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
8. Ship’s wheel
11. Sailor’s grave
12. Set sail
14. Deep sea diver