One swallow is earnt for every 5,000 nautical miles travelled. If you see a sailor with 4 swallows, they have theoretically circumnavigated the globe.
Perhaps the most iconic sailor tattoo, it means that a seaman has either crossed the Atlantic Ocean or has been in the Merchant Marriner carrying military supplies in civilian vessels.
Rope around the wrist.
Simply infers that the wearer is a deckhand.
Denotes that a sailor has seen military service.
A Fully-Rigged Ship
Denotes that the sailor has traversed Cape Horn, an infamously stormy passage around the tip of South America.
Signifies that the sailor has been to Hawaii.
A crossed anchor between the thumb and index finger identifies the seaman as a boatswain’s mate, someone who is charge of various aspects of the ship’s maintenance.
Displayed across the knuckles or front facing fingers, this was a dedication that the sailor would never let go of the rigging and/or line (thus was reliable and wouldn’t let the team down).
A Nautical Star
A good luck charm so that the sailor can always find their way home.
Pig and Rooster
Worn on the feet, it was supposed to prevent the sailor from drowning in case of shipwreck. The thinking being that animal cargo would often survive such disasters, as their crates would keep them buoyant long enough to be rescued.
A good luck charm that allows the sailor to find their way home.
Dagger Through a Rose
A sign of loyalty to the cause, denoting a willingness to fight even something as beautiful as a rose.
The sailor has been to China.
Indicates the sailor has been in the whaling or fishing fleet.
A Palm Tree
In the US Navy, it represents those sailors who have served in Hawaii. In the Royal Navy (of the UK), it traditionally denotes service in the Mediterranean Sea.
A Shellback Turtle
Allowed to be worn when a sailor has crossed the Equator, and thus had been inducted into King Neptune’s Court. Speaking of…
The god of the sea in Ancient Roman theology, Neptune on a sailor’s skin denotes that he is no longer a Pollywog (those who have never crossed the Equator), but now a Shellback (hence the previous tattoo of the same meaning) or a Son of Neptune.