Sea is one of the most dangerous and unstable environments for men, and a good metaphor of life. It is not surprising then that sailors were among the first to be tattooed, to ward off fate and express their experiences. Most of the nautical tattoos were originally talismans for good luck. Nautical tattoos were first old-school, but now they have been reinvented by many artists, in many styles.
An anchor is a symbol of safety and stability. It was inked by those who have successfully crossed the Atlantic. If it is teamed with a banner, the name or words on it would give the reason to stay grounded (a family member, lover or philosophy).
A rope tattoo on the wrist was indicative of a deckhand.
Nautical star tattoo is a representative of the North Star which is used for navigation on water. It is meant to guide you back to safety.
A fully rigged ship is supposed to denote that the sailor has sailed around Cape Horn.
Crossed anchors tattoo. When done between the index finger and thumb is supposed to denote a Boatswain mate. On the left hand it meant a sailor who sailed all oceans and on the right hand it indicated a sailor who had been on the Seven seas.
Pin-ups are of course iconic sailor tattoos. With sailor hats or clothes, they symbolize the girl waiting at home. As mermaids, they mean the dangerous beauty of sea (and life).
Rooster and pig tattoo is supposed to denote the surviving of a sailor from a shipwreck.
A swallow tattoo (migratory birds who can always find the way home). Sailors like the symbolism of being always being able to make it to the shore and thereby to home and back to the company of the loved ones. On the other hand, swallows are known to carry the souls of dead people off to heaven.
A dragon tattoo – was used to denote that the sailor had been to China or had served in a China station.
A golden dragon denoted the crossing of the International date line.