Getting a traditional sailor tattoo is popular among sailors and seamen who sail regularly. These tattoos have meanings and symbols which they represent.
Today, let’s talk about sailor tattoos, their history, symbols, and what they represent.

The history behind Sailor tattoos

Sailor tattoos have a very rich history that spans many centuries. As far back as the 15th century, many sailors scarred their bodies with tattoos also known as tatus. These tattoos can be traced to Pacific Islands where the ancient Polynesia people reside.

When the island was visited by the Europeans in the 17th century, they collected many souvenirs which depicted many of these tattoos and transported them to their country.

Symbols in Sailor tattoos

Many of these tattoos have symbols that include:

  • Marking a milestone for voyages

Some sailor tattoos are known as a signature for seamen trips across the ocean.

  • Patriotism insignia

It is usually used to mark patriotism to a cause, leader, or country. It can be found among navy personnel.

  • For removing bad luck

Many superstitious sailors who use these tattoos believe it could ward away bad luck in their frequent sea voyages. They believe that these tattoos will bring good luck and guarantee safety.

Sailor tattoo types and their meanings

Here are some types of sailor tattoos and what they mean:


This sailor tattoo is unique as it is a beautiful bird. A swallow tattoo means 5000 nautical miles a sailor has traveled. For regular seamen, this is about 5,750 miles (ca. 9,254 km).


Most navy men and women have an anchor inscribed after journeying successfully across the sea. All ships have anchors which signify strength, stability, and perseverance. Some sailors put MOM, DAD, or FAM across this tattoo because it reminds them of staying strong.


The dragon tattoo usually signifies people who gave served in China or worked at a Chinese seaport.

Golden dragon

Individuals who have this unique tattoo are those who have crossed the international line. Now, this line is a fictitious one that many sailors believe is below the earth’s surface.

A rigged ship

Those with these sailor tattoos are believed to have sailed across the turbulent water, Cape Corn.

Shellback tattoos

Sometimes associated with King Neptune. It signifies that a sailor has passed the equator and is now a member of the King Neptune court.

Discover our other tattoo styles guides:

Some unique sailor identification tattoos

For those who aren’t familiar with seamen and navy, here are some tattoos to identify them:


When someone has a harpoon tattoo, he is likely a part of a fishing team.


Those recruited into the navy submarine force identify themselves with this sailor tattoo.

Polar bear

It means a blue-nose sailor and seamen who have a line-crossing certificate. To get this tattoo is a rare honor given only to the strongest seamen.


This mark signifies that the person is a deckhand. Deckhands are individuals who work with hulls, decks and handle all cargo in a ship.

Crossed anchor

A tattoo of this type is webbed on the finger, it tells that the individual is a boatswain. A boatswain is anyone that supervises shipping works like decking painting, rigging, or fixing ship equipment.

Single anchor

This represents a merchant marine or seamen who ferry military cargoes.

Red devil

Seamen with this sailor tattoo are people who work in the ship’s engine room, known as the Pit.

This guide has been detailed in describing what sailor tattoos are, symbols, and the different types of sailor tattoos available.