“No bananas on boats. It comes back, there’s a couple things, different reasons they claim for that certain superstition, um going back to when banana boats literally, coming from the Mediterranean, I mean not the Mediterranean, but the Caribbean and stuff like that. Um, one would be that, uh, spiders, venomous creatures liked to live in bananas, in the bunches and what not, so it was apparently kind of a bad thing, like oh, you got a bunch of bananas on a boat, you’ve probably got a bunch of nasty stuff living in there. Um, another one that I heard is that bananas float, and whenever you, a boat would sink, then that’s the only thing you would be able to find, would be a pile of bananas floating around. And you can go online, they’ll show you, there’s literally people who will not let you on their boat, they won’t even allow Banana Boat sunscreen on their boat. I mean seriously. Especially fishermen, they’re a very superstitious bunch, of course. It’s very interesting like why…? Yeah, and some people, I have a friend who’s boat name is No Bananas, and I’ve got another friend whose boat is called the Tipetina, but on the back has a picture of a marlin and it’s got a banana on its bill. So it’s just kind of a weird, like what the heck’s going on here? Banana boat. Google it, I’m sure there’s plenty of folklore online about it.”
The informant is one of the captains of the Miss Christi, the boat that ferries people to the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies on Catalina island. He came to the island a couple of years after graduating from high school in San Diego. He worked at the general store in Two Harbors, then as a housekeeper at WIES. Twelve years later he became a captain. Originally, he wanted to study marine biology, but fell in love with the island when he came there and has never looked back. He still enjoys marine studies, and he is a certified scientific scuba diver. He has loved the water his whole life, but did not start boating until he came to Catalina. An avid spear fisherman, he has a lot of contact with the other fishers on the island, and many of his friends are involved in sea life in some way.
The informant was asked about some superstitions of fishermen—things you should never do or bring on boats. He has heard of this particular superstition from some of his friends, and has seen the stickers for it and has read about it.
As the informant says above, there are many boaters who do not allow bananas on boats. Even Banana Boat sunscreen is often forbidden. Though contemporary boaters likely follow this superstition because they have heard about it from their family or fellow boaters, there are some good reasons for the origin of this superstition. First of all, merchants bringing bananas from South America and the Caribbean would carry poisonous spiders and disease with them from these tropical locations. Bananas, and anyone who carried them, began to be associated with disease and vile things. Any reasonable boater would not want to carry bananas on their boats when they could easily be associated with these negative ideas.
The second reason that the informant mentions is a bit creepier. If a boat carrying bananas should sink, the bananas would remain floating on the surface to mark the location. Death is obviously something that sailors would wish to avoid, so anything that is related to death in anyway must be avoided. The bananas would outlive the sailors carrying them, and take on this eerie image. If a ship were to come on a pile of bananas floating in the middle of the ocean, they would know a ship had sunk there, and that their ship might be next.
Sailors, boaters, and fishermen are notoriously superstitious. Most groups who are the most superstitious are those who have a trade that is heavily reliant on nature. Farmers are one example, as the success of their crops relies on variability in the weather. Seamen, similarly, rely on currents, winds, and weather to take them from place to place. All it takes is one storm, and their ship could sink. Because they have so little control over their trade, they attempt to create good luck through superstitions. Things become associated with good or bad luck, and all sailors must follow these superstitions for fear that their boat will sink. Bananas are just other creators of bad luck, that must be avoided.
This superstition has even made its way into popular culture, through stickers that are sold (like the one on the informant’s boat). When businesses realize that many sailors believe in one superstition, then they will create products that will create good luck or bad luck. There may be talismans that stop the bad luck created by bananas, just as there are signs sold to prevent the bringing of bananas on boats.