Written and researched by Owen Burke, Brian Lam of The Scuttlefish:
Hold written on one set of knuckles and Fast written on the other was meant to give a sailor good grip in the rigging.
A Rope tattooed around the wrist meant that a seaman is a deckhand.
A tattoo of an Anchor told that a sailor had crossed the Atlantic, or was part of the Merchant Marines.
Crossed Anchors on the webbing between the thumb and index fingers marked a bos’n’s (or boatswain’s) mate.
A Nautical Star or Compass Rose was given so that a sailor could always find her way home.
A Harpoon marked a member of the fishing fleet.
A Full-Rigged Ship displayed that a sailor has been around Cape Horn.
A Dragon signified that a sailor has served in China. A Golden Dragon was given when a sailor crossed the International Date Line.
A Shellback Turtle or King Neptune was earned when a sailor made it across the Equator.
Guns or Crossed Cannons signified military naval service.
A Sparrow or a Swallow tattoo would go to a sailor for every 5,000 nautical miles they traveled–a swallow because it can always find its way home.
Royal Navy sailors during WWII who took part in Mediterranean cruises were tattooed with a Palm Tree, as were U.S. sailors who spent time in Hawaii.
A Dagger Through A Rose meant a sailor was loyal, and willing to fight anything, even something as sweet as a rose.
During WWII, a tattoo of a Pig and a Rooster was worn to prevent a sailor from drowning. When pigs and roosters were boarded on boats they were put in crates that floated and subsequently, often ended up the only survivors of wrecks. Crosses on the Soles of one’s feet warded off hungry sharks.