Why is it Bad Luck for Sailors to Whistle on a Ship? - The Superstitious Reasons

Why is it Bad Luck for Sailors to Whistle on a Ship? – The Superstitious Reasons

bad luck for sailors

An enduring maritime superstition advises that whistling on board a ship invites bad luck. This seeming innocuous act is frowned upon by sailors across the world. Where does this strange taboo come from and what superstitious beliefs underpin it?

Mimicking Wind

According to traditional nautical folklore, whistling can ‘whistle up’ winds and storms. The sounds made while whistling were thought to mimic the noise of rising winds. This was deemed risky, as sudden storms could damage sailing ships relying solely on the winds for propulsion before modern engines.

Whistling unnecessarily was thought to offend the Sea God or even summon his destructive storms. Sailors preferred to not take chances with supernatural forces that could generate ocean gales.

Distracting Siren’s Call

Whistling can resemble the mythical siren’s song luring sailors to wreck ships on treacherous rocks. The legends around sirens bewitching crews with melodic songs or whistles likely strengthened taboos against whistling itself. It could distract the crew at inopportune moments and bring misfortune.

Even cheerful whistling was suspected of masking the deceptive siren’s call. Simply banning whistling ensured sailors’ attention stayed firmly on duties rather than be mesmerized by reverie.

Summoning Death

Whistling has long been associated with calling the spirits of the dead in mythology around the world. The high-pitched sounds were thought to act like an invitation to otherworldly realms, including those below the sea.

So whistling on ships supposedly risked summoning ghosts, sea spirits or even personified Death. Again, sailors preferred not to take chances with the unknown threats whistling might call forth from the depths.

Undermining Authority

On ships that strictly adhered to hierarchies and orders, casual acts like whistling were seen as undermining discipline and the commanding officers’ authority. The lighthearted sounds contradicted martial rigor on naval vessels and merchant ships alike.

Watch: How did Early Sailors Navigate the Oceans?

Rowdy whistling could also spur insubordination or cheer defiance among fatigued crews on long voyages. First mates suppressed it to maintain authority and order.

Cover for Conspiracy

Whistling between sailors working in distant parts of large ships could enable secret communication or plotting against superiors. The coded tones may convey messages undecipherable to officers.

So crews often faced blanket curbs on whistling in case it masked conspiratorial coordination against those in power. Unfettered whistling was deemed a precursor to mutiny.

Imperiling Women

Some maritime folk myths specifically warned of whistling imperiling any female presence on ships, like passengers or captain’s wives. It was thought their high-pitched tones could offend or summon feminine spirits from the sea that jealously threaten women aboard.

For this reason, crews refrained from whistling near captains’ cabins or women’s quarters below deck, apart from the general ban during working hours.

In essence, whistling’s discordance with duties, its resonance with mythic dangers, and power to undermine hierarchies spawned the superstitious prohibitions against it on board ships across maritime cultures worldwide. The taboo persists today more from tradition than from belief in its misfortunate effects.

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