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Naval Superstitions

The Navy has a number of superstitions, here are just a few:

  • A naval tradition has it that the youngest member of the ship’s company on New Year’s Eve must strike the bell sixteen times, hence “ring out the old, ring in the new”
  • When a meal is completed in the Wardroom the wine decanters are placed in front of the Mess President, who removes the stoppers, placing them in front of the table. He then slides the decanter to the officer on his left, who passes it to the next man – on no account must the decanters be crossed
  • By 1680, at all launchings, it was the common European practice to toast the health of the ship and her future complement with a silver cup of wine. This would be thrown into the sea.
  • The practice of breaking a bottle of wine on the bows of a vessel being launched is to bestow good fortune on the ship and those who sail in her. Formerly it was wine poured onto the deck to appease the sea gods
  • It is unlucky to start a voyage on the first Monday in April because it is believed that this was the birthday of Cain & the day Abel was slain.
  • it is unlucky to sail on the second Monday in August as that is the supposed day that Sodom & Gomorrah were destroyed by the Lord.
  • Flowers on board are destined to be a wreath for a sailor or the ship’s company
  • If a phantom ship is sighted it will mean the ship will be wrecked
  • A very old one was that a warship must taste the blood of humans. Thus galleys were launched over the bodies of slaves. The Vikings also used prisoners for this purpose.
  • It is misfortune to loss a mop or a bucket overboard
  • It is unlucky to repair a flag on the quarterdeck
  • It is unlucky to hand a flag to a sailor between the rungs of a ladder
  • it is unlucky to wear the clothes of a sailor who has died at sea while the voyage is in progress
  • By throwing an old broom overboard in the direction desired a wind can be summoned
  • Gun salutes are always odd numbers because it is bad luck to let some know how many guns a ship carries
  • Ship’s bows had eyes painted or carved in to scare away evil spirits
  • When bodies are prepared for burial the sailor who sews up the canvas is to be paid one guinea. For example a sailor on a ship from the Grand Fleet was paid 23 guineas after Jutland. It is part of the good luck customs that surround death at sea.


More to explore.

Customs & Traditions