Sailor tattoos generally represent bravery, courage under pressure, and a certain toughness of spirit. Many symbols used in sailor tattoos are also talismans for protection.
There is a surprisingly vast array of symbols used in sailor tattoos. Some of the most recognizable, of course, are nautical stars, and birds such as swallows and sparrows. The sparrow was used when a sailor traveled 5000 nautical miles, while a swallow was used as a form of protection; a symbol of the spirit being lifted above the waters should the ship sink. Like the depiction of a sparrow, many sailor tattoos featured a variety of images to signify their travels. A dragon was tattooed on a sailor if he crossed the International Date Line; an anchor for sailing in the Atlantic, or palm trees for service in the Mediterranean.
Many of these emblems can be used in more modern depictions. For instance, a compass rose may be mixed with astrological or astronomical signs. It may also be placed in the bud of a flower, or shooting off into space like an asteroid. Many sailor tattoos feature pin up girls in the form of hula dancers, geishas and even pirates. These images may also be modernized by using more recent female stars, or more provocative stances.
Some sailor tattoos bypass the more obscure symbolism and get right to the heart of sailing; the ship and all of the accoutrements that go along with it. These designs often feature a heavily detailed wooden boat, occasionally with a bare bosomed mermaid at the bow, or pirate flag waving from the mast. It is not unusual for other items to be placed along with the ship; a tight knit rope framing the portrait, or a large anchor sinking below the water are both quite common. You could also create an image featuring the inside, or upper deck of the boat. On the deck, you could use an ornate version of the wooden spoke wheel.
Although sailor tattoos were, and are still generally used by people with a career at sea, they can easily be transformed into interesting pieces for those who have an affinity for the nature, history or culture surrounding these fascinating bits of history.