Sailor Tattoo Meaning

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Tattoos among many sailors have always been very popular. Those in the U.S Navy and sailors who are not, all have specific tattoos they wear as badges. Those who do not have the credentials of being a sailor or in being in the Navy even get these different designs. Most the time however, these tattoos hold dear to the individual and actually have quite meaningful reasons behind them.

It was said to have started sometime in the early 1700’s when European sailors were exploring the oceans. The famous Captain James Cook, was an explorer, navigator, cartographer, and Captain in the Royal Navy. Captain James Cook was out with his crew and stopped in New Zealand. The New Zealand indigenous tribe, the Maori, greeted the Captain and his crew, these people called the Maori were covered in tribal tattoos and face paints. As the crew was getting ready to leave and head back to Europe, a few spontaneous and daring men decided to get tattoos as a souvenir to take back home with them. When the sailors sporting all these tattoos came back to the states, people instantly fell in love with them, some not as much as others, and from there it began a sort of fad of their time.

The concept and idea of the sailor getting tattoos lasted a short time. It was sometimes looked oddly upon because the times were not yet evolved into the notion of tattoos quite yet. Sailor Jerry came along eventually and put his spin on the classic sailor tattoo. From here, the fad began to rise, then it slowly died out. In today’s world however, the Sailor Jerry style tattoo is one of the most popular styles in the mass universe of tattoos. Those who are not in the navy, those who are just sailors who explore the oceans themselves are also into the great idea of the ‘sailor tattoo’.

Sailor Tattoo Designs

When thinking of sailor tattoos, many images may come to mind. If you are a sailor and want to dedicate a part of your body with ink to something that you love, the sailor tattoo is the one for you. You may or may not realize that the sailor tattoo can be a number of different graphics. Below are some examples of what sailors have been known to get sketched upon their skin. They hold them close as badges, accomplishments that they are proud of that took part on the mysterious and never-ending ocean and seas.

Anchor Tattoo

The anchor tattoo is a popular one that you have surely seen. In military, Navy sailor terms, the anchor is a piece of accomplishment. This anchor signifies that the sailor has crossed the Atlantic Ocean or has been a merchant delivering cargo during wartime. If you are not a sailor of the U.S Navy, but you still want a tattoo of an anchor, it can represent much more than just that. The anchor tattoo represents stability, physically and mentally. This tattoo is often seen on the upper arm or the bicep, the forearm is another spot as well.

Compass Tattoo

The compass design was a very popular tattoo among the old time Navy sailors. Since the design came about, it has been known to be sported by many such as sailors, travelers, and explorers. This compass design is based on the north star. That is because the north star is the one that sailors most often look into the night sky to use to guide them as a basis of where their ship is going. The compass tattoo is a good luck charm as a blessing for them to get back home sound and safe. This tattoo to the onlookers signifies that the individual with this compass tattoo is one of great adventure. It says that they are free spirited and have a love for exploring. If you want to add on to this tattoo and get a little creative, what is known as a ‘compass rose’ can be added onto the piece. This is of a thorny stem of a rose leading up the compass, going straight toward the south. With a rose bloomed out the north side, it makes a great piece. Tattoos such as this or normally seen on the forearm.

Swallows Tattoo

The swallow is a species of bird. In sailor terms, anyone with this tattoo has traveled a distance of 5,000 nautical miles, or miles at sea. If the sailor is seen with more than one swallow, this is a combination of the miles they have traveled at sea. If they have two swallows for instance, they have traveled over 10,000 nautical miles. The Earth itself is 21,600 nautical miles around, so traveling over 10,000 is tattoo worthy to say the least. These tattoos can usually be seen on the chest or the clavicle bones. The forearm is another great spot.

Shell-back Turtle Tattoo

The shell-back turtle is one that you may have seen tattooed and have wondered why it was there. It is tradition among the tattoo enthusiasts in the Navy community to get this shell-back turtle as a remembrance of crossing the line of the equator and be initiated into King Neptune’s Court. This signifies that the sailor at hand is able to bear through tough times on the sea, and able to endure the harsh weather and conditions that come with the adventure. Those who are initiated into this club, are nicknamed ‘Shell-backs’ ‘Trusty Shell-backs’ ‘Honorable Shell-backs’ and ‘Sons of Neptune’. This tattoo is commonly seen somewhere on the upper arm of the sailor, but this graphic could look good just about anywhere if fit in size and proportion properly.

These among many other tattoo design and images are popular among sailors and those with a taste of adventure. No matter what design you decide on, they are all very honorable tattoos. Color is often added to all of these tattoos, but the classic black ink looks fine as well. As far as placement and sizing, your tattoo artist should be able to help you.

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