From the Boathouse: A few superstitions on the water

November 01, 2013|By Mike Whitehead


Halloween brought out the ghosts and goblins knocking on my door for a treat. When I see the trick-or-treaters prowling the neighborhood, I like to sit back and think of all the crazy boating and fishing superstitions that sailors have believed through the ages.

Many if not most superstitions were invented and believed by sailors who were trying to explain something that occurred during their voyage, such as a weather-related incident like St. Elmo's fire. So I thought you might enjoy some sailor superstitions — and remember, no bananas aboard.


How about no whistling on board a boat, since you might whistle up a storm? I think we should whistle since we need the rain in California and the southwest. And did you know that sailors think that black sea bags are bad luck, hence the choice of white or off-white?

Another superstitution: The ship's bell will ring when the vessel crashes. This will, of course, happen if the boat crashes into something while underway, because the momentum will carry the clapper forward to strike the bell a few times. And this: You will have bad luck if you kill a seabird because seabirds carry the souls of lost or dead seamen, yet seeing a seabird is good luck.

Lastly, sailors seeing dolphins playing around the boat while underway is good luck, but a shark signifies that death is near for one of the crewmen.

If you happen to have a superstition of your own, email it to me for use in a future column.

Tip of the week is that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will stop producing nautical paper charts in April. The charts are the guides and planning tools for boaters across the nation, but times are changing and so is the delivery method of the charts to the maritime community, be it commercial or recreational.

My favorite paper charting tools are the regional chart books and waterproof charts sold by companies like Maptech. I travel long distances up and down the Pacific Coast while crossing the charting regions or zones, and I like having a binder of that area's charts.

This really helps to keep the charts in order when smashing through rough seas, and it is much easier to carry a flat binder versus lugging around rolled-up charts in a plastic tube on my voyages.

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