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Why Are Bananas on a Boat Bad Luck?

For centuries, boat captains have banned bananas from their boats out of fears of bad luck, spoiled cargo, and even death.

a person holding a banana on a boat

“No bananas on a boat” is one of many old sailor superstitions that are still used today, along with “no suitcases” and “don’t step on board with your left foot.”

Much of this folklore has roots in the 18th century. Sailors noticed that most of the shipwrecks around that time had bananas floating around them.

Parts of the superstition are based on myths, though many of the concerns over bananas on a boat are genuine. 

no bananas allowed sign

From venomous spiders to ethylene gas, bananas pose risks that any good sailor should consider before setting off. Many boats were known to go back to shore after finding a banana stowed away onboard.

Today, “Fruit of the Loom” underwear is still banned from boats, despite not having bananas on their logo, to begin with.

Why Are Bananas on a Boat Bad Luck?

Myths and omens around bananas on boats have spread by word-of-mouth for hundreds of years.

In this guide, we will look at the six biggest reasons why bananas on a boat are bad luck.

1. Slippery Peels

Cartoons and video games alike depict banana peels as hazards, most memorably derailing drivers in Mario Kart.

a slippery banana peel

Though it seems comical at first, the fear of slipping on a banana peel on a boat is entirely rational.

In the most extreme scenario, a person on the deck of a boat may step on a banana peel, slip, and fall overboard. 

Keep in mind that boats are not steady. Catching yourself from falling is much harder on a moving boat.

Going even further, the boat hitting one wave the wrong way could cause a banana peel on a table to fall and/or cause people to lose their footing. 

2. Ethylene Gas

Even in the kitchen, bananas have a notorious reputation. Bananas produce ethylene gas, which softens, ripens, and sometimes rots other fruit nearby.

bananas releasing ethylene gas in a box

Ethylene gas does this through a chemical process that breaks down the fruits’ cell walls and causes their acids to escape.

Ethylene gas was a problem for cargo vessels carrying fruit. Crates of fruits stored near (or even on the same ship as) bananas were fully ripe or rotten by the end of the trip.

Ethylene gas was also believed to cause shipwreck fires, at least in part. Rotten fruits and vegetables would sometimes create a combustible alcoholic fermentation. Fermentation starts when bacteria combines with yeast.

This process creates alcohol, which can easily be lit aflame if it comes into contact with a fire source. 

Back when electricity wasn’t used, ships would be lit by lanterns-which were usually powered by oil. Combining the oil, flame, and fermented fruit lead to disastrous consequences. 

3. No Fishing

Many sailors took advantage of their time hauling cargo to stop and fish for a few hours between ports.

Their workload allowed them to fish at the best spots that most locals wouldn’t bother sailing to.

Ethylene gas causing bananas and all the other fruits on board to spoil was not beneficial to the average sailor’s schedule.

Sailors often had to skip fishing altogether to get the bananas and other fruits delivered fresh.

If a crew hauled bananas frequently, then they would miss out on valuable fishing time. 

4. Pests

As a fruit, bananas naturally attract all sorts of critters. Spiders, small rodents, and venomous spiders are common on boats with bananas.

a spider hiding in a bunch of bananas

Spiders in particular were a problem on old shipping vessels. Bananas were essentially seen as spider bait.

Bananas produce a sweet smell that bugs and animals simply cannot get enough of. Even the cleanest cargo ship with the best security and janitorial team would still have pest problems with a crate of bananas on board.

5. Fish Repellant

The sweet ethylene gas smell of bananas isn’t just good at attracting pests, it’s also believed to scare fish away.

Fishermen were particularly wary of this bad luck myth, wanting to keep anything off their ship that would drive their next prize fish away.

6. Shipwreck Omen

Folklore about bananas being bad luck on ships dates back to the 18th century. Various sailors noticed a pattern that most of the crashed or “missing” cargo ships around that time were all carrying crates of bananas.

the remains of a shipwreck in the water

Bananas float and would often be some of the only visible wreckage of a lost cargo ship. Bananas being the few pieces of surviving cargo led to this frightening omen.

Even if the banana omen was all smoke and mirrors, 18th-century sailors weren’t willing to take any risks.

The lack of banana shipments to non-tropical locations left various regions attempting to grow their own banana trees.

Final Thoughts

No one can tell you how to captain your boat other than you. The decision to bring bananas on board is up to you.

Regardless of what you choose, we hope you’ve found this a useful guide to bananas on a boat.

Do you believe the superstition that bringing bananas on a boat is bad luck? Are the concerns of having bananas onboard justified?

Will you bring bananas on your boat, or will you leave them ashore?

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