Sharing Sailors’ Superstitions on Friday the 13th
While discussing Latitude 38‘s 2023 calendar last Monday, we were introduced to the word “Friggatriskaidekaphobia.” Have you ever heard of it? It means “Fear of Friday the 13th” — “Frigga” refers to the Norse goddess for whom Friday is named, and “triskaidekaphobia” means fear of the number 13. The word came up because, well, you guessed it, today is Friday the 13th — one of two we will encounter this year, with the second one occurring in October. This made us think about the various superstitions and sayings that are associated with sailing. Some are quite well known, such as renaming a boat being bad luck unless done with an appropriate ceremony, and “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight,” though this one began in reference to shepherds rather than sailors. We then decided to see what else we could find regarding sailors’ superstitions and discovered several entertaining sayings. Here are a few of our favorites.
When eating or cooking with eggs, the egg shells had to be broken into tiny pieces to deter witches from coming to the ship and sailing in the pieces of shell.
If you lost a hat overboard it was a portent of a long voyage.
Women were considered bad luck on board because they distracted the crew. This would anger the sea, which would take revenge by causing treacherous conditions. However, the sea was quite fickle in that it was calmed by naked women; thus many ships carried figureheads of naked or bare-breasted women.
Whistling aboard a sailing ship is frowned upon as it is said to cause strong winds, and as it has been used as a form of communication among mutinous crew. The one exception was the cook, as while the cook was whistling, he was not eating the food.
Salt could not be passed directly from one crewman to another. It would have to be put down by the one and then picked up by the other.
We’ve all been told “no bananas aboard the boat.” They were believed to cause ships to be lost. This could have come about as many ships that disappeared in the Caribbean in the 1700s were carrying a cargo of bananas. Also, before the age of pesticides, bananas carried all manner of insects and spiders, which could cause death or injury to the crew.
“Start off on the right foot.” Tradition says the left side of the boat has been associated with bad luck or “evil.” Many sailors therefore would step aboard with their right foot first to ensure the voyage started and finished in the right way.
Cats aboard boats are considered good luck. Some believed they could predict the weather. Of course, in the practical application, a cat would take care of rats and mice that crept aboard with cargo or via docklines.
Cutting your hair or nails aboard is said to be bad luck. This explains the bedraggled look sailors adopt after many weeks at sea!
Tattoos and piercings are believed to ward off evil spirits. Specifically, an anchor tattoo was meant to prevent a sailor from floating off if he fell overboard, and a nautical star would help sailors find their way home
Don’t say the following words out loud: drown or any of its derivatives, goodbye, good luck, and pig. The first two are self-explanatory. “Good luck” was believed to cause bad luck. And “pig?” Supposedly, pigs can’t swim
By the way, if you want to know how to pronounce “Friggatriskaidekaphobia,” check out this Youtube clip.
Regarding swimming pigs, see “The Official Home of the Swimming Pigs” at
tinyurl.com/4vhy3z2n. They’re quite the tourist attraction in the Bahamas.
Why is Friday the Thirteenth a bad day? Ask a Knight`s Templar to explain.
You missed a common one that I’ve often wondered about: “Never begin a voyage on Friday”.