Tattoos have been used for thousands of years for body art, communication, and cultural expression. Ship tattoos, in particular, have been popular for centuries and continue to be one of the most sought-after designs in tattoo parlors worldwide.

The history of ship tattoos dates back to the early days of sailing when sailors would get tattoos as a way to mark their travels and experiences on the sea. These tattoos were often simple designs, such as a small ship or an anchor, and were considered a rite of passage for those who worked on ships.

By today’s standards, a ship means different things for different people, representing a journey through life’s ups and downs, a way to honor one’s troubled past or new beginnings, or simply as a symbol of freedom and adventure. For some, the ship represents the foundational purpose of their lives or their course in life, and for others, it’s a way to pay homage to the sailors and pirates of old who lived and died at sea.


The sailing ship, in particular, is one of the most popular designs for sailors’ tattoos, with its majestic masts and billowing sails capturing the imagination of young people and old alike. The first handcrafted sailboat ever created is often used as a tattoo design, representing the amazing feat of human ingenuity and creativity.

For sailors, the ship tattoo holds deep significance, often signifying a long journey across open waters, facing the challenges of the sea, and coming out victorious on the other side. It’s a way for sailors to pay tribute to the crew they’ve sailed with, the seas they’ve crossed, and the land they’ve discovered.

Next chapter, let’s explore the different meanings and symbolisms behind ship tattoos, and how they continue to inspire people around the world to embark on their own voyages of self-discovery and adventure.

General Meanings and Symbolisms of Ship Tattoos

Ship tattoos come in a variety of designs and styles, each holding its own unique meaning and symbolism. From traditional sailing ships to pirate ships and navy vessels, these tattoos are a way to represent a journey through life, a troubled past, or new beginnings.

A Voyage Through Life

One of the most common meanings of ship tattoos is the symbolism of a journey through life. Just like a ship sailing through the open sea, our lives are full of twists and turns, rough waters, and smooth sailing. The ship tattoo is a reminder that we are all on a journey, and we must navigate through life’s challenges with courage and determination.

A Troubled Past Overcome

For some, ship tattoos represent a troubled past that they have overcome. The ship symbolizes the struggles they have faced, the storms they have weathered, and the challenges they have overcome. It’s a way to honor the past and remember how far they’ve come.

A New Beginning

Another popular symbolism behind ship tattoos is the idea of a new beginning good luck. The ship represents a new journey, a fresh start, and a way to chart a new course in life. It symbolizes hope, renewal, and a reminder to always look ahead toward new horizons.

Other Symbols & Meanings

The nautical star is often incorporated into ship tattoos, symbolizing guidance and direction. The nautical star was traditionally used by sailors as a way to navigate the open sea, and it continues to hold deep significance for those who are embarking on a new journey in life.

Noah’s ark is also a popular ship tattoo design, representing the story of a great flood and the journey to a new land. It’s a symbol of survival, protection, and the promise of new beginnings.

Grace Hopper was a pioneering computer scientist and naval officer who was instrumental in the development of computer programming languages. Ship tattoos can be used to honor her legacy


In addition to the various meanings and symbolism behind ship tattoos, the style and placement of the tattoo can also add to its significance. For example, a ship tattoo placed on the chest can represent the heart and the foundational purpose of one’s life, while a ship tattoo on the bow of the ship can symbolize the direction in which one is heading.

Next, let’s explore some of the most famous ship tattoo designs and ideas, from traditional sailing ships to custom tattoo designs featuring unique elements like sea wrecks and compasses.

Ship Tattoo Ideas & Designs

Realistic Portrait of a Sailing Ship

A realistic portrait of a sailing ship captures the essence of a seafaring vessel in intricate detail.

This type of tattoo is typically done in black and gray ink to create a lifelike image of the ship, with attention paid to its various features like the sails, rigging, and hull.

A realistic portrait of a sailing ship tattoo can be a standalone piece or incorporated into a larger nautical-themed design.

This tattoo design is a great choice for those who appreciate the timeless beauty of traditional seafaring imagery and want to show their love of the sea through body art.

Nautical-themed sleeve tattoo

A nautical-themed sleeve tattoo is a design that incorporates various elements of traditional seafaring imagery into a larger, cohesive piece that covers the arm from shoulder to wrist.

This type of tattoo can include a wide variety of designs, such as ships, anchors, compasses, waves, mermaids, and sea creatures.

The overall design will often feature a central image, such as a ship, surrounded by smaller designs and patterns that complement and enhance the overall theme.

The versatility of this type of tattoo allows for endless customization and personalization, making it a unique and meaningful piece of body art.

Pirate Ship Tattoo

A pirate ship tattoo is a design that captures the essence of a ship used by pirates during the golden age of piracy.

These ships were known for their speed and maneuverability, and they were often equipped with cannons and other weapons for use in attacks on other vessels.

A pirate ship tattoo will typically feature a black flag with a skull and crossbones, symbolizing the ruthless and lawless nature of the pirates who sailed on board.

The ship itself may be depicted in full sail, with intricate details like the rigging and cannons incorporated into the ship designs.

Watercolor-style Tattoo

A watercolor-style ship tattoo is a design that captures the essence of a ship using a unique and vibrant approach to color.

This type of tattoo typically features a framed picture of a ship in full sail, with a focus on creating a fluid and organic look that mimics the movement of watercolor paint on paper.

The use of bright, bold colors and a lack of harsh outlines give the tattoo a soft and dreamy quality that is both eye-catching and beautiful.

Shipwreck Tattoo

A shipwreck tattoo is a design that captures the image of a ship that has been destroyed or lost at sea.

This type of tattoo may feature a ship that has run aground on rocks, been battered by storms, or sunk to the ocean floor.

The shipwreck may be depicted in full detail, with intricate designs that capture the chaos and destruction of the event, or it may be simplified to create a more stylized and abstract look.

A shipwreck tattoo is a popular choice for those who want a tattoo that symbolizes resilience and survival in the face of adversity.

Ship Inside a Bottle Tattoo Design

A ship inside a bottle is a unique and intricate work of art that can have different meanings depending on the person who gets the tattoo.

Generally, a ship inside a bottle tattoo can represent a love for the sea, adventure, and exploration.

It can also symbolize patience, skill, and attention to detail, as creating a ship inside a bottle requires a great deal of all three.

Anchor and Ship Tattoo

An anchor and ship tattoo is a design that combines two iconic nautical elements to create a cohesive and visually striking image.

The anchor is a symbol of stability and strength, while the ship represents adventure and freedom on the open sea.

Together, these elements create a powerful image that celebrates the seafaring life and all that it represents.

Ship's Wheel Tattoo

A ship’s wheel tattoo is a design that captures the iconic image of the wheel used to steer a ship.

A ship’s wheel tattoo will typically feature the wheel in full detail, with intricate designs etched into the wood and metal spokes.

The tattoo may also include other nautical elements, such as waves, compasses, or anchors, to enhance the overall theme.  

It is also a great choice for those who want a tattoo that symbolizes strength, guidance, and control, as the ship’s wheel is an instrument of power that is essential for navigating open waters.

Minimalist Viking Longship Tattoo

A minimalist Viking longship tattoo is a design that emphasizes simplicity and clean lines to create an image of this iconic seafaring vessel.

The Viking longship was a type of ship used by the Vikings for exploration, trade, and warfare, and it is known for its sleek design and speed.

A minimalist Viking longship tattoo will typically use simple, clean lines to capture the essence of the ship’s design, without excessive detail or shading.

The focus is on creating a bold and striking image that is easy to recognize and has a timeless quality.

Traditional-style clipper ship tattoo

A traditional-style clipper ship tattoo is a design that draws inspiration from classic American traditional tattoo art.

This type of tattoo features bold outlines and vibrant colors, with a focus on creating a bold and eye-catching design that captures the essence of a clipper ship.

A clipper ship is a type of sailing vessel that was designed for speed and efficiency, often used for carrying goods and passengers across long distances.

There are a limitless number of ship tattoo designs out there, other than the ones above. If you have a particular tattoo idea in mind, or if you want something more personal, you can ask for a custom design when you walk into any tattoo parlor.

Let’s see what you can expect from custom design.

Custom Tattoo Design

Custom tattoo designs are an essential aspect of getting a ship tattoo as it allows you to create a design that is unique to you. A custom design means that the tattoo artist will work with you to incorporate your personal preferences and style into the ship tattoo.

Custom ship tattoos can incorporate personal elements into the design, such as favorite colors, significant dates or locations, or personal quotes or symbols. This makes the tattoo more meaningful and significant to the wearer.

Overall, custom tattoo design allows for more creativity and personalization in the ship tattoo design, making it a great option for those who want a truly unique and personal tattoo.


In conclusion, a ship tattoo can be a powerful and meaningful way to express yourself and showcase your individuality. Whether you choose a traditional sailor ship or a modern cruise liner design, a ship tattoo can represent your sense of adventure, freedom, and strength. So, take your time to explore different designs and meanings, and find the perfect ship tattoo that speaks to you.

Ship Tattoos FAQs

Ship tattoos can have a variety of meanings, depending on the individual and the design. Generally, they represent adventure, exploration, freedom, and the seafaring life. Ships are often associated with strength, resilience, and the ability to navigate challenging waters.

Some popular ship tattoo designs include realistic portraits of sailing ships, traditional-style clipper ships, nautical-themed sleeve tattoos, minimalist Viking longship tattoos, pirate ship tattoos, watercolor-style ship tattoos, and ship’s wheel tattoos.

The placement of a ship tattoo can vary depending on the design and individual preference. Some common placements include the arm, chest, back, and thigh. Smaller designs can also be placed on the wrist, ankle, or behind the ear.

The cost of a ship tattoo can vary depending on the size, complexity, and location of the design. Prices can range from 100 to 3,500 Euros.

After getting a ship tattoo, it is important to follow the aftercare instructions provided by the tattoo artist. This may include keeping the area clean and dry, avoiding excessive sunlight or soaking, and applying ointment or lotion as directed.

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