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As one of the world’s oldest and most dangerous occupations, seafaring has a long history of events that have given way to superstitions. The origins of many of these beliefs are based on the perils of sailing, and luck naturally became associated with the risks.

For instance, the expression to “knock on wood” is rooted in the belief that when a sailor thumped on the hull of a vessel, it should sound solid rather than rotted. Every sailor wants a boat that will hold together during a voyage, after all. If a ship is strong and sound, then it is declared to be “ship shape.”

In essence, the life of a sailor is all about fortune — good or bad. Here are some more examples of the superstitious nature of sailors. Heed them or not at your own peril.

Good luck

    Christening a ship for protection as it embarked upon the vast and mysterious sea
    Having a woman as a figurehead at the bow to provide guidance and calm seas
    Spitting into the ocean prior to setting sail or casting coins into the sea as a toll to King Neptune
    Nailing a horseshoe to the mast to turn away storms
    Getting tattoos to ward off evil or gold piercings to bring good fortune
    Having a cat on board (probably because it could kill disease-carrying vermin)
    Sighting seabirds, which were believed to possess the souls of dead sailors

Bad Luck

    Naming a ship after an engaged woman, which will make the ship jealous
    Changing the name of a vessel without the proper ceremony (see our post 04/2012)
    Renaming ceremony
    Sighting a shark behind the ship, a sign of inevitable death
    Having women or redheads aboard, both of which could distract the crew
    Starting a voyage on a Friday or the first Monday in April
    Cutting one’s hair, beard or nails at sea
    Bringing bananas on board
    Whistling into the wind could summon up bad weather, or “whistle up a storm”
    Saying the words “drown” or “goodbye” or “good luck” on a ship

I’m sure there are more superstitions. Let us know yours, even if not marine related.

United Marine Underwriters is more than just boat insurance. Browse our Boats For Sale at BoatBrowser or our Lake Resource Guide at LakeBrowser or share your fishing stories and photos at True Fish Tales – the ones that did not get away.

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15 Responses to Knock On Wood

  1. […] See Body, on July 16th, 2013 By Randy Troutman On June 18, 2013 · 12 Comments · In Life on the […]

  2. Spitting into the ocean before a trip is good luck BUT watch the wind direction according to Jim Croce

  3. Nick Cessario says:

    Didn’t Jim Croce sing something about spitting into the wind?

  4. Randy Troutman says:

    I love lure / trivia. Thanks for sharing !!

    ~ Kerry

  5. Randy Troutman says:

    Just to add to your collection, being an old English seafarer, when they ate their meals on the old English sailing vessels they served them on a square plank of wood so that they would not break any dishes in foul weather and so when they advertised for help or Shanghai’d them they would say you will get 3 square meals a day and so the expression of a square meal was born. -David C

  6. tye says:

    ARRRR, avast mateys!..we set sail for Tortuga in the mornin’… avast, me hearties!…shiver me timbers, arrrrrgghh

  7. Jasmine says:

    Black cats were kept at home by the wives for good luck.

  8. Bobbi says:

    Red sky at night; sailors delight
    Red sky at morning; sailors take warning

  9. Ed Seling says:

    Never turn a hatch cover upside down

    No umbrellas aboard

    Rabbits are bad luck (???! Not our bunny!)

    Walnut (the wood) is considered bad luck aboard. (I successfully ignored this for many years)

    In my experience the “Friday” strictures are widely honored. Many professional fishermen I know will wait until Saturday at 00:01 to start a trip and will not launch a boat on a Friday.

  10. cap. valery tozer says:

    heed the north winds mighty gaile lock the door n drop the sail

  11. cap. valery tozer says:

    yup hay dont forgit to kiss a woman befor setting sail.

  12. Audrey truss says:

    Nice article Mr Troutman

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