Perhaps none are more superstitious than the sailors. Or at least, what the old sailors used to be. Rolling clouds or roaring waves means little to us on land, but in the 18th century New England, it meant bad luck. Some of them are plain ridiculous, like having an umbrella on the ship means bad luck, or even saying the word horse because it can mean death.

However, maybe they are the ones who needed it the most. They were, after all, left alone to the mercy of the unruly seas and the hidden depths most never sees. Perhaps the old ways of the seafarers knew something we don’t?

Red Sunrise

Red sunset or red sunrise. A bad omen in sailor superstition

There is a lot affecting the weather according to old superstitions. Clapping could cause thunder, whistling could summon a wind and throwing a stone in the water could bring swells. 

However one of the more likely and poetic sailors weather forecast was this:

Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. “

This poetic warning told about the day ahead and that it would take a dangerous turn. In fact, it does have some sort of scientific background, although not a hundred percent accurate. A red sky can actually warn about bad weather ahead. 

Bananas on board

This is seemingly one of the weirder ones. But it actually makes sense, even just a bit. It is a superstition from the 1700 and the banana trade. A big amount of the ships went missing carrying a load of bananas, trying to cross the sea. The bananas turned bad pretty quickly, and the ships had to hurry to deliver the goods before it rotted away and no one would profit or get their bananas. So how does it make sense? People make bad decisions, taking a wrong course, pushing the ship too much. It also is said rotten bananas let off lethal gasses and deadly spiders living in the bananas took some out on board. So, do you crave a banana now?


The Dies Infaustus

Not only the weather was something they were afraid of. There were even some days more frightening than others. Like the day Friday, which considered to be an unlucky day in some cultures or the Dies Infaustus as it’s called in fancy Latin. This is perhaps one of the most enduring superstitions, at least in the days since we started calling the day Friday. It was unlucky to begin a voyage or set sail on this day. It is also the root of the well-known urban legend of HMS Friday.  In more Viking and Norse oriented ships, Thursday was the day to avoid since it’s Thor, God of thunders day. 

The Albatross

At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God’s name.
‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!
— Why look’st thou so?’—
With my cross-bow I shot the ALBATROSS.

From: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner By: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Birds have a massive influence on superstition. Seeing a swallow means you are close to land, spotting an albatross can bring good fortune. But as the Mariner and the crew in the famous poem experience, killing it will bring bad luck. The crew thought to kill the albatross only brought them more misfortune:

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

In the end, they blamed in all on the Mariner and made him wear the dead albatross around his neck. Birds are also believed to be or carry the souls of dead sailors, making their significance even greater. They are one of the crew.


The Jonah

Jonah and the whale. It is now a bad omen to be a Jonah on boats, often credited to clergymen and women.

Jonah will for many be remembered from as the biblical figure from the Book of Jonah. A guy who was trying to flee from the presence of God by sailing away. A huge storm came over the ship and it was no ordinary storm. The crew discovers that Jonah is the one to blame and they throw him overboard. The storm calms by the sacrifice and Jonah is saved by being swallowed by a large fish where he spends three days and three nights, repenting for his sins.

Jonah is now a well-established expression of a sailor or a passenger bringing bad luck to the ship. Often clergymen and women would be considered a Jonah. Also, redheads would be sometimes accused of being a Jonah.  




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