You may want to think twice the next time you step onto your fishing boat, you may be cursing yourself with bad luck without even knowing it.
Most cultures have a rich history of tradition and superstition - boating culture is no exception. Like most superstitions the origins and rationale are debatable, but we’ve done our best at finding the most widely believed version of the stories from around the world.
1. Never Bring Bananas On A Boat
There are 2 fairly logical reasons why bananas strike fear into the hearts of sailors and fisherman. The first are the pests that banana bunches sneak onto the boat. Rats, tarantulas, and cockroaches all find bananas to be cozy homes. Any of these pests would surely wreak havoc on any boat.
The second is more ominous. Bananas ripen quickly. To get a shipment of expensive bananas back to port before they go bad, Captains would often travel much faster than what would be considered a ‘safe speed’ which sunk far too many ships. Most of the boat would sink to the sea floor leaving the bright yellow fruit as floating grave markers.
This superstition is so deep-seated that even today sailors and fishermen will go as far as not allowing any Banana Republic or Banana Boat products on their vessels….it’s just too risky.
2. Don’t Whistle On A Boat
There’s a famous Russian superstition forbidding you from whistling under a roof. Otherwise, you will “whistle your money away”.
Perhaps this is the origin of the boating superstition of “whistling up a storm” which has somehow made its way into everyday conversation. Whistling - particularly into the wind - is said to summon gusts and storms. Strictly forbidden.
3. No Gingers
Our apologies to our red-headed friends and family. This isn’t our opinion, but it is a fairly universal boating superstition. This was surely brought about when red hair was far less common, and said said that the ocean has marked them for vengeance. In some cultures, this superstition is expanded to anyone with physical irregularities and often referred to as Biblical "Jonahs", or people who bring bad luck.
4. No Girls Allowed
There’s no clear origin of this superstition, but it was commonly believed that women were very, Very bad luck aboard a ship. There probably isn’t a single reason for this belief, rather a combination of these theories;
- It made the sea jealous and brought about its wrath.
- It distracted the men from their dangerous tasks.
- Boats were deemed female and became violently jealous when other women were on board.
Interestingly, women are also fabled to be excellent navigators and have the power to embarrass the sea into being calm with their bare chests.
5. Never Change The Name Of A Boat
Many stories of tragedy resulting from changing the name of a boat travelled quickly from port to port. Aside from ‘summoning the anger of Poseidon” there’s not much clarity on the source and belief behind the bad luck, but it was - and still is today - that changing the name of a boat without a wildly convoluted ceremony would signal the end of the vessel.
6. Never Step Onto A Vessel With Your Left Foot
This one is fairly simple. The roots of the word “left” are directly translated to “sinister”. Stepping onto the boat with your sinister foot is a bad omen.
7. Don’t Depart On The Wrong Day
There are many days - like the first Monday in April or the second Monday in August - but the most universal day that would spell doom for a voyage is any Friday. It’s most widely believed that this was due to Christ being crucified on a Friday which still causes captains to avoid departing on that particular day of the week.
8. Never Kill A Seabird
Seabirds are believed to carry the souls of fallen sailors. The albatross in particular carried a lot of responsibility. Using dynamic and slope soaring, the albatross travels very fast and far without flapping its wings. Because of its supernatural command over the wind and carrying fallen sailor’s souls, the albatross was extra bad luck if killed.
Sailors are historically, and currently, amongst the most superstitious people on the planet, so these are just a few or the more popular folklore.
What about you?
Is there a popular superstition that you follow?
Does your family have its own custom?
Share your stories, and stay safe on the water!
Yours in boating,