Skip to main content.

Superstitious Sailors

By wpdev October 30, 2012
Angler Fish Jack-O-Lantern

It’s Halloween and superstitions abound!  Watch out for black cats crossing your path and be sure to light a jack-o-lantern outside your door to keep evil spirits away.

Whether you believe in superstitions or not, they often become part of cultural traditions or sayings so it’s interesting to learn a little more about them.

If there’s one group of people who have some interesting superstitions, it’s sailors!  Some of the old superstitions are still familiar, but some of them are pretty odd.  Here are a few things to consider before your next sail.  Enjoy – and Happy Halloween from your friends at Sail Caribbean teen summer camps!

Sailors’/Pirates’ Superstitions:

It’s bad luck to:

  • cut your hair or nails at sea – the cuttings were considered offerings to the Roman Goddess, Prosperine, which made Neptune jealous.
  • whistle while on board a boat – whistling will cause a storm (hence the phrase, “whistling up a storm”)
  • catch a left boot (in a net or on a hook) and bring it on board (a right boot is good luck!).  Scottish sailors who had the misfortune of reeling in a left boot would immediately spit on it before cutting their line or net, never allowing it to touch the deck of the boat.
  • to say the word “pig” (according to sailors in the West Indies) because the pig is the animal associated with the Great Earth Goddess who controls the winds.  Saying “pig” would bring on a storm.
  • have or mention “rabbits” or “salmon” on a boat – a superstitious sailor would not sail on a day that a rabbit or salmon was spoken of or found on his vessel.
  • change the name of a boat – if you must, you should: write the old name on a piece of paper, fold the paper in half, place it in a small wooden or cardboard box, burn the box, and throw the ashes into the ocean at a changing tide (wow… that’s a lot of effort!)
  • carry a black bag on a boat.
  • step onto a boat with your left foot first.

It’s good luck to:

  • have a person spin around 3 times to the right and then spit if they did something to bring bad luck to the ship.
  • touch wood (originally of the hull of a ship) when “good luck” is mentioned – this is in reference to the sailor’s hope that the boat remains in ship-shape while at sea.
  • spit into the ocean before you sail.
  • tattoos and piercings are supposed to ward off evil spirits.
  • to see dolphins swimming with the ship (though some Sail Caribbean sailors believe that an odd number of dolphins seen near your boat, especially on the way to or from Anegada, is a sign of bad luck.)
  • hang horseshoes on the mast – this is thought to keep storms away.


Happy Sailing and Happy Halloween!


Information sourced from and credited to (except for the part about dolphins near Anegada).

The greatest challenge during the program was staying entertained during the quarantine period. Not being able to leave your boat and not having a phone, which was a crutch against boredom, it was difficult at first to stay entertained.