Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

History Maritime History & Piracy

Never Say P*g

The Book of Sailors’ Superstitions

by (author) R. Bruce Macdonald

Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.
Initial publish date
May 2022
Maritime History & Piracy, History, Sailing
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    May 2022
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


The nautical reference book you never knew you needed: a compendium of all superstitions maritime and marine. Learn your A-B-Seas of sailors’ guiding magic and mythos—and why you should never stir your tea with a knife, lest you invite trouble and strife.

Ever wondered why the skipper gave you a hairy eyeball when you stepped aboard the ship with your left foot? Or why a brolly or a bumbershoot—for the newly seasoned sailor, an umbrella—will bring trouble aboard? Find out all this and more in Never Say P*g, the never-seen-before collection of maritime superstitions ranging from the East Coast to the Great Lakes of Canada, the Inuit to the First Nations Peoples of the Pacific Northwest. From A: why killing an albatross is bad luck, but seeing one is good luck—to B: why bananas are so feared that some sailors only refer to them as “that curved yellow fruit”—to C: clapping aboard a ship will bring thunder—you’ll be fluent in sailing superstitions in no time!

From sailor and author R. Bruce Macdonald—who swears he didn’t know not to stir his tea with a knife—comes an indispensable guide to the ways in which we ward off bad luck at sea and attempt to keep ourselves safe by shaping fate through signs and symbols. The original “marine insurance” for sailors, superstitions offered a semblance of control amidst a dangerous and volatile life aboard, at the mercy of the weather, the crew, the ship—even pirates. Ultimately, this encyclopedia reveals that superstitions have always been with us to comfort, to charm and to ease fears. Learn them all as you sail the high seas!

About the author

R. Bruce Macdonald is a writer, sailor and artist with a passion for Canadian history. Macdonald has logged over 100,000 nautical miles and, for many years, has lived along the BC Coast aboard North Star with his wife and daughters. He is the author of North Star of Herschel Island and Sisters of the Ice(Friesen Press, 2012).

R. Bruce Macdonald's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"A fun and informative book on a subject near and dear to sailors across the globe. Anyone who has worked on the world’s oceans will have encountered shipboard superstitions and will love this book that brings them all together."

Keith McLaren, author of <i>A Race for Real Sailors</i>

"Now here is a real nautical treasure—a salty compendium of boating superstitions, customs and expressions. And all between two covers. Bruce Macdonald has spent a lifetime on and around boats and it shows with his deft coverage of worldwide sailorizing, plus gratifying details of Canadian maritime idiosyncrasies from Queen Charlotte’s Sound to Gabarus, Nova Scotia. Put this book aboard. If it doesn’t bring you luck, at least it will be more entertaining than scratching the backstay!"

Captain Martyn Clark, former Executive Director of the S.A.L.T.S. Sail and Life Training Society, the Maritime Museum of British Columbia, and the Los Angeles Maritime Institute

"What a treasure! Bruce shares an addictive collection of superstitions carried by mariners from around the globe. I am taken by the complexity and detail involved in the creation of these long-standing beliefs. They won’t soon be forgotten the next time I step aboard a vessel (with my right foot first)."

Nicola Clur, Assistant Director of Operations, Vancouver Maritime Museum

"A well hoisted “Bravo-Zulu” to Bruce MacDonald and Never Say P*g. Sailors have always had superstitions, and this still rings true with today’s mariners who would not dare jeopardize a ship’s good luck. Be ye landsman or ancient mariner, you’ll appreciate the well-researched explanations and origins of these traditions."

Capt. Seann O’Donoughue, Master Mariner

"Bruce’s book is a thoroughly enjoyable read. As a life-time sailor myself, I had no idea I was living so close to disaster. Now I will have to get myself a coffin nail, black handled knife, wind bag, brandy, slate, dried apples, bat wings and God knows what else, just to survive at sea."

Arnt Arntzen, designer, boat builder and sailor

"This wonderfully researched compendium will give any superstitious sailor all the ammunition needed to make safe passage at sea. It provides everything necessary to avoid bad luck, attract good luck, and stave off the horrors awaiting unsuspecting sailors. Every boat should have a copy aboard."

Gordon Miller, author of <i>Voyages: To the New World and Beyond</i>

"What an age we live in! Trust in science is deeply polarized. Truth and lies have equal value, while good old superstition is replaced with advice to gargle with bleach. Established rules of morals and behavior morph into fanaticism approaching madness. Take a breath of clear ocean air and read how sailors of yore, yon and hither attempted to make sense of their perilous world, avoid calamity, and have someone to blame when bad ju ju inevitably happened. This compendium by Bruce MacDonald will guide the reader through these perilous solutions. Caution, a sense of superiority may help. It needs religious icons, gestures, a chantable phrase or two to make it in our modern world, but in simpler times, sailors made do with what they had. And so it goes."

Capt. Len Pearson

"Capt. Macdonald’s book Never Say P*g is an insightful and entertaining look at the vast history of nautical superstitions. It brought to light the origins of the many that I’ve adhered to in my 39 years of being a mariner and has added many more to my repertoire. Read it for good luck."

Capt. Michael Rodaway

Other titles by R. Bruce Macdonald