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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 which are truly definitive.
Bananas and bad luck
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
Reasons why bananas are believed to bring bad luck on boats
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.
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.
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 shirts feature bananas, so you can definitely wear them on your fishing trips without fear of getting your shirt slashed!
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.
Don't miss our other posts on frequently asked questions on fishing, like Does Lure Color Matter? or Seasickness 101: Prevention and Cure.
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