Sailors themselves barely thought of themselves as of the representatives of the tattoo culture. Tattoo has always been just the part of their existence. The depiction of anchors, chains, ships came from the everyday experience of the sailors. More complex images, such as “The tomb of the sailor”, appeared later. It is considered that nautical tattoos not only reveal the involvement in the certain profession, but also serve as protection during shipwrecks.
The most important and wide-spread nautical tattoo designs are – anchor, the cross of the anchor, military ship, rope, sailboat, “the return to the port of registration”, sea dragon, pig, rooster, sea knot, the message in the bottle, sea-star, pirate ship, sailor, the tomb of the sailor, the lights of the ship.
So, according to the tradition, the tattoo depicting the pig is applied to the left foot and the nautical tattoo design depicting rooster – to the right one. Because these animals are not exactly connected with water and can’t swim, they are considered to help the applicant to come back to shore earlier. More of that, well known for his aggressiveness, rooster, probably, symbolizes war spirit of such nautical tattoo bearer. Rooster has always been the sign of the war among Goths. In Ancient Greece it symbolized the sunrise and the cult of Apollo. Among Chinese people those, who are born in the year of the rooster, are wise and tend to be alone and often have the change of the mood. According to the Buddhist beliefs, the red comb and vivid and colorful tail feathers symbolize pride and passion. Among Japanese people rooster symbolizes the signal of the prayer drums.
The tattoo representing the quotation from the hymn “Rock of Ages” that was written in 1776, has become wide-spread and popular. In such nautical tattoo design there is constantly a woman that stood the shipwreck, who stays close to the cross, built on a small rock among the waves. This idea happened not only because of the sea, but also because of the Bible traditions. It is the typical allegory of the western world, in which the rock is the symbol of the true Christian belief.
Something similar to this nautical tattoo design is the tomb of the sailor, in which usually the anchor is depicted, that however can be substituted with the eagle with the spread wings. This anchor is usually hanging above the image of the sinking ship. Other nautical tattoo – the message in the bottle – bears the symbol of the hope for the salvation of the man, who appeared on the desert island.
To the list of the old-school nautical tattoos can be added the plot of coming home: the clipper with the corresponding inscription. In general the ship with the sails full of wind is a separate plot of the nautical tattoos, that means good sailing over the cape Horn. The sailors who passed this trial were applied other nautical tattoo designs, such as the five-end blue star to the left ear. Such star on the right ear meant five time passing around this cape. The nautical tattoo design representing two red dots on the forehead meant ten time passing of this trial.
To American sailors the eastern style dragon means that his bearer was serving in the “Chinese direction”. Here we can see ethnic motifs.
One of the most universal signs is the anchor. It bears more limited information, telling us that its bearer was sailing on the ships of Atlantic ocean. It is evident that the depiction of the ship in nautical tattoos came from the Mediterranean region, where in ancient times symbolized sea gods.
The anchor got new symbolic meaning in the era of the early Christianity and was often depicted in connection with the cross.