Sailor Tattoo Meanings- The Ultimate Guide (2022)
Old school tattoos are trending again, we have noticed an increase in sales from our tattoo inspired clothing range. You’re probably staring at a collection you admire. You want to wear multiple designs on your skin, but you don't know their meaning. A tattoo in itself is art with a more profound meaning than you can see. Look at the anchor tattoo. While the anchor represents the tool that grounds a ship, it has various implications when combined with something else.
Shameless plug we also have a  STORE ON ETSY , give us a look, as all our clothing is sailor inspired and organic cotton. Also Free shipping to Uk and USA :)

Here is the thing.

While most kids in the hip neighbourhood are wearing sailor tattoos, some of them don’t know the difference between a ship and schooner. But, the original wearer of those tattoos did, a badge of honor. The life of maritime men was surrounded by unpredictable elements and they thus felt the need to mark their bodies with symbols to fend off bad luck and bring them good luck.

People also ask:
  1. What do sailor tattoos mean?
  2. What do Sailor Jerry tattoos mean?
  3. What tattoos do sailors get?
  4. Why do sailors have anchor tattoos?

With that said, let’s navigate through the meanings of sailor tattoos.

Anchor Tattoos 

An anchor is linked to stability, strength and safety. As the anchor holds down a ship, an anchor tattoo means you're grounded or stable. It also symbolises a person or home you want to get back to after a journey similar to how it's grounded once the ship is back to the shores. Another popular meaning of this symbol is a new journey that comes with excitement and opportunities. It can also mean moving on and not allowing the past to weigh you down.

Sailors get this tattoo after returning from the Atlantic Ocean.

Anchor tattoo t shirt

Popular Designs of Anchor Tattoos

A cracked anchor 

Anchor symbolises breaking free and disallowing anything to hold you down.

Matching anchor tattoo

Applies to a couple to symbolise the strength of their relationship or show they are safe in each other.

An anchor entangled with rope or chain

A rope or chain on an anchor adds a different and complex design to the tattoo. But, in the sailor’s life, it means the anchor is entangled in something beneath the water that makes it hard to pull the anchor back up.

An anchor tattoo is often combined with another symbol to clarify the meaning in context with the person wearing it. See the following:

Heart and anchor

The shape of a heart can be worked onto that of an anchor or drawn side to side. The combination is to express the strength and permanency in love. The tattoo often features the name of a loved one.

Rose and anchor

Besides looking beautiful, this tattoo symbolizes balance, wisdom, friendship, and other cultural meanings depending on the person wearing it.

The advantage of choosing anchor drawing is the ability to minimalize it to fit anywhere, including a knuckle or earlobe. The placement of the design however, depends on the size of the picture. 

Sailor Swallow Tattoo Meaning

A swallow and a sailor have one characteristic in common. They both return home regularly after a long travel. A swallow is symbolic as it’s the first thing sailors sees to tell they are close to land.                                                                     

The swallow has significant meaning in a sailor's life because it marks a sailor who has travelled 5000 miles in the sea. Travelling over the sea is a dangerous adventure, and therefore a sailor with one or two swallows was considered exceptionally experienced.

Other occasions that earned a sailor this included:

- After sailing all seven seas
- After crossing the equator
- After cruising at the bottom of Africa and South America (horns)

      The beautiful bird symbolises the idea of getting back home based on two theories. First, the migration pattern of the swallow until they return to their home- San Juan Capistrano. Secondly, it's believed that if a sailor died while at sea, the swallow carried his soul to heaven or home.

      Sailor Swallow tattoo

      Photo by @straydogstattoo

      Sailors swallow tattoo t shirt

      Turtle Shellback Tattoo Meaning

      Turtle shellback tattoo was a badge representation of sailors who crossed the equator, in honour of their experience. The symbol was commonly placed on the forearm.


      Turtle shellback

      Photo by  @spaz_ta2

      Old School Dragon Tattoo

      What comes to your mind when you hear the word dragon? Dragons are associated with China. If a sailor, therefore, travelled to China or stopped at a port in China, he earned himself a dragon tattoo badge to mark this significant milestone.

      Dragon Tattoo

      Photo by @thetrueskuggan

      Full-Rigged Ship

      Cape Horn is known as a treacherous zone. Some sailors, however, satisfied their adventurous needs by sailing through the treacherous zone and in return, earned a rigged ship tattoo covering their upper arm or lower leg.

      Full-rigged ship

      Photo by @worldwidetraditional

      Popular Designs of Ship Tattoos

      Tattoo design for the wrist 

      A ship tattoo on a wrist shows a person can withstand troublesome circumstances. The wearer of this does so to show other people that they are competent and can achieve anything in life. Also, the tattoo is a booster of confidence in its wearer.

      Ship trapped by octopus 

      The design looks like an octopus ambushes the ship. A person wearing this symbolises that they are equipped to tackle any situation. 

      Floral design 

      Another popular design is a ship with a floral pattern at the bottom of a vessel. Often alongside the tattoo is a quote or the name of someone you love.

      Shaded ship design

      If a shipwrecked or overturn while sailors were onboard leading to loss of their lives, the people left applied this tattoo in memory of them. It symbolizes souvenir.

      Minimalistic design

      Is a small drawing of a ship on the water. It is often placed slightly behind and below the ears. A quote also accompanies this design.

      Attractive portrait-like design

      It takes an experienced artist to come up with such a sophisticated design as below. It portrays the life of a marine man.

      You can supplement ship design with other marine symbols such as anchor, swallow, compass and nautical compass to come up with a customised symbol.

      Snakes Tattoos Meaning

      Snakes adapt to anything and look powerful and ready to tackle prey more significant than themselves. A tattoo of the same is often drawn on a hand or in a coiled position showing an attitude of "don't mess with me." In the life of a sailor, it symbolized the ability to ward off misfortune, evil and likely brawls.


      Snake Tattoos

      Photo by @toppertattoos

      Sailor Hold Fast Tattoos Meanings

      Hold fast is a term placed on across knuckles of a sailor. The words come from a command directing sailors on board to stop what they are doing and attend to a line of security. The terms were also installed on a lucky charm to prevent sailors from been thrown overboard in stormy weather.

      Hold fast Old School Tattoos


      Pig and Rooster Tattoos Meanings

      While the rooster was drawn on the right foot, a pig was tattoo was drawn on the left foot. During the transportation of roosters and pigs centuries ago, they were stored in old wooden cages that floated in case of shipwreck, leading to the survival of the animals and birds. The application of pig and rooster, therefore, became necessary as it symbolised good luck and endurance in the sea.

      Pig and rooster tattoos

      Photo by @timothystrange

      The Skull Sailor Tattoos Meanings 

      A skull is a popular tattoo among youth and the old too. Initially, the tattoo was popular among mercenaries, adventurers and warriors whose daily activities exposed them to death. Anyone wearing this means they’ve come to terms with their death.

      Besides the skull been the seat of brainpower, human life and spirit, sailors believed it as an inoculator of sailor's life. Well, considering the skull is the last part that decays, it's understandable why it was a symbol of luck.

      skull tattoos

      Popular Skull Designs

      Skull ship design 

      The design looks both a skull and a ship. The image expresses courage and power of the wearer. It's a symbol representing that a person is ready for anything that comes their way.


      Sailor Rock of Ages Tattoos Meanings

      Everyone has something they believe in or trust. Sailors, for example, had rooted the foundation on Christianity. The rock of ages tattoo, therefore, became popular among sailors. It consists of an angel hanging on a cross made of stone. It symbolises strength, hope and trust in God that are essential elements of survival of travelers along dangerous waves or roads.

      Rock of ages

      Photo by @t.a.k.t.o.o

      Sailor Compass Tattoos Designs Meanings 

      A compass is designed as a good luck charm. Sailors considered that having this to keep them safe while navigating a sea. The sailors also used the four-point of a compass as a representation of search for adventure in all four directions. Another symbolic meaning of a compass is loyalty to a loved one. It demonstrates that no matter what comes your way, your heart will never stray but will always find its home.

      Compass Tattoos

      Simple compass

      Is a compass with minimal details that includes two lines forming a cross. The end of the four sides may consist of an adjustment by adding the head of an arrow. On top of each arrow are initial N.S, E, and W.

      Rose compass 

      Is a popular design amongst millions of people. The compass is designed to look like a petal of a rose flower, or rose flower design is placed to look like the compass is lying on it. The design could have four to 32 points depending on the capability of the artist or your needs.

      Perfect placement of the compass tattoo is at the bicep, on the shoulder and chest. The display of the design in these areas shows the magnificence of the compass without compromising it with curves. The placement basically depends on the size of the design. If you want a small compass, you can apply it on your knuckle, behind an ear or on the wrist. If you admire a more complex design, consider having one at the back or on your chest. Girls, however, would look best around the wrist or behind the ears.


      Pin-Up Girls

      Sailors spent much time away from their wives or any female. They, therefore, felt the need to have a female drawing on their upper arm. The Pin-up girl is an image showing the extreme beauty of a woman. The symbol was common among sailors who missed a female form while away in the sea for a long time. The symbol reminded them of what was waiting for them once they get back home.

      Hula Girls Sailor Tattoos Meanings

      Hula girl tattoo is a more erotic image, and it represents sailor jerry's love for Hawaii. It showed that a sailor has been to Hawaii.

      Hula Girls Photo by @pallwall87

      Sailor Mermaids 

      Theories have it that luring sirens of mermaids enticed sailors to head towards the voice. The siren misguided the ship leading to its crush or collapse. To counter the experience, sailors applied mermaids to protect themselves from the peril in the sea, including mermaid luring siren.


      Sailor Message in a Bottle 

      A message in the bottle is a drawing of a glass bottle with a message intended for the sailor's family. Sailors believed that if they prepared a message and saved it in a glass bottle before sealing it tightly, the wind and waves will carry it to the sailor's family. 

      Message in a bottlePhoto by @outivihlman

      Sailor Dagger Designs Tattoo

      A dagger has various artistic meanings such as intimidation, overcoming obstacles, death, danger, betrayal and many more depending on the wearer of the tattoo. Sailors often preferred small dagger, but some applied a larger tattoo covering the whole leg or arm.

      Dagger through rose tattooPhoto by @tristanbradshawtattooing

      Dagger heart tattoo

      A dagger and a heart are two potent symbols. While combined, they display an incredible message or represent a symbol of betrayal, sacrifice and heartache. Artist makes this design more personal by including a white scroll across the heart and include a quote like “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

      Dagger through rose tattoo

      A rose stand for beauty, love or friendship while the dagger symbolises danger. The combination of the two symbolises that the two exist concurrently. Also, the two symbolises that a sailor is ready to fight anything, even as beautiful as a rose.

      Sailor Snake and Dagger Tattoo Meanings

      A snake wrapped around a dagger is a symbol present in the pharmaceutical industry. However, the design was also popular among seamen as its origin is roman mythology representing god of trickery, traveler (seamen) and luck. 

      Final thoughts

      The quote, "you can't carry a tattoo unless you apply it on your skin," is no longer true. Why? Today, the clothing industry has made sure that even those you fear a needle yet love ink you can also wear clothes with a symbol they admire. If you're an ink lover, you can wear an embroidered sweatshirt, sweater, hoodie, t-shirt and any other garments. Check out some of the best tattoo inspired clothes from Drystone, and you'll be amused by the choices you have.

      Shameless plug we also have a  STORE ON ETSY , give us a look, as all our clothing is sailor inspired and organic cotton. Also Free shipping to Uk and USA :)