military 14 Common Navy Tattoos and What They Mean  

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Navy tattoos are a tradition that goes back to the time of Captain Cook's first voyage to Polynesia. He brought back the Polynesian word "tatau," which over time became "tattoo." Since then, navies around the world have incorporated a complex set of traditions and customs related to tattoos. Naval tattoos persist, even though some of the traditions they represent are gone.

You can learn a sailor's life experience through their tattoos. If they've crossed the Atlantic, served in combat, lost a comrade, or held a certain rank, you can tell by their ink. Sailors who don't even speak the same language can look at each other and know they're in the company of a fellow ocean traveler just by their tattoos.

Here are some of the most common sailor tattoos and what they represent.

Swallow


Swallow is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 14 Common Navy Tattoos and What They Mean
Photo:  Dejan Furlan Tattoos
A swallow tattoo represents 5,000 nautical miles sailed. It can also symbolize a sailor who intends to return home.

Anchor


Anchor is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 14 Common Navy Tattoos and What They Mean
Photo: Public Domain
An anchor can symbolize a trip crossing the Atlantic, the stability of an anchor, or achieving certain ranks.

Ship Mascots


Ship Mascots is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 14 Common Navy Tattoos and What They Mean
Photo: Jardis1543/Reddit
Sailors often get tattoos based on the name or mascot of a ship they served on. This World War II sailor has a tattoo of a hornet based on his service on the USS Hornet aircraft carrier.

'Hold Fast'


'Hold Fast' is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 14 Common Navy Tattoos and What They Mean
Photo: Public Domain
The words "hold fast" tattooed on the fingers or knuckles are a sailing tradition.