Historically most everyone agrees that Sailors were the first people to get nautical star tattoos. In fact the very word nautical relates back to sailing. So this connection has been pretty firmly established. Most people would agree the sailors were a pretty superstitious group historically and sailor lore abounds with superstitious and fantastical stories of life and death and being lost at sea.
Early on sailors navigated by the stars at night and the north star became the symbol for finding ones way home. Once you know where the north star is you can point your ship in the right direction to get home. So the star became a symbol for finding ones way home or more symbolically even finding ones path in life. Therefore many sailors would tattoo nautical stars on their forearms as a good luck symbol in hopes of returning home.
However their modern day meaning is a more debated topic. Many believe that groups including gay and lesbians, punk rockers and those in the military have adopted the nautical star tattoo as a very important symbol. The diversity of these three groups has lead many to argue the meaning of their tattoos.
For the military the connection is pretty obviously point back to the early sailors and the symbolism and meaning is the same as the early sailors. Many military people get a nautical star tattoo as a symbol for finding ones path home safely. Of course this can also include more symbolically just finding ones way in life.
Punk rockers have also adopted this as a popular symbol to have tattooed. The punk movement traces its history and use of the nautical star tattoo back to Sailor Jerry. Sailor Jerry is historically one one of the most famous tattoo artists ever. He was well known for his innovative and "cool" designs. Punks have taken this symbol and it has very much the same meaning of finding one way in life. Being the rugged individualists type Punks are drawing to the symbolism of true north and finding one own unique way in life. So the Nautical star has become a symbol for this. You see many punk bands that have full sleeve tattoos typically incorporate nautical star tattoos either on their elbows or elsewhere.
This meaning of the symbol has of course created a lot of problems and arguments among the other two groups of bearers of nautical stars. Most puck and military people do not want to have a nautical star that points back to anything from the lesbian movement so many will say that there is no connection there and this is false.
It just goes to show that when the same powerful symbol is used over and over again over decades of time it can taken on very different meanings for different groups. So all of those that you see sporting a nautical star tattoo might not all have the same interpretation of its symbolism.
So do you have a nautical star tattoo or think about getting one in the future? Which meaning of the symbol will you get the nautical star for? As long as you know what the symbolism behind the star is for and you have gotten it for the right reason to either support the lesbian movement or as a symbol to finding your way!