125 Incredible Sailor Tattoos And The Meanings Behind Them

Sailor tattoos are some of the most popular designs out there because they hold a lot of meaning behind them. It could be because the wearer has been in the military or maybe is just an avid sailor. You could just love life by the sea. There are many reasons to love these tattoos are we are going to start looking at the meanings behind some of the most popular ones.

Nautical Tattoos

There is a lot of history behind the nautical tattoo and that’s because as far back as the 16th-century sailors wore tattoos that they got while they were in the Pacific islands. It was even discovered in Captain John Cook’s diary that there were indigenous people wearing the very same tattoos. During that time, sailors actually tattooed each other and they had to use whatever tools that they had at the time. Shockingly enough, in order to create a tattoo, they often used urine and gunpowder for the ink.

Symbolism Behind Nautical Tattoos

There was a reason why people got nautical tattoos:

It was a symbol of patriotism

They believed tattoos were talismans used to ward off back luck

A reminder of a certain triumph or place that was visited

Mementos used to mark milestones in their voyage

The maritime men at that time were very superstitious and they had every reason for it. The conditions that they worked in were often unpredictable and dangerous. Their lives were at the mercy of luck and there was no other way around it. In order to stay safe, they would wear these images on their bodies to ward off bad luck and bring about good luck.

Ship Tattoos


We see these ship tattoos a lot and they can come in many shapes and sizes.

Sailors loved ship tattoos because they were a metaphor for them. It was where they went to work on a daily basis and it also stood for adventure. Sailor Jerry was a well know sailor and he loved ships. He actually owned master papers on every major ship vessel. He had clipper ship tattoos that were legendary and they represented not only his love of ships but the call that he had to go on an adventure. He always had that determination to be “Homeward Bound’ and that was what his tattoos represented.


The Lighthouse

The lighthouse was another natural tattoo for sailors to get. The lighthouse represented a safe haven, the very thing that would lead them home safely. It’s not surprising that some sailors would want the lighthouse represented. There have been many a sailor that has died at sea because they couldn’t find the lighthouse. It’s the one thing that they can depend on in times of distress.


The Anchor

The anchor is another symbolic tattoo and it represents security in a sailor’s life. Not only that but it represents stability. You will often see anchor with women or even names like the word “mom” because it goes right to the core of what stabilizes them whether it’s a soulmate or family. The anchor has become more popular over the years and even people who just like to sail will have the anchor tattoo. It’s the tattoo the represents what is steady and stable in your life.


Places To Visit

A lot of sailors would have the places that they visited tattooed on their body and this is a great example of a geometric tattoo with the same type of symbolism.


Pinup Girls


Pinup girls were super popular during that generation and sailor would often depict them on their bodies. Sometimes sailors would go months without seeing a woman so the pinup girls would remind them of what they had back home waiting for them. It was almost a sense of having some female company with them on the trip.

“Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.” –Jack London

Represent The Sailor Within

This isn’t the type of tattoo that you would expect on a grown man but it’s right up there with representing the life of a sailor. We can’t help but love the skunk but it might be just “too cute” for everyone.

The reason why anyone gets a tattoo done is that they want to mark something in their life. They are now considered to be art forms and most of them have a meaning or some form of symbolism behind them. It’s a symbol of creativity and it allows you to show off your personality.

It can still be seen as a mark of a criminal and lowlife but we are growing beyond that stereotype. Nowadays just about anyone can get a tattoo and it’s not seen as such a shameful thing any longer.



The Old School Sailor

This is truly a work of art and it could practically be a portrait, how could we not love it? This is an old school sailor image and it probably represents the owner’s life as a sailor himself. It’s a great style that anyone would love. It gives off a feeling of nostalgia and speaks of a different time. Anyone with a tattoo like this one should be proud.

Skull Tattoos

Skulls are a popular style in the nautical world and outside of it. A tattoo is a big commitment regardless of what tattoo you choose. We are agreeing to have a tattoo on our body for the rest of our lives and even beyond. Skulls are a popular theme because of the obsession that we have with death and dying. These types of tattoos were popular in Sailor Jerry’s day because it was the marks of an adventure, mercenary or warrior. These skulls represented the lives that had to face death on a regular basis. These skulls were basically inoculating sailors from death itself.

Lover Tattoos

These tattoos obviously represent lovers or love that was left behind. It could be something that allows a sailor to remember that his wife or girlfriend is at home waiting for his safe return. It’s definitely a sweet reminder that love pulls us through our darkest days.

Nautical Tools

“A sailor without a tattoo is like a ship without grog: not seaworthy.” –Samuel O’Reilly, tattooist

The Seaman Lore

As we said before sailors were tattooing each other while at sea. It’s kind of scary to think about it because they could have been easily prone to infection depending on the tools that were used. There were many unique characteristics to the tattoos that seamen chose. They used tattoos to show off all the accomplishments that they had while at sea but not just that, they wanted to bring good fortune to their lives as well.

There are many meanings behind certain tattoos. For example, a sea turtle could signify a sailor that had sailed across the equator. A sailor that gets a rigged ship tattoo represents his adventure around the treacherous Cape Horn. Many other tattoos will represent travels that a sailor has made or things that would bring them protection while they were at sea.

Nautical Tools

These, of course, represent destinations at sea whether it’s ones that have been made or ones that a seaman is looking forward to making.

Pirate Love

For anyone that has watched Pirates Of The Caribbean, you have that desire to live on the sea like a pirate. it’s that fantasy ideal of living in true freedom and being a badass. This is a gorgeous tattoo with a ton of detail. The sleeve tattoo is great for a long ship design like this one because it extends the length of the arm. Who wouldn’t want a tattoo as gorgeous as this one? It’s absolutely beautiful. If you are looking for a sleeve, then you can’t go wrong with a style like this one.

3D Styles

Talk about a great tattoo that just jumps out at you. The tattoo is mostly black and white but there is a bit of color that makes the look punchy. We love these 3D looks and a ship is the perfect design to show it off.

The Tough Guy Look

Sailors have always had a reputation for being rough and tumble kind of guys. They were known to be rough around the edges. Having tattoos all over their bodies certainly helped with getting that reputation. Back in the day the only people to have tattoos were rough people on the wrong side of society. It was the same for many other cultures as well.

In the 19th century, Japan tattoos were associated with criminal activity to the point where they were outlawed at one point. They were outlawed until the mid 20th century. The outlaw came into effect due to the crime syndicate who would walk around with full body tattoos. They weren’t put on the body with modern tools either, they were created on the skin with large hand-held needles and hopefully a steady artist’s hand.

Tattooing has certainly come a long way and is no longer outlawed in countries. But there is still a taboo that seems to surround tattoos and some people still associate it with prison life, gang culture and low-class cultures.

It is fading thankfully and these days tattoos are considered to be an art form and a way of expressing our personal lifestyles. These days it’s perfectly normal to see celebrities rocking tattoos as if it’s mainstream. Tattoos have become so popular that there are probably more celebrities that have them then there are ones that don’t. It’s not a mark of rebellion anymore but more of a personal expression of ourselves.

Tattoos may be more acceptable now than they ever have been before but that doesn’t mean that they should be taken lightly. Tattoos are supposed to be forever and if you get one on a whim, you will likely regret it.

A Ship To Remember

This is likely the ship that this sailor spent most of his time on. You can see by the design that it’s very patriotic so it was likely from his time in the military.

Mermaid Designs

Of course, anyone who has been at sea believes that they will one day see a mermaid. they have always been part of the seaman’s lore.


Swallows hold a special place in a sailor’s life because it marks the point when a sailor has sailed 5000 miles. That’s a lot of time put in at sea. These beautiful creators are popular in the sailing world because they also symbolize the idea of returning home. This idea of returning home comes from two places. The first places come from the migration pattern of a swallow when they return home to San Juan Capistrano. The second place that it comes from is the belief that if a sailor dies while he is at sea, swallows will carry his home to heaven. Sounds sort of magical, doesn’t it?

Message In A Bottle

The message in the bottle idea comes from the idea that a sailor can through a bottle into the ocean and that a message could be carried back to his family if he doesn’t return home.

Sea Creatures

Sea creatures are always popular because they are powerful depictions of animals in the sea. This is a beautifully colored tattoo that anyone would love.

Sailor Moon Tattoo

For anyone who grew up watching the TV show, Sailor Moon, you know exactly what she represents. This was a favorite character from many of our youths and if she was a favorite of yours, then she might be a tattoo choice that you want to have.

Pinup Sailor Ladies

What’s better for a man than to represent his life as a sailor and to represent women, which is something that he misses when he is away from home. Being a sailor is not an easy life and these tattoos represent thousands of stories from over the years from sailors who worked hard.

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