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.