SWALLOW TATTOOS

In addition to indicating that a sailor had sailed 5000 miles, swallow tattoos are also associated with the idea of return. This "return" symbolism is rooted in two ideas. The first was the swallow's famous migration pattern, always returning home to San Juan Capistrano. Second, it was believed that if a sailor dies at sea, birds carry his soul home to heaven.

A Sailor Jerry swallow tattoo flash

ANCHOR TATTOOS

At sea, the anchor is the most secure object in a sailor's life, making it the perfect representation of stability. This is why you'll often see anchor tattoos emblazoned with "Mom" or the name of a sailor's sweetheart (the people who keep them grounded). Anchors have become popular within general tattoo culture over the years, but the symbolism is still the same. It's a reminder of what keeps you steady.

Sailor Jerry anchor tattoos

SHARK TATTOOS

Sailor Jerry’s attitude toward sharks embodied those of many a sailor. You want to hate ’em, but you gotta love ’em. Sometimes animal tattoos are about taking on its traits. A lion shows you’re brave. A panther shows you’re tough. But a shark’s more about what you overcome. A shark on your arm says you’re willing to stand your ground. It says you’re not about to become someone else’s seafood.

Sailor Jerry "A Sailor's Grave" shark tattoo flash

DRAGON TATTOOS

Jerry deeply admired the work of Japanese tattoo masters and was the first Westerner to enter into regular correspondence with them. Yet he was also determined to beat them at their own game. Jerry's dragon tattoos, clearly Asian in nature, embody these conflicting attitudes. They’re more like exotic ghosts than living beings — like totems of an earlier, fascinating era.

Sailor Jerry dragon tattoo flash

SKULL TATTOOS

A tattoo is one of the few indelible decisions we make in life, representing a commitment to your dying day — this is one reason skulls and death themes are big. The other is that tattoos, in the ancient world and in Jerry's day, were often the marks of warriors, mercenaries and adventurers – people whose life choices represented coming to terms with death (“Death Or Dishonour”) or perversely inoculating one's self against it (“Rats Get Fat While Brave Men Die”).

Sailor Jerry skeleton on a motorcycle and "Rats Get Fat While Brave Men Die" skull tattoos

HAWAII TATTOOS

After WWII, Jerry remained on his beloved Hawaiian Islands the rest of his life. He loved its beauty and exoticism and that it was as far away as he could get from a world he increasingly viewed as a screwed-up place, devoid of honour and conviction.  From his legendary hula girl to more scenic pieces, his Hawaii tattoos reflected his sense of the islands as a kind of paradise on earth.

Sailor Jerry "Honolulu" Hawaii tattoo flash

MILITARY TATTOOS

Being in the service isn't just a job, it's an epic chapter of life. One where buddies can save your life and one decision can determine your fate.  This intensity breeds an appetite for ink, for tattoos that commemorate a fallen comrade, that link a man to his platoon, flight crew, or ship...and that declare a particular military credo, such as the marines “Semper Fi”.

Sailor Jerry navy sailor and USMC bulldog tattoos

SNAKE TATTOOS

Snake tattoos represent potency and power. Unlike panthers, which are usually depicted in mid-action, snakes are typically shown coiled and ready to strike, representing a don't-tread-on-me sensibility, thus warding off evil, misfortune and potential brawls. Sailor Jerry's favourite snake to ink was a King Cobra.

Sailor Jerry rattle snake and cobra tattoos

PANTHER TATTOOS

Panthers are usually inked as totems of prowess and virility, sometimes also symbolising a connectedness to nature. Sailor Jerry's panther tattoos are particularly ferocious and masculine – drawn with red, often bloody claws, open jaws and occasionally in the company of a naked woman (who, for some reason, Jerry always made a redhead). 

Sailor Jerry panther tattoo flash

LUCKY 13 TATTOOS

There's a long-standing tradition in tattoo culture of celebrating that which others fear (hence the thematic prevalence of things like skulls and knives). Sailor Jerry's Lucky 13 motif is probably the most famous set of tattoo designs that flip a bad luck symbol on its head. The series showcases Jerry's iconic design sense along with his sense of humour. 

Sailor Jerry Lucky 13 and "Good Luck" horseshoe and clover tattoos

EAGLE TATTOOS

Eagles are symbols for America, representing honour, prowess and intelligence. For Sailor Jerry, as a patriot who was acutely aware of (and vocal about) the shortcomings of his country, the Eagle was a symbol of his idealised America. A country that stands with the courage of its convictions and backs down for no one. Jerry's eagle tattoos are fierce and iconic, often depicted in association with the flag.

Sailor Jerry American eagle tattoo flash

PIN-UP GIRL TATTOOS

Pin-up girls represent the ideal and extremes of femininity — from maidenly perfection to vixen-ish temptation. The woman inked on a sailor's arm would be the only feminine form he would see for months. Applying his bold, refined style to the pin-up, Sailor Jerry created what could be argued as the world's most iconic pin-up tattoos.

Sailor Jerry pin up girl tattoo flash

SHIP TATTOOS

For a sailor, ships are both practical and metaphorical. It's where you go for work – but also for meaning and adventure. Sailor Jerry loved ships and held master papers on every major type of vessel. His legendary clipper ship tattoos represent both the call to adventure and the determination to be "Homeward Bound". And they're eminently seaworthy – Jerry always inked his riggings to be nautically accurate.

Sailor Jerry clipper ship nautical tattoo flash

HEART TATTOOS

A sailor staring down a long stint at sea- including the possibility of not returning home-often wanted a heart tattoo to keep his loved ones close. Sometimes these hearts were just images. Other times, they read "Mom" or featured the name of a special girl. Hearts still remain one of the most popular tattoos for both sailors and civilians.

Sailor Jerry "Mom" heart and "Love Lost" broken heart tattoos

NAUTICAL STAR TATTOOS

Representing the North Star (historically used by sailors use for navigation) a nautical star tattoo was believed to keep a sailor on course. As such, they were also considered to help guide a sailor home.

Sailor Jerry nautical star tattoo flash

Pig and Rooster Tattoos

The superstition behind this tattoo has to do with the wooden cages where roosters and pigs were kept in on ships. When ships wrecked, the lightweight wooden frames became personal flotation devices, giving them a surprising survival rate. A sailor hoping for good luck would get a rooster tattoo on top of the right foot and a pig tattoo on top of the left.

Sailor Jerry pig and rooster tattoo flash

Shellback Turtle Tattoos

Like a ship at full mast, a shellback tattoo showed a sailor's experience at sea. Once a sailor crossed the equator, he earned the right to get a turtle inked on his body. The longer someone had spent at sea, the more tattoos they could show off.

Sailor Jerry shellback turtle nautical tattoo flash