The Top 10 Superstitions About Boating

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Updated 9:20 AM ET, Tue August 12, 2014
The Top 10 Superstitions About Boating
Even though we are well into the new millennium, modern boaters and sailors still hold onto superstitions that date back hundreds of years. While we'll have to take exception to the "no women on board unless their topless" rule, here are some of the most popular superstitions that you may still come across today that explain both the good and back luck that a boater may come across.

1. Do not begin a new journey on Friday. Funny enough, this superstition has no basis in fact. Untrue urban legend tells that a British Royal Navy ship called the HMS Friday, lead by Captain James Friday, took off on her maiden voyage on a Friday in the 19th century and was never seen again. But, there was never a ship by this name. Nonetheless, the fear of departing on Friday caught on. So start your weekend early at your own risk.

2. No bananas on board. Here's one that has some decent rationale behind it. In the 1700s, many of the boats that disappeared were those that were carrying bananas. The theories go: Boat captains rushing to deliver their fruit cargo before it rotted made some bad decisions; fermenting bananas let off a lethal fume; and spiders with a deadly bite that lived in the bananas made it on board. That last one might be enough to turn me off of bananas on dry land, too.

3. Watch what you say. Just like you would say "break a leg" rather than "good luck" to an actor, the same holds true for those heading out on a sea voyage. Any version of the word "drowning" is frowned upon, too. If you happen to utter "good luck," "drowning" and other discouraged words like "pig" or "goodbye," drawing blood will reverse the curse. Apparently cussing while fishing is considered bad luck, so maybe that explains your empty cooler from last weekend.

4. More fishy business. At the beginning of a trip, fishermen are not to eat until the first fish was caught. And once it is, that first fish should be spit on and thrown back into the water. Once the fish start coming in, don't count them until you're done for the day. And don't be greedy and fish every day of the week. People will think you're a jerk.

5. Stick with the name she's given. It's considered bad luck to rename a boat after it's been christened. However, if you decide to change the vessel's name, there's an elaborate ritual to follow: write the old name on a piece of paper and place it in a wooden box. Burn the box and scatter the ashes in the outgoing tide. Also, it's believed to be unwise to end a boat name with an "a" since some famous ships ending in "a" were sunk. Also, naming a boat after an engaged woman could make the boat jealous.

6. Visible dolphins: good. Visible sharks: bad. Maybe this is a no-brainer, but leaping dolphins are seen as good luck for boaters. However, a shark following a boat is regarded as a sign of impending death.

7. More signs of death. Things found at a funeral, particularly flowers, ringing bells and a clergyman, are not welcomed aboard. Birds are believed to carry the souls of dead sailors, and killing a gull or an albatross could bring bad luck. However, spotting an albatross could bring good fortune. If someone dies aboard the ship, they are to be given a burial at sea, as keeping a corpse aboard brings on more bad luck. Additionally: trimming hair, nails or beards is also bad luck, so save the manscaping for land.

8. Bring on the good luck. Once a sailor voyages around the world or across the equator, he'll likely end up with a pierced ear adorned with a gold hoop (especially if he's a pirate), since gold was believed to bring good luck and have protective powers. Tattoos are good luck, too, particularly one of a nautical star. Other omens of good luck: cats onboard and babies (particularly boys) born on the ship this (or his consummation) would likely happen on the gun deck, which is where the term "son of a gun" originated.

9. What affects the weather? Whistling may bring on winds, so be careful. Throwing a stone in the water might bring on swells and clapping can cause thunder. A well-known weather-predicting phrase is actually more science-based: "Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning. Red sky at night, sailor's delight," referring to how the color of the skies change at sunrise and sunset if it's going to be clear or not.

10. Now, about that women onboard superstition ... Perhaps it was practical to not bring the gals along when the seas were particularly rough, as they were considered distracting to the men and could potentially cause rivalries. However, if a woman was nude, it was believed she could calm the angry sea, which is why ships were often constructed with a topless maiden figurehead leading the way. Today, women obviously have dashed any negative superstitions and have found their rightful place aboard any vessel.

What other superstitions have you heard or would like explained? Leave us a comment.
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This is really cool...so many superstitions that I wasn't aware of. Great work!

Willaim O. from Arlington, VA, posted on AUG 21
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