You can’t discover new oceans if you don’t have the courage to lose sight of the coast.” (André Gide)

Do they still exist? I haven’t seen them in a long time. From time to time, maybe. Less and less. On old men who roaming the streets on bail, almost unnoticed. When are they different? After the smoking ban, in 2010, dissolved the last quaintly rustic bars in Bavaria? And from which the long-established inhabitants immediately fled with them?

In these bars I had seen them a few times. Back then. We are talking about sailor tattoos, the anchors onthe skin, the turtles and the ships, all from the time when we were still dreaming of mermaids. And of course pirate flags and skulls. Are there no more men with gunshot wounds in the Glockenbach district? Very rare. And women with tooth gap and Pippi longstocking socks. Barely visable! With them– did the Sailor tattoos also go?

Back then, in the days of outsiders and Margaret Thatcher, a tattoo with sea breeze was still something. The anchor. For example.

The anchor stands for hold, reliability and stability. The revolution had its values firmly under control. Does it have anything to do with our loose time that the anchor has served as a tattoo. Do you no longerwant to commit to being a Facebooker and net broker, always on the lookout without obligation? If you’re looking rigidly, you can never find anything. Not even mermaids. You have to set off a bit aimless, for the adventure. And always have the anchor with you. On your skin. Then you might be able find something.

Or the mermaids who sang so seductively of love. So seductive that men wore it as a tattoo (never to forget it again). Romantic! Are there still romantic men? Real men?

The high seas are wild. Always. The accessories may have changed. May have become more foreign, less distinct. (Parallel to this stands the pure typography, the tattooed sentence; which unfortunately, when taken out of context, often remains flat and cryptic) What a pity. The language of the high seas was clearer here. The girls knew they had a sailor in front of them. Who could tell about his experiences with wild individuals from the wild island worlds. Who have left their safe havens, experienced adventures and survived. Just to come back and enjoy life again in all its facets, with a woman at his side.

“No wind is favorable to those who do not know where they want to sail.” (Michel de Montaigne, 1533-1592)

The early seafarers, the sailors of the oceans, brought tattoos to the European world. The locals of Tahiti showed them how to tattoo something of importance onto the skin. At the end of the 18th century, Captain James Cook’s sailors knew only too well what they wanted to say on their skin. About longing for home, their fears, their conquests, of strange new worlds, the desire for adventure and life. Of the high seas and the feeling when a safe haven could be seen in the distance. In which you came back with all your experiences. No arbitrary tattoos.

That’s why the time for sailor tattoos is not over yet. You just have to rediscover them.


First of all, there is the full, magnificent sailing ship. As a complete tattoo. Its carrier has already circumnavigated Cape Horn in South American. At home on the high seas. Transferred, the motif “ship” means that the tattooed sailor takes responsibility for his travels. He can support the family with his travels. A ship stands for a robust approach to life. Someone who takes life into his own hands. #shiplife #wearefamily

“We can’t determine the wind, but we can set the sails.” (The Vikings)

“You only know how happy you were on land when the ship sinks.” (Seneca, c. 4 BC – 65 AD.)

Then there is also the anchor. Its carrier has already crossed the Pacific. As already described above, it stands for the fact that his wearer has found a foothold in life. They are grounded. Nothing can easily knock him down. He hates Opportunism. He is loyal to his comrades, but also to his sweetheart. The anchor symbolizes love and fidelity in a relationship. Anchor with this tattoo means going through thick and thin with your partner. Forever – therefore think carefully before getting this tattoo. #anchorhere #loyality

“One anchor is good, two are better.” (Michael Gorbachev)

The Nautical star: The North Star is the symbol for the safe way home. The wearer of this tattoo finds his way through all dangers. The nautical star brings luck. Superstitious sailors had the star tattooed on their hand to keep their luck in front of them. To take their fate into their own hands.

The Sea Turtle: For the Maoris, the ocean stands for the place where the deceased go after death. In Polynesian art and culture, it is the turtle that walks in both worlds: in real life on land, in metaphysical life in water. The turtle as a tattoo motif stands for the awareness that behind all the appearance lies a deeper being.

The Compass: The compass shows you the way out of every uncertainty and storm. You can rely on him in any situation in your life. It has a spiritual dimension, because the compass has a power greater than yourself – it always lets the pointer point in one direction. Pop star Björk has an old Icelandic compass tattooed on his upper arm. The symbol Vegvisir is a compass and protective sign, which was previously painted with blood on the forehead. Thus, the wearer can never get lost.

Pig and rooster on the top of the foot: At first glance a strange tattoo motif for sailors. Because a rooster would immediately perish on the high seas (chickens can not swim), and even a pig is difficult to imagine as a marine animal. Both motifs are still suitable for a sailor tattoo, because they are supposed to save the wearer from drowning. In the ships, both species were transported in wooden cages; if the ship went down, the cages remained floating above the water – in contrast to the drowning sailors. The rooster and the pig symbolize the hope that in the event of an accident, not immediately to perish, but that a glimmer of hope for salvation remains.


The sailors in the 18th century reported young women who were sunbathing irresistibly basked the rocks. The sailors, who were isolated on the high seas, were immediately seduced; so strong that they often did not realize that there were only manatees. No matter. The longing for femininity was great on a ship in the Pacific. With a mermaid as a tattoo, they always had female accompaniment on board.

For us “modern” sailors, mermaids are a top motif: it is pure women’s power. On the one hand, a mermaid can seduce, be erotic and on the other hand, she does not give the sails out of her hand. She determines the course and decides on the fate of the distressed sailor. #course

Text: Julian Bachmann