Because tattoos originally gained popularity among sailors who spread tattooing around the world, nautical symbols are some of the oldest modern examples of tattoo designs and have recently become trendy for non-sailors. An anchor holds a ship still, keeping the sailors safe from winds and currents that could drag them away. Because of this, anchors are traditionally associated with safe voyages, stability, and protection from adversity.
Anchors are used both to protect travelers from a dangerous journey and to commemorate successful and safe return from travel. In fact, there is a tradition in the US Navy and among sailors around the world that a person can only receive an anchor tattoo once they have safely crossed the Atlantic ocean and returned home. This tattoo is a right of passage for people and represents a transition from novice to seasoned sailor. The tattoo of an anchor commemorates their safe return to port and is worn as a badge of honor and pride.
The anchor is reliable, stable, safe, and unchanging. It keeps ships and people grounded and constant. In religious terms, the anchor is an ancient symbol used to represent a hidden cross. Like the fish, it symbolized that the wearer was Christian and faithful to the religion. They were safe and trustworthy and could offer other underground Christians refuge and solace. For early Christians, the anchor was a symbol of steadfastness, determination, strength, loyalty, and devotion. The surrounding currents and changing winds cannot move the anchor, and the faithful Christians could likewise not be moved or altered.
For some, the anchor symbolizes a negative resistance to change and an inability, unwillingness, or refusal to adapt or adjust. People who feel trapped or stuck in the same place might choose an anchor to represent their current situation. A cracked, damaged, tangled, or broken anchor might portray their triumph over this stagnation and their success in adapting and developing as a person, becoming less stubborn or more open and adventurous. Contrastingly, someone with a turbulent past might get an anchor tattoo to honor their current stability or the person who keeps them grounded and safe. In relationships, anchors indicate that the significant other has a constant and positive presence in their loved one's life. It can also symbolize a person who refuses to stray and wants to remain faithful, loyal, and monogamous.
Retro anchors, stylized like the anchor tattoos of the original sailors and travelers, have recently become very popular. These tattoos can be recreated in the Old School style of the originals, often seen with old school swallow tattoo designs, copying the blander colors and more simplistic renderings of the past, or the New School style, with bright colors and innovative artistry. These tattoos might symbolize nothing more than an appreciation for the origins of tattooing and the tradition of historic designs and motifs. Some people, however, feel that only those who have undertaken a great voyage should get an anchor tattoo and they want the symbolism to remain intact. They feel that one should have to cross the Atlantic and gain valuable life experience before they have earned the right to get an anchor tattoo.
To further complicate matters, the anchor has also become a symbol for gay pride, which can cause a certain amount of ambiguity surrounding designs. Though this is a less common symbol for gay pride than some of the more obvious ones, an anchor can represent the trials and adversity that the gay person has experienced and ultimately triumphed over. This use of an anchor suggests that the person has found their peace in turbulent waters and are unwilling to move or compromise who they are and what they stand for. It shows they are secure in themselves and their place in life, and no longer feel the need to change or alter themselves for certain situations and the desires of other people.