Nautical Tattoo Meanings

Throughout time we have associated tattoos and sailors. These tattoos are usually of the nautical them and revolve around the ocean. This makes sense as these sailors would spend much of their time at sea. They may have gotten these tattoos to symbolize things they are going through or they might have gotten them out of sheer boredom. Whatever the case may be, there are a variety of nautical tattoos that have their own meaning.

The nautical tattoo tells a story. For the man that rides the rough seas, the nautical tattoo is a way to let the world know of your story. However, many don’t understand what these symbols mean and that is why we are hear today. For those that have nautical tattoos that don’t want to explain what they mean to everyone, we are here to help.

In this post, we are going to talk about the nautical tattoo and this history behind them. Since there are so many symbols that represent the nautical tattoo, we will talk about the different variations and what they mean. By the end of this post, we hope you have a better understanding of some of the different symbols in the nautical tattoo realm and what they mean. Maybe it will help you make a decision for your own tattoo.

Nautical Tattoo History

Also known as sailor tattoos, nautical tattooing is a style of tattooing that traditionally gotten by men that sail for a living. They might be referred to as “Old School” tattoos or Sailor Jerry tattoos as well. You would see images associated with the ocean like ships, mermaids and compasses for example. During the early to mid twentieth century, Sailor Jerry was know for his style of work. This style of tattooing went dark for a while and people weren’t getting them as much recently, young and old are getting these nautical tattoos once again. It doesn’t matter if you sail or not, these tattoos look great.

Many might be wondering who Sailor Jerry was and how he impacted tattooing. Sailor Jerry is also known as Norman Collins and tattooed many sailors throughout his career. Collins tattooed in Honolulu, Hawaii during World War II so you can image how many sailors were wondering the streets. He was well known for the quality of his work. Sailor Jerry made tattooing an artform in the U.S. versus something that drunken sailors get.

Nautical Tattoo Meanings

There are numerous different nautical tattoo meanings and it all depends on the imagery you use in your tattoo. Sailor Jerry was well known for tattooing many images. These images usually had a connection with the sailor, sea or the ship he was on. Therefore, every image might represent a different meaning and we will review some of these below.

Star Tattoo

The nautical star tattoo is a symbol of direction in life. It symbolizes the North Star in which sailors had used as a source of navigation. The image of the nautical star was used to keep the sailor on his course and it was used to help him find his way home. In this way, the nautical star tattoo is a source of direction in your life. If you are able to tap into the power of the star, it might help you move forward in the right direction.

Anchor Tattoo

The anchor tattoo has long been known as a popular nautical tattoo. Everything about the anchor says it is nautical. The anchor is solid and keeps the boat in place. In this way, the anchor represents stability in the life of a sailor or anyone that has this symbol tattooed on their body. You will often see other words or images tattooed with the anchor like “mom” or another loved one. Those are the people that keep the sailor grounded. It also symbolizes staying strong and stable through the storm. We all go through hard times so invoking the power of the anchor will help you get through it all.

Ship Tattoo

Ships are both metaphorical and practical when it comes to the sailor. It’s a means to an adventure but it is also the place where you earn a living. Your life working is spend on that boat so it has a great deal of relevance to the sailor’s life. Ships were a very important piece to Sailor Jerry’s style. In fact, he kept master plans for every major kind of ship. The ship tattoo represents a “homeward bound” feeling and a call to adventure. However you look at it, you are going somewhere you want to be.

Ship Wheel Tattoo

The ship wheel tattoo is also another symbol of direction and navigation. Without the wheel, the ship would float the seas aimlessly with nowhere to go. The wheel gives the ship direction and it can do the same for you. The ship wheel nautical tattoo is a symbol of staying the course or navigating through hard times.

Sparrow Tattoo

The sparrow tattoo is another staple of nautical tattoos. It was a marker for the amount of time and miles spent on the water. Sort of a badge of honor, the swallow tattoo indicated you sailed 5,000 miles. You might have even seen pictures of a sailor with a swallow tattoo on each shoulder blade which represented 10,000 miles sailed. The swallow tattoo also represented the idea of “return”. This could be linked to the idea that when a sailor died, the swallow would take him home or their migration patterns. Whatever it is, this tattoo is a mainstay of nautical tattooing.

Shark Tattoo

The Shark tattoo is steeped in love and hate. They are terrifying monsters of the sea but as much as you want to hate them, you have nothing but respect. In this case, the nautical tattoo is about taking on the traits of the image on your body. The shark tattoo is a reminder to stand your ground. It says that you are the predator and not the prey and that is a good thing to remind yourself when you’re on the open ocean for months at a time.

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