Myth Busters: Is It Bad Luck To Whistle On A Ship?

Myth or Fact

Do you like to hum, sing, or whistle while you are doing a chore?   It seems to make a tedious job pass more quickly, doesn’t it?  Snow White first sang about it in 1937 in the animated film Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.  

“Just whistle while you work
And cheerfully together we can tidy up the place
So hum a merry tune
It won't take long when there's a song to help you set the pace.”

Well, there’s one place where it’s believed to be unlucky to whistle.  On a ship at sea!  With all of the tasks that need to be done aboard a ship, you might think that whistling would be encouraged.  Think again!

Sailors once thought that whistling would be challenging the wind.  This, they insisted, would make the wind angry and result in a harsh storm. 

Apparently no one told Walt Disney about this superstition.  In 1928, Disney released Steamboat Willie.  It was the first animated film featuring Mickey Mouse to be released with synchronized sound.

The British Royal Navy had a much more practical reason for banning whistling aboard their ships.  That’s because whistles and tones were used as a means of communication.  Sailors needed to listen carefully to hear these signals that told them where to go and what to do.  As a result, it could prove very dangerous if sailors were whistling as they worked or walked throughout the ship.  It could prove to be very dangerous if sailors mistook idle songs and tunes for official commands. 

Aboard the TS Kennedy, cadets know that the simple act of whistling will not cause a storm.  State of the art equipment on the ship’s Bridge keep Captain Campbell and his crew informed on weather conditions. 

That said, you still will not find cadets whistling excessively on the TS Kennedy?  Chapter 7 of the Sea Term Manual reminds cadets, “Foremost to mariners is the respect afforded to fellow shipmates.  This respect includes the courtesy of understanding that the ship never sleeps and to make this possible, some shipmates may be sleeping during daylight hours.  It is therefore a custom to refrain from excessive noise…”

It is out of respect, not superstition that cadets refrain from whistling aboard the TS Kennedy.