What’s a Sea Shanty Anyway?

The most well known type of shanty shantyman-bronze(or “chantey”) is the song that is chanted by sailors and pirates alike!  The mystery and intrigue that surrounds them is vast and deep, like the seas that inspired them.

For example, what are all those lyrics about?  And are there different types of songs?

For the most part, they describe the antics, toils and daily living both at sea and in port, that the seamen would undergo.  The experiences varied greatly, depending on the captain and crew involved, but one thing was for certain – the voyages were most often long and arduous, and the crew had to have something to keep their minds engaged as they coordinated the rhythmic efforts required to haul on the lines of square-rigged ships.

The most important thing about keeping a crew functioning well as a group, was to keep their minds engaged and focused on the business at hand.  There is a certain rhythm to any task, but especially when it is physically intense and requires endurance, the employment of a beat by drum or by shantyman (chant leader) is critical.  

It is sort of like “whistle while you work”, but in a communal, team building sense!  It is said that many a crew refused to lift a finger until there was a good shanty to be sung.

Traditional shanties can be grouped into three types:  

  • Short haul shanties, for quick pull type tasks – intense, but short
  • Halyard shanties, for work requiring more setup time and heavier work
  • Capstan shanties, for tasks that required long-term sustained rhythm – usually not involving working the lines.

Each rhythm paced for a specific purpose.

Enjoy this tribute to Geoff Agisim, a well known Shantyman!

Geoff Agisim Tribute

Check our next post when we will discuss shanties by the sea!

Published by


Chicago native and world traveler, JSH provides keen insights few others observe... by both land and sea. Grab a sheet, and partake in this salty voyage...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *