Naval History

Is Friday The 13th Unlucky? Here Are The Strangest Naval Superstitions Of All Time

Over hundreds of years, numerous superstitions have started from a combination of traditions, stories and folklore.

The sea has always been a dangerous environment in which to work, especially for the military.

Over the hundreds of years of naval operations, numerous superstitions have been invented - a combination of traditions, stories and folklore which have become a deeply rooted part of seafaring life.

As it is Friday the 13th, we have taken a look at some of the most unusual.

Unlucky Days

Friday is considered to be a deeply unlucky day amongst sailors, so much so that it is taboo to set sail on a Friday for fear of this bringing bad luck upon the crew.

The reason for this is thought to be because Jesus’ crucifixion took place on a Friday.  

Similarly, it was considered unlucky to begin a voyage on the first Monday in April because it is believed that this was the birthday of Cain and the day that Abel was slain.

The second Monday in August is also an unlucky one to set sail on, as that is the supposed day that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.

Royal Navy personnel with their ship's cat 'Nibbits' at a piano
Navy personnel with their ship's cat during the First World War (Picture: Topham/PA).

Re-naming Your Vessel

Maritime superstition states that should you fail to properly rename your boat, then you are doomed to a lifetime of bad luck.

This is because, according to legend, the name of every vessel is recorded by the ‘Leger of the Deep’, a close personal friend of Neptune, God of the Sea.

To fail to notify Neptune of a change in the ship’s name will invoke his wrath, so all traces of the boat’s previous name must be removed, not just from the vessel herself, but from documents, badges and receipts.

A second ceremony must then be carried out to rechristen the ship.

Omens Of Death

Flowers on board ship were considered to be a bad omen, as they would eventually form the wreath on a sailor’s grave.

Any flowers brought onto a ship would quickly be thrown overboard for fear of “tempting fate”.

Similarly, priests were thought to be unlucky presences aboard a vessel due to their association with death and funerals.

If an empty coffin was on board a ship, then maritime superstition stated that the body of a sailor would eventually fill it.

And if ringing bells were heard at sea, these were seen to foretell the death of someone on board - this superstition haunted sailors so much that any sound similar to that of a ringing bell, such as tinkling glass, had to be quickly stopped.

Strange Customs

Various, seemingly random things were seen to bring good or bad luck aboard a ship.

For example, stepping on board left foot first, uttering the word pig, or seeing rats leaving a ship were all bad luck, while having a black cat aboard, to throw a pair of old shoes overboard, or having a child born on board were all considered lucky.