Sailors have a long tradition of tattoos, spanning hundreds of years. Some of them have been around since before the US Navy ever existed, while others have popped up in more recent years. Keep reading to find the meaning behind famous Sailor tattoos.
Compass Rose/Nautical Star
These tattoos are supposed to symbolize the ability of a Sailor to always find his way back home. The nautical star’s dark stripes resemble a compass, but some Sailors choose to get a Compass Rose tattooed seperately.
Every swallow tattoo represents 5,000 nautical miles traveled. The most common placement of these are on the chest (see picture).
Check out our Military Photos Page to find more examples of Sailor tattoos!
An anchor tattoo symbolizes a Sailor’s crossing of the Atlantic.
Sailors may get a Shellback turtle once they have crossed the equator and get initiated into ‘King Neptune’s Court’. More info on Shellbacks will be available soon, so keep checking Chatter to stay up to date!
Hula Girl/Palm Tree
If a US Sailor has one or both of these tattoos, they inidicate that he has been to Hawaii.
Rope on the Wrist
A rope on the wrist means that the sailor is a deckhand.
Sailors are famously superstitious. This tattoo is full of history- it was supposed to give the Sailor good luck in not letting go no matter what when gripping the rigging. The life of a Sailor was grueling, and they were willing to try anything to get a bit of luck.
This tattoo represents a Sailor’s service in China.
This signifies that a Sailor has crossed the international date line – and therefore gained a full 24 hours.
There are hundreds of classic sailor tatoos that represent anything from places visited to special duties. Next time you see a Navy Veteran with these tattoos, you’ll know a thing or two about his service before you even speak!