of a comrade who died at sea. The swallow in this case also indicates that the departed friend walked 5 thousand miles.

The tattoos are identifiers

Crossed anchors

It's the tattoo that a petty officer wears on a warship


It's the sign of a deck sailor.

Guns or crossed guns

Identifies a sailor who was in the Navy.

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