Anchor Tattoo Meanings

Anchor Tattoo Meaning

 Anchors have possibly been one of the most widely used symbols in tattoo culture, second possibly only to the skull or the heart.  Anchors first became popular tattoos with members of the British Navy, and eventually gained widespread appeal.  

anchor tattoo meaning

old school tattoo by @stellamayvlad

Traditional anchor tattoos are typically done in the Old School style, which features bold lines and a bright (but limited) color palette.  However, anchor tattoos are often combined with other imagery to help expand their meaning.

So what do anchor tattoos stand for? There are several interpretations that are commonly adopted by people looking to get some badass traditional ink, and we’re here to explore a few of the many different meanings of the anchor tattoo.

anchor tattoo meaning

What Do Anchors Symbolize?

Anchors are heavy metal objects that are attached to boats to help them stay in place out of the water, rather than getting pulled away by the currents. This function gives them an association with grounding yourself and finding stability in life. In recent years it has become common to see anchor tattoos paired with the text “I refuse to sink,” which can be taken ironically since sinking is exactly what anchors do. However, Refuse-to-Sink tattoos more often are meant to represent that same concept of stability and being able to withstand the storms of life without losing your way.

Navy Anchor Tattoo Meanings

Anchors are often symbols of strength as well as steadiness, because of their ability to keep a ship anchored against even the most violent waves or currents. For many, an anchor also symbolizes the end of journey or a homecoming, since you would typically lower your anchor once you’ve finally reached the port. In the US Navy, anchor tattoos were often intended to represent a tour of service, and many times sailors would get that tattoo after finally making it back home. These tattoos will usually have a date attached, indicating their time of service, and the name of the ship they served on. Occasionally, Navy anchor tattoos are used by family members as a memorial for those who were lost at sea.

anchor tattoo meaning

tattoo by @carouchiarelli

Spiritual Significance of Anchors

Anchors also have a surprisingly strong background in Christian symbolism. The anchor is actually believed to have been the main symbol of the faith before the Cross was widely adopted; it was a reminder that Jesus Christ was the anchor to your faith and hope. This was effective during the time of Roman persecution, when a blatantly obvious symbol of Christ’s sacrifice (i.e. the Cross) would have gotten you killed. An anchor carried significant meaning while at the same time being a commonplace image that was unlikely to rouse suspicion.

For some people, the anchor is also a symbol of the balance between feminine and masculine energy.  Though serving in the Navy and working on a ship was largely a male occupation until recent decades, the curved shape of the bottom of the traditional anchor was taken to be feminine, while the decidedly phallic rod (the upper half) was seen as masculine. This idea may have originated from the Egyptian ankh, which is related to the anchor and is also the symbol of life in that culture. 

anchor tattoo meaning

The shape of the anchor itself has changed and developed over time to improve functionality for ships.  However, the iconic and romanticized traditional shape of the anchor is what most people still use for anchor tattoo imagery. 

Meanings of Varied Anchor Tattoos

As mentioned before, many times people will work in other elements to their anchor tattoo to give a broader or deeper meaning to their piece. Adding extra elements is a great way to personalize your anchor tattoo and make it stand out from the crowd!

Anchor and Rose Tattoo Meaning

anchor tattoo meaning

tattoo by @djwtattoos

Because anchors are frequently linked with the concept of loyalty, adding in a romantic element like a rose can be indicative of a strong, committed relationship. An anchor and rose tattoo can also represent the Ultimate Sacrifice (giving yourself for another), and in this regard has been linked to Christian imagery. Christian literature has often claimed that the reason roses bloom red is to symbolize Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross, and there is even a legend that roses bloomed immediately upon the site where he was crucified after he finally died.

Anchors combined with roses are also used as memorial tattoos, to honor the memories of those who have passed on. This is most common with honoring the memory of someone who served in the Navy, but as with any tattoo the significance of the imagery is unique to each person.

Anchor and Ship Wheel Tattoo Meaning

anchor and ship wheel tattoo meaning

tattoo by @chuckjones_tattoos

The anchor and ship wheel tattoo expands upon the idea of stability in life. You use a ship wheel to help navigate the open waters; combined with the grounding significance of an anchor, this particular tattoo can mean finding your way in life and having a set plan for your future.

Anchor and Bird Tattoo Meaning

anchor and birds tattoo meaning

tattoo by @rickybegood

Bird tattoos often mean freedom and moving on from difficult times of life (especially sparrows). Combined with an anchor, this tattoo could mean having the strength to overcome obstacles and escaping to a better situation. The anchor can also be indicative of a person who served as that stable place in your life that enabled you to escape your bonds.

Anchor with Rope Tattoo Meaning

anchor tattoo meaning

tattoo by @xiso_ink

Typically, anchors are connected to their sailing vessel by chain and line (rope).  Symbolically the rope with the anchor can mean a connection to something greater. In the old days, anchors seen with rope or chains wrapped and tangled around them were often called “fouled” anchors, which was a bad thing when you were out at sea. (This is because fouled anchors are typically unstable and insecure). However, the anchor with rope tattoo still became an extremely popular choice for sailors and naval officers in both the British and the American Navies.  Ropes and anchors both being nautical elements, they pair well visually.  This one tends to be more popular as an anchor tattoo for guys. 

Mermaid and Anchor Tattoo Meaning

mermaid anchor tattoo meaning

tattoo by @yoyoventura

Mermaids are a variation of the ever-popular pin-up style of tattoo portraiture, a theme that has been popular with sailors and laymen alike since tattooing first became popular in Western culture. The presence of a mermaid, rather than a human woman, adds to the nautical theme of the anchor tattoo.

Meaning of Matching Anchor Tattoos

matching anchor tattoo meaning

tattoo by @freaulien_tinte

Matching tattoos are often called "friendship tattoos".  People most often get matching anchor tattoos to signify a powerful relationship with the other person.  It's not uncommon to hear someone describe a close friend, family member, or lover as the “anchor” in their life; meaning they feel that this person helps to ground them and keep them focused in times of trouble as well as times of peace.  The anchor design is a great choice for matching tattoo for couples.   Matching anchors can also represent a shared experience, i.e. overseas travel or serving in the Navy.

Infinity Tattoo with Anchor Meaning

anchor tattoo meaning

infinity anchor tattoo by @eliacristian_tattoo

The infinity symbol with anchor tattoo can easily be taken as spiritual.  Since the anchor is a historic (and clandestine) symbol of the Christian religion, this particular tattoo can indicate enduring faith in times of persecution.  Another meaning for the infinity anchor tattoo can literally be interpreted as eternally grounded, or finding your place. 

anchor tattoo meaning

tattoo by @yoca_withink_tattoo

Anchors are clearly very rich in symbolism, and they make an excellent choice for anyone who is first and foremost looking to represent strength and stability in their life.  Small anchor tattoos tend to look more feminine, and often the larger anchor tattoos make a stronger masculine statement, but size is really all about personal preference.  Popular placements for an anchor tattoo on are the wrist, ankle, thigh, and upper arm, though you are by no means limited in where you would like to rock your ink!

Just to quickly summarize, anchors (on their own) often symbolize:

  • Stability, grounding, and focus
  • Strength
  • Christianity
  • Homecoming or the end of a journey
  • Navy service (or a memorial)
  • World travel
  • Male vs. Female energy

Make sure to discuss your design ideas in depth with your artist beforehand so that you can get the most unique and meaningful piece possible! Anchors are a great way to emphasize a message that is dear to your heart, or a life-mantra.  Here's a list of some epic quotes that go great with an anchor tattoo: 

Great Quotes For Anchor Tattoos: 

    Hope anchors the soul

    I refuse to sink

    Life’s roughest storms prove the strength of our anchors

    We shall never drift apart

    You are the anchor that keeps my feet on the ground

    You are the anchor that keeps me grounded

    A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor

    Love anchors the soul

    We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, Hebrews 6:19

    Hold fast

    Home is where the anchor drops

    Wreckless and brave

    Memories of you keep me grounded

    anchor tattoo meaning

    If my love were an ocean

    Sinking is not an option

    Be the one to guide me but never hold me down


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