Sailors’ Stories Go underneath the Skin

“Tattoos are only for sailors and criminals!”,

is what my mom kept telling me when I was little. I always wanted a tattoo but had little ambitions to become a criminal so this is how I became a sailor.

Sailor tattoos tell stories. They tell stories of toil and strive, accomplishments and passion. They also protect the sailor and absorb his fears. Every little detail has a meaning, some are very personal, others are universally understood and ultimately build the band of brotherhood at sea. Also a real sailor tattoo is never finished as the sailor completes more voyages and gathers accomplishments during his career.

Sailor tattoos tell stories
Sailor Tattoos Tell Stories

Now, let’s have a closer look at my back. You will see a world map with the routes I accomplished sailing. The map is nailed through the North Pole to my back with a peg driven deep into my flesh. The peg is driven in so deeply it cannot move so it provides stability and orientation. Naturally driving a peg that deep into a human body comes with a lot of pain, too. This stands for the suffering that comes with leaving behind the life on land, including friends and family.

Sailor tattoos - A Peg Nailed to the Flesh Stands for Orientation and Pain
A Peg Nailed to the Flesh Stands for Orientation and Pain

There is an anchor line tied to the peg that is thrown into a horizontal “8”, the symbol of eternity. It represents both the eternity of the oceans and the everlasting love for the sea that drives me away from home out to sea.

Rewards and Talismans

The anchor itself is awarded for the first Atlantic crossing. Only sailors who successfully have completed at least one Atlantic crossing are entitled to carry an anchor tattoo. This specific anchor, though, with a lightning striking through its shank also represents the function that I had during my time in the German navy: tactical surface operations.

Sailor tattoos - An Anchor as a Reward for the first Atlantic Crossing
An Anchor as a Reward for the first Atlantic Crossing

Moving a little further South there is a sea turtle. Sea turtle mainly inhabit tropical waters and therefor stand for the crossing of the Equator under sail. Every sailor who crossed the Equator on a ship and received Neptune’s permission to sail both hemispheres in a crossing ceremony can carry the sea turtle as reward.

Sailor tattoos - A Sea Turtle as Reward for Crossing the Equator
A Sea Turtle as Reward for Crossing the Equator

The crossed cannons on the left show that I have served in the navy. Every sailor that carries two crossed cannons on his skin either is a navy veteran or an active navy soldier.

Sailor tattoos - Crossed Cannons for Navy Service
Crossed Cannons for Navy Service

A Compass to Take me Home

The two ship silhouettes on the bottom represent the two ships on which I have sailed most of my miles: Sailing vessel (SV) Seefalke on the left and Federal German Ship (FGS) Rommel on the right. Just these two make for 40.000+ nautical miles on four continents in both hemispheres.

The bird on the top left corner is a swallow showing that I have completed 5.000 nautical miles at sea, and the second swallow on the top right means that I have completed 10.000 nautical miles or more. Swallows are migrants and often travel large ways, hence they stand for the sailor’s distance traveled at sea.

There is a compass placed in Russia that I have close ties to, that symbolizes orientation and will protect me from getting lost at sea. It points home, so wherever I am I shall never forget where home is and can navigate back home easily.

Sailor tattoos - A Compass to Point Home
A Compass to Point Home

There is still room for more accomplishments, routes and talismans to be added when the time comes.

Sailor tattoos tell stories, you want to read more sailor stories?