Key inquiry questions
• What superstitions do sailors have?
• Is there truth to the superstitions? 

It has been said that people of the sea are among the most superstitious on earth.
The origins of many superstitions are lost in time, but some arose due to the natural tendency to look to the supernatural for causes of strange phenomena and to exaggerate mysterious occurrences. Many sailor superstitions from the eighteenth century remain to this day. 

• Don't turn anything upside down – it will capsize the ship
• Don't mention certain things or words such as 'drown'
• Don't mention the name of a ship which has been lost
• Nail a horseshoe to the mast
• Decorating with flowers adds luck
• Putting a gold coin under the mast for good luck
• Any sailor laying eyes on the Flying Dutchman will die in a shipwreck
• Never set sail on a Friday
• Swearing on board a ship scares away the fish
• Spitting is protection against bad luck. Fishermen spit upon their nets for good fishing

Weather conditions are of prime importance to sailors so proverbs and beliefs relating to forecasts emerged. Some have been proved to be based on sound meteorological principles. 

• Red sky at night, sailor's delight; red sky in the morning, sailor's warning
• Whistle to get wind (careful not to whistle up a storm)
• Clear moon, frost soon
• Mackerel sky, not 24 hours dry
• A ring around the sun or moon, means that rain will come real soon

• Naked women calm the sea – hence bare-breasted female figureheads
• Don't carry a corpse on board
• Don't carry women on board
• Wear an earring for protection from drowning and foundering and to improve your eyesight. The gold ring was also for the priest to pay for his funeral. It can also be a symbol of betrothal between the sailor and the sea, and the trophy for the sailor who managed to cross Cape Horn.
• It's bad luck to damage a figurehead

• A seagull at sea carries a sailor's soul, and the screech of the bird is the mournful cry of the dead man. Do not touch the gull to avoid injury to the deceased.
• Killing certain things, eg an albatross, brings bad luck (the Rime of the Ancient Mariner)
• A shark following a ship is an omen of death
• Ravens close to the seafront portends stormy weather
• Cries of cormorants herald a deterioration of the weather, and may also mean fishing will be poor

Mythical creatures
There is much folklore associated with the sea and sailors, much of it repeated across a range of cultures. Some 'mythical creatures' include mermaids, Triton, King Neptune, sirens, Scylla and Charybdis.

Mysterious events
Events at sea were full of superstitions and mystery such as Mary Celeste, The Flying Dutchman, The Bermuda Triangle, the Sargasso Sea, the Mahogany Ship, the schooner Patanela and Saint Elmo's fire.

How many superstitions do you recognise?
What superstitions do you think are based on fact?
How do we view superstitions today?

Further reading:

Main image: Engraving depicting Saint Brendan saying mass on the back of a whale. 1621. ANMM Collection 00019658