Why Are Bananas Believed To Bring Bad Luck on Boats?

Why Are Bananas Believed To Bring Bad Luck on Boats?

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Key takeaways

  •  Bananas are, by superstition, believed to bring bad luck on boats, affecting weather, mechanics, and catch.
  •  Theories include floating bananas near wrecks and ethylene gas from ripening fruits that cause spoilage.
  •  Despite superstitions, bananas offer nutritional benefits for sailors needing quick energy.

If you’re headed out to go fishing in a boat and planning to bring some bananas on board, you might want to think twice. Bananas bringing bad luck on boats is one of the most enduring fishing and boating superstitions. 

Today, many boating charters continue to ban not only bananas, but also anything even remotely related to the tropical fruit. We’re talking banana muffins, banana bread, and banana chips. Even products with “banana” in the name brand, like Banana Republic shirts, or Banana Boat sunscreen are frowned upon. But what’s the deal? Why are bananas believed to cause bad luck on boats?

There are several theories, and as superstitions often go, none of them are truly definitive.

 

Unlucky Incidents Attributed to Bananas

But first, which unlucky incidents on board boats are attributed to bananas?

Boating mishaps believed to be caused by bananas include: 

  • bad weather
  • mechanical troubles
  • crew members falling ill
  • the boat sinking
  • zero catch

 

Theories Behind the Banana Superstition

Floating bananas discovered near sunken boats

During what was known as the Age of Sail (around the mid-16th to mid-19th century), ships began to dominate the waters for trade or warfare. Sometimes, these ships ran into mishaps like fires, storms, or mechanical failure. When these ships were discovered on sandbars, coastlines, or islands, bananas were often found floating around the wreckage. A possible explanation is that unlike other cargo that the boat may have been carrying, bananas float. This made it appear that it was the bananas that caused the accident.

 

Ripening bananas release ethene/ethylene gas

When ripening, bananas release a gas called ethene or ethylene in larger quantities than from other produce. The gas triggers the ripening of other rations on board, making them rot and spoil much faster than if bananas were not present. And it would certainly mean bad luck for the crew if all their food spoiled earlier than expected.

Aside from this, the gas is also known to cause drowsiness, dizziness, and unconsciousness in moderate concentrations, and headaches and muscular weakness in even higher doses.

Ethene or ethylene also is also highly flammable, so it’s not hard to imagine how ripening bananas can contribute to fires on boats.

 

Banana spiders and other critters

Bananas brought onboard may sometimes harbor stowaway spiders. Species that are commonly found on bananas range from the mildly venomous Hawaiian garden banana spider, whose bites can cause redness and a bit of swelling, to the notorious Brazilian wandering spider or armed spider, whose venom can cause serious injury or even death.

 
Rodrigo Tetsuo ArgentonCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

 

We probably don’t need to explain why having lethal spiders among bunches of bananas might make sailors think the fruit equals bad luck.

 

Aside from spiders, animals like snakes and rats that like to stow away on the bananas can later infest the other parts of boats.

 

Other Simple Explanations

Some explanations are simpler, such as fishermen may slip on banana peels, or feel sick after eating too much of the fruit, leading to less-than-stellar fishing.

 

What Do Boaters Do When They Find Out a Banana Has Been Brought Onboard?

If a banana has been brought onboard, sailors typically have a bunch of solutions to ward off the bad luck.

According to this source, a guy who wore a Banana Republic shirt had the logo on his shirt slashed by another member of the boating charter. Another common workaround is to fling the banana (or banana-related item) overboard before the trip ends. Some suggest eating the fruit quickly before you reach port.

A quick side note: None of our fishing shirts feature bananas, so you can definitely wear them on your fishing trips without fear of getting your shirt slashed!

 

The Positive Side of Bananas: A Source of Quick Energy on Boats

Often celebrated as nature's power bar, bananas come with a robust nutritional profile that makes them an attractive, on-the-go snack for anyone needing a quick energy boost. This aspect of bananas has historically made them a common feature on many seafaring vessels, and here's why.

Bananas are a rich source of essential nutrients including potassium, vitamins - specifically vitamin C and B6, and simple carbohydrates in the form of easily digestible sugars. Potassium plays a key role in maintaining proper heart and muscle function, which is crucial for sailors who often engage in strenuous physical activity. Vitamins B6 and C are vital for overall health, supporting a variety of body functions such as immune response, brain health, and the synthesis of certain neurotransmitters.

The simple carbohydrates, namely glucose, fructose, and sucrose, are the body's preferred source of energy. These sugars are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, providing a quick burst of energy that can be very useful during the demanding tasks of sailing or fishing.

When we talk about the practicality of bananas as a food source at sea, their affordability and portability factor in significantly. Being relatively cheap to grow and buy in bulk, bananas were a cost-effective nutritional solution for long voyages. They come in their own nature-designed, biodegradable packaging, making them easy to store and transport, and minimizing waste on board.

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Furthermore, the relative durability of bananas, as compared to other fruits, makes them a favorable option for sea voyages where food supplies need to last and withstand not always gentle handling. Bananas can be eaten at various stages of ripeness, providing flexible consumption options, from green bananas being cooked as part of a meal, to the fully ripened ones being eaten raw for a quick energy boost.

So, in a historical context, it's easy to understand why bananas became a prevalent food source on boats. The combination of their robust nutrition, energy-providing capability, and practicality for maritime transport contributed significantly to their popularity among sailors and fishermen. This perspective challenges the superstition and encourages us to see bananas as a beneficial boat companion rather than a bearer of bad luck.

 

Better safe than sorry

Just as the origins of the banana belief have not been established for certain, so have these solutions not been proven or guaranteed to work. Today, many anglers and boaters prefer to err on the side of caution, banning bananas on board as much as possible. It’s a small price to pay, they say, for the best chances of smooth sailing and fine day of fishing.

    Stay up to date with the latest fishing techniques, news, and insider tips by visiting the Baitium blog.

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