Cool Nautical Traditions We’ve Forgotten About

Nautical traditions were once a huge part of a sailor’s everyday life. Today, these traditions have been nearly wiped out, some due to the natural passage of time, others after being banned by well-meaning but ill-informed figures in authority. Luckily, there are a couple of modern sailors who have made it their duty to keep the past customs alive. And this article is all about the coolest nautical traditions that are now a thing of the past.

1. Cats Once Held Places of Honor Aboard Ships of All Nations

Most people are quick to announce how much they dislike cats, but in the olden days, especially on ships, cats were held in high regard both for companionship and as anti-rodent patrols. Some were so famous that they were even celebrated after death, such as Oskar or “Unsinkable Sam,” who was honored with a pastel portrait in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. We all know that cats have nine lives and Oscar is no different; he survived numerous sinking ships that would have otherwise cost a human their lives. Cats on ships are no more due to health restrictions.

2. Sailors Once Slept in Hammocks, and If They Died at Sea Were Buried in Them

Hammocks were originally developed by natives of the Caribbean before adopted by Spanish and Portuguese mariners and later the British. They proved to be quite useful to sailors. When not in use, hammocks were easily stored away which meant more space for ship work. Soldiers who died at sea were also buried along with their hammock sewn onto their body. The practice of sleeping in hammocks pretty much died out during the 1950s when sailors went back to sleeping in berths.

3. Receiving One’s Alcohol Ration Was Once the High Point of a Sailor’s Day

Today, drinking on the job is often looked down on—this goes for both workers both on land and on sea. However, back in the old days, it was far from unusual for sailors from nations of the Christian world to receive a ration of alcohol by noon whether in the form of wine, liquor or beer. English speaking nations preferred rum with lemon or lime, while the French and Spanish sought out wine or brandy. Today, French sailors are still allowed to have a glass of wine while aboard their Navy ships while US soldiers are allowed to engage in the custom when visiting.

4. Sailors Were Not Supposed to Whistle a Happy Tune While Aboard

Sailors often held many superstitions while out in the ocean, lest they anger the gods and bring upon their wrath. One such fear included whistling a happy tune while onboard; this was said to anger the gods who would increase the winds, or even take them away entirely. Though under more rational, down-to-earth- circumstances, whistling was simply less than welcomed by crabby and overworked sailors who weren’t exactly welcoming of their shipmates’ attempt at lightening up the mood.

5. Predicting the Weather and Decorating Oneself with Tattoos 

Before we were able to track the weather using satellites, sailors relied on sunrises and sunsets in order to determine the upcoming forecast. A morning sky in shades of red spelled trouble in the form of an impending storm, while a brilliant red sunset was an indication of fair weather for the following 24 hours. Another long-forgotten tradition was tattooing oneself—this practice was so popular during the early 1900s that over 90% of American sailors bore tattoos.

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