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The meaning behind Sailor tattoos | Myke Chambers Signature Series

Sailors have typically adorned lots of old school tattoos throughout history. When you think of sailors, you may associate them with having lots of traditional tattoos, like swallow, nautical stars, and anchors. Sailor Jerry's work typified this style of tattooing and it was a common thing for sailors to have tattooed on them, but what do they all mean? Sailors could be quite a superstitious bunch, and a lot of their tattoos had a symbol of luck behind them, which was needed as they’d spend their lives out at sea.

As a supplier of the Myke Chambers Signature Series from Eternal tattoo ink, we’re huge fans of traditional tattoo work and Americana styles, so today we're going to take a look at the meaning behind some common sailor tattoos... 

1. The Nautical Star
The nautical star signifies that a sailor always to be able to find his way home. The shading of the 5 pointed star was dark and light, and had similar characteristics to a compass. 

2. The Eagle
Eagle tattoos were a really patriotic symbol that represented America. It was a symbol that represented honour and courage for one's country.

3. The Swallow
Sailors earn a new swallow tattoo for every 5,000 nautical miles travelled. It also symbolises ‘return’, that sailors migrate but always return home. The first was the swallow's famous migration pattern, always returning home.  It was believed that if a sailor dies at sea, birds carry his soul home to heaven. 

4. The Anchor
A single anchor means the sailor crossed the Atlantic or has been a member of the merchant marine, a fleet of civilian ships that carries military cargo. The anchor was also a symbol of being grounded, and would often have a word depicted in scroll underneath them, such as ‘Mom’.

5. The Hula Girl
Hula girls signify the sailor has been to Hawaii on their voyage.

‘HOLD FAST' was often script that was spelled out across a sailor's knuckles or fingers. Sailors hoped it would bring them good luck whist they were gripping the rigging on board the ship. Holding fast means the sailor isn’t going to let the line go, no matter what. 

7. The Compass
The compass was another good luck charm that allows a sailor to find his way home. Very superstitious!

8. The Dagger in a Heart
This tattoo means the sailor is loyal and willing to fight for anything, they stood for or believed in. 

The great thing about Sailor tattoos is that they’re still really popular today. The old school style is one of those things that never seems to go out of fashion when it comes to tattoos, and there are plenty of amazing artists out there that depict this style so well. If you’re a traditional tattoo artist in need of some new inks then why not check out the Myke Chambers Signature Series available to buy at our online store? If you’d like to share some of the traditional tattoo work you’ve done then feel free to drop us a comment below! 

Love Toni...

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  • Antonia McLoughlin