Ship's Wheel Tattoos—Designs and Meanings

Updated on February 1, 2016
thelyricwriter profile image

Richard Hale is a tattoo enthusiast who studies and researches tattoo symbolism, meanings, and history.

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Ship's wheel
Ship's wheel
Ship's wheel | Source

The wheel of a ship remains one of the most popular maritime symbols. Ship's-wheel tattoos have been popular among sailors and fishermen for many years, and are now worn by men and women in all walks of life. They can be just decorative, or symbolic and inspirational.

Because ship's wheels can be drawn large or small, they can be inked nearly anywhere on the body. However, In my opinion, large ship's-wheel tattoos look much better than small ones. Take the time to view all the different designs in this article and pick up ideas and inspiration for your tattoo.

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Wheel of ship used In Pirates of the Caribbean movies
Wheel of ship used In Pirates of the Caribbean movies
Wheel of ship used In Pirates of the Caribbean movies | Source


The ship's-wheel tattoo can be both decorative and symbolic. It can have a lot of personal meaning for the person who wears it.

On a sailing ship, the helmsman provides the direction, but not the power. Nature decides whether the wind and waves will help him on his journey. The ship's wheel can represent someone trying to find their way through the rough seas that we call "life." It reminds the wearer that we all must choose a path, right or wrong, through unseen dangers while at the mercy of mighty forces out of our control. In life, we are on a constant journey to find our way and make the most out of life's opportunities.

Thus the ship's-wheel tattoo can represent a variety of different meanings; here are some.

  • Navigation
  • Purpose
  • Direction
  • Journey
  • Life's path
  • Destiny
  • Opportunity
  • Discovery

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Wheel of a tall ship
Wheel of a tall ship
Wheel of a tall ship | Source

Design Choices

A ship's-wheel tattoo can incorporate a variety of different elements and symbols. As a maritime symbol, the wheel might be combined with an anchor, a pinup girl, sails, stars, waves, a storm, a compass rose, a lighthouse, or a mermaid. The design might incorporate animals: a shark, a stingray, a swallow or other seabird, a sea turtle, or an octopus. With so many different options, you should be able to find the right combination for your tattoo.

Before you get any tattoo, take the time to research your tattoo. Make sure that you fully understand what your tattoo represents and stands for. Don't rush to get inked! Men and women who get tattooed on impulse usually have regrets. Take your time, do your research, and make sure you are completely committed to your choice.

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Balclutha museum, San Francisco
Balclutha museum, San Francisco
Balclutha museum, San Francisco | Source

Questions & Answers


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      • thelyricwriter profile image

        Richard Ricky Hale 5 years ago from West Virginia














        My word, thank you all so much. Once again, I am far behind from everyone else:) Thank you all so much for everything! Bill and Hyp, absolutely! Never too old and it is fun to learn new things. Can't ever learn enough. Hyp, it means a lot:) Thank you so much. Well, you probably know more maritime symbols then I do. LOL Hey, nothing wrong with that!! KJ, I always love your humor. Thanks again. Rosemay, perfect meaning:) Your spot on. Rosemay, thanks for the votes! That is a reward for hard work! Toombs, same here. Checked mine and I am not following you also. Will certainly take care of that and thanks! Frank, you have been there since the beginning, I appreciate that. Glad you are able to take away something. Gypsy, thanks again dear. Max, Tom, Snowdrops, Pras, Alocsin, Ruby, thanks again for all your comments. They all give me a smile.

      • BeyondMax profile image

        BeyondMax 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

        I really like the meanings but I am not sure if I like the actual design. Still, they are very much powerful indeed.

      • Hyphenbird profile image

        Brenda Barnes 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

        I have gotten to look forward with interest for your tattoo Hubs. Your ideas and finds seem to be endless and I would never have thought of some of them. However, I did date a sailor. Just saying...........

      • alocsin profile image

        alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

        This is certainly another beautiful and detailed tattoo, though I think the wheel with "mom" and "dad" on it is a little strange. Voting this Up and Beautiful.

      • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

        Gypsy Rose Lee 5 years ago from Riga, Latvia

        Fantastic and colorful tattoos.

      • always exploring profile image

        Ruby Jean Richert 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

        I love your comment about about the wheels of life. These are beautiful!

      • Frank Atanacio profile image

        Frank Atanacio 5 years ago from Shelton

        Ive learned so much about tats through your hubs and the meanings like the anchor.. now the ship's wheel very entertaining my friend :)

      • kashmir56 profile image

        Thomas Silvia 5 years ago from Massachusetts

        Another great tattoo hub with some beautiful photos !

        Vote up and more !!!

      • TToombs08 profile image

        Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

        Lyric, I don't know how I managed to unfollow you and I'm sorry. But I'm back, like a bad rash. I love this tattoo series, I always learn something fascinating and the pictures are always beautiful. Keep up the great work!

      • prasetio30 profile image

        prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

        Beautiful and I really enjoy all the pictures above. Thanks for writing and share with us. Voted up!

      • snowdrops profile image

        snowdrops 5 years ago from The Second Star to the Right

        i mus say, that was very interesting tattoos . i love your hubs

      • Rosemay50 profile image

        Rosemary Sadler 5 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

        Oh Ricky I love that first photo. I am guessing that this is a statement that Mom and Dad have guided their son through some troubled time successfully. What a tribute to them.

        I love the symbolic meanings of the ships wheel.

        Pushing all the buttons except funney here :)

      • kj force profile image

        kjforce 5 years ago from Florida

        thelyricwriter...I " wheely " liked these...I would have to assume these would appeal to anyone living their lives on the water , boaters etc..your research and pictures are astounding....

      • Hyphenbird profile image

        Brenda Barnes 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

        These are so unique and colorful. I am with billybuc, I enjoy learning from you and trust your research. You work hard on these tattoo Hubs and it shows.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

        I am running on empty tonight my friend, but here you are so so am I!

        Love the designs and I am enjoying this education that you are giving me. I guess we are never too old to learn, eh?

        See you tomorrow; great hub!