There was a time when the only Westerners who sported tattoos were sailors.

Tattoos in Western culture can be traced back to Captain James Cook's visit with the Maori people in the 1700s. His crew decided to get them as souvenirs, and the Western tattoo culture started from there, according to Steve Gilbert in his book Tattoo History.

Traditional sailor tattoos symbolized experiences such as travel, achievements, rank, status, significant life events, superstitions, and more. These are a few examples of the meaning behind traditional sailor tattoos:

  • Anchor: associated with the Boatswain's Mate rate or Chief rank, but also symbolizes safety and stability
  • Dragon: associated with service in Asia
  • Nautical Star: symbolizes the North star and guide for a safe return home
  • Lighthouse: symbolizes safe passage to home port
  • Old sailor or captain: symbolizes life experiences
  • Rudder: symbolizes control of a destiny

Sailor tattoos fell out of style for several decades but made a comeback thanks to pop culture. Today, sailor tattoos are more popular than ever -- and not just with sailors. Celebs, musicians, sorority girls, homemakers, techies -- everybody's getting inked.

Here are some of the coolest Navy-inspired designs recently sighted around the web:

1. Old sailor

Photo: Roman Abrego @romantattos/Instagram

2. Captain Jack Sparrow

Photo: Roman Abrego @romantattoos/instagram

3. Portrait of a sailor

Photo: küstenmädel/Pinterest

4. Ship on the horizon

Photo: Katelyn King/Pinterest

5. Golden chain captain

Photo: Eric Roest/Pinterest

6. Popeye The Sailor Man

Photo: Mary Martin/Pinterest

7. Vintage photo of Captain Elvy

Photo: William Black/Pinterest

8. Ship's wheel

Photo: Brittany Cozzens/Pinterest

9. Crown and anchor

Photo: Kaley Mckeithen

10. Dangers of the sea

Photo: Daniel Fonseca/Pinterest

11. Sailor's grave

Photo: Korenn Pendleton

12. Set sail 

Photo: Emily Hartung

13. Octopus grappling a diver helmet

Photo: Worldtattoogallery/Pinterest

14. Deep sea diver

Photo: Kyle Scarry/Pinterest

15. There's a million more miles to roam tattoo

Photo: Sma Barn/Pinterest

16. Octopus coming out of the skin

Photo: Brittnie Cudo/Pinterest

17. Set sail in traditional American style

Photo: Bryan Fahey/Pinterest

18. Sailor kissing nurse

Photo: Sean Dustman/Pinterest

19. Poseidon

Photo: Jared Scott/Pinterest

20. Sailor smoking his pipe

Photo: Pietro Sedda/Tumblr

21. Compass map

Photo: Tattoodo/instagram

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