Tag Archives: Sailor

Breaking Bottles

This folk practice is breaking a bottle on the neck of a ship. This practice is a tradition performed whenever a ship was leaving on a voyage and sometimes was the first voyage that boat had made. Sailors and seamen are typically very superstitious because of the randomness of the ocean conditions. Therefore, many created small rituals such as this in order to create good luck and good weather for the upcoming trip. It was always performed before the ship launched and a bottle, typically champagne, was smashed across the foremost part of the boat.

The informant grew up on the East Coast in a sailing/nautical community. Because of this, he was constantly surrounded by much of the lore and traditions that accompany this culture. He did not learn it from any one person but was merely part of the set of customs. It was not done that frequently because it is typically done for a large trip but is still certainly part of the lore. They remember it because of their interest in sailing from an early age, meaning that the subject spent every day for parts of the year within that community.

I believe that this practice was probably old when technology wasn’t as sophisticated as today. Because of this, bad weather could spell disaster and there was sometimes little way to predict it. The conditions at sea were likely harsh and it was important to keep morale up, explaining the use of traditions and superstitions such as this.

Sailor Superstition: Dolphins swimming in the wake are good luck

Informant – “Dolphins are considered good luck when they swim with the ship. And it’s bad luck to kill a dolphin.”

JK – “Where does this belief come from?”

Informant – “I just think that dolphins are friendly to humans. They have a long history of…there’s stories of them chasing sharks away and swimming with humans. They are sweet creatures and really intelligent. That level of intelligence demands respect.”

JK – “Where did you hear it from?”

Informant – “I just grew up with that. My father would tell me about dolphins. And there have been a couple of times in my life where I’ve actually seen it. They’ll play in the wake of the ship. It’s really neat.”

There seems to be very logical reasons for this superstition. So much so, that it hardly seems superstitious. Dolphins are historically friendly/helpful creatures, so a pod following your ship is definitely a good thing. It’s hard to think of a valid reason to kill a dolphin, so it makes sense why doing so would be seen as bad luck.

Whistling on a boat

Main piece:

This one is a little interesting just because there’s so much controversy about what it really means. So, there’s something about whistling on a boat. Either it’s bad luck because it insults the wind, or it’s good luck cuz it calls on more wind. Of course, on a sailing ship wind is what decides where you go and how fast you get there.

But good or bad, a lot of folks say that the cook gets a whistling pass! Cuz if the cook’s down in the galley whistling, he can’t be eating all the food!


Superstition described by Randy Peffer at Boatswayne Yard in San Pedro, CA. Randy is a career seaman, educator, and writer.


It’s quiet on boats, and many deckhands perform boring and repetitive tasks. Therefore, whistling is fairly common among new sailors. The standing rig (which holds up the mast) naturally whistles in the wind. Therefore, a comparison might be drawn between the two.

We again see the motif of insulting the gods of the Sea – as whistling may be a challenge.


Randy suspects that this tradition served as a way for more senior sailors to prevent younger deckhands from being a nuisance. Most people find others’ whistling irritating, and creating a superstition to curtail unnecessary noise would be very like most sailors.

“Pin Me Chief!”

Kropp was a secret geek in high school. He thoroughly enjoyed sports, rap, and women but had a soft spot for cartoons. He says he would secretly want to be a superhero if he had the chance – “a dope superhero” at that. He is currently a USC student studying environmental science, is enrolled in the NROTC program and loves to skateboard. He has very close ties with his extended family. He hopes to one day commission into the navy as an officer.

One of the roughest part of being in the military are the old traditions. One of them is the “Pinning Ceremony”. In the military there is a rank system. You start at the bottom and slowly start making your way up the ladder. A rank is worn on the collar of the uniform shirt. The rank is a small metal insignia about an inch in length and width. It is pinned to the collar by two prongs that are closed at the back of the collar with frogs (the way an earring is pierced to an ear). One of the oldest traditions in the military is what you do with this pin. Kropp was invited to an advancement ceremony of one of his fellow sailors down in Camp Pendleton a few months ago. The commanding officer speaks and lots of pictures are taking; sailors are dressed up in their uniform. Sailors invite family and friends to these so that they may place the rank on the sailor, give them a kiss and that concludes the ceremony. Kropp said that after the ceremony was when the tradition took part.

Sailors were taking back to their individual commands and then spit up by rank. All of the third classes (4th rank) went with their department heads – their chiefs. And the seconds and first classes with theirs. In order to truly earn your rank, you had to bleed for it. Chiefs would tell sailors to remove the frogs from the back of the rank (the rank still easily remains on the collar). Then all of his department, mostly those that ranked above him would “beat the living hell out of ’em” Kropp says. They punch the rank into your collar bone until you bleed. When Kropps friend came out, he asked him how it went. His shoulder bled and there was a smile on his face. Weird, huh? He just got a beating and he was content.

Analysis: This is not a tradition that is validated by the Navy. All sorts of hazing are both frowned upon and illegal by mandate of the Chief of Naval Operations. This tradition still continues because of how most traditions survive. “If I had to do it, so do you.” In the military, you’re not supposed to be able to skate by. It’s one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. It’s a job meant for tough men and women. Traditions like this may not be sane in the least bit, nor are they supposed to be happening. But the sailors want it. They look forward to it. Because they know they will not belong with their fellow chiefs unless they went through what they went through. One of the fastest ways to build brotherhood in this world is to shed a little blood for each other. And who does that better than the United States Military. 3042100_34e3a666-e788-4964-b3fc-c53c0044c261_grande

Red Sky

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.