“Red Sky At Night, Sailors Delight, Red Sky In The Morn, Sailors Be Warned”
My informant for this folk saying served in the US Navy over two decades ago, and now owns a sailboat in the Los Angeles area. My informant said that he first heard the saying in passing in training for the navy. When he asked what the phrase meant, he was informed that it was a centuries old phrase that described weather patterns in the sea.
Typically, he was told, a red sky at night means calm weather and smooth sailing. On the contrary, he was told that typically when sailors see a red sky in the morning hours, it is connected to weather patterns that call for rain, winds, and storms. My informant stated that he had done more research on this quote, and found that indeed, it does have a scientific backing. The red color in the sky is due to suspended particles and reflections of clouds, he says, which is good at night and bad in the morning.
My informant tells me that throughout his experience at sea as a Capitan in the navy, as well as sailing his own boat, this phrase has held true “for the most part”. It’s a good way to gauge what’s to come, it’s a good predictor just so you have an idea what’s coming, he says. He says it’s never been the opposite, and that he would trust this saying over anybody else’s word.
I believe that this saying likely originated centuries ago as a warning or useful tip passed from one sailor to another. Perhaps older sailors would pass it on to their children or those new to the sea. Making it into a rhyme, and thus turning this fact into folklore, likely had to do with giving it a ring, and making it easier for sailors to remember the term. Night must rhyme with delight, so the sailors don’t get confused and think that it is the other way around. It seems that it was created as a practical rhyme to help sailors remember the general laws of the ocean at sea.