Sea Shanties Are Having a Moment

A few weeks ago sea shanty videos started to crop up on social media. The main platform  is TikTok. They entered the zeitgeist at least for the moment. The most popular sea shanty video features the song “The Wellerman” by Nathan Evans. This videos and songs are absolutely captivating.

The sea shanty become so popular there is a remix creating an electric house version, which is pretty great.

All of the TikTok videos have well over a million views and the YouTube videos all have hundreds of thousands of views. In the whole history of Google, sea shanties have never been more popular.

I am a huge fan of this trend. One of my favorite YouTube videos is the video of David Coffin singing Roll The Old Chariot. For what ever reason these types of songs bring tons of joy and strike deep at our humanity.

History of Sea Shanties

Sea shanties sometimes called “chanties,” were developed by sailors to sing as work songs. The phrase “shanty” didn’t become popular until he mid-19th century during the heyday of clipper ships. That being said the use of songs while seafaring most likely goes back to the beginning of sailing. Shanties follow a typical call and response style. With the shantyman leading the song and doing the calling and solos.

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While they may seem like a way to just pass the time, they served a more important role. The rhythmic nature of the singing allowed the sailors to get into a pattern and set a pace for the work they were doing. By singing the songs together they were able to synchronize and work more efficiently.

Specific shanties were even used for certain jobs. For example, the sea shanty “Haul the Wood Pile Down” was used when hauling woodpiles.

Sea Shanty vs Sea Songs

Believe it or not, there is a difference. A sea shanty was used for work on a ship. While a sea song is just a song about the sea.

“Fairwell and Adieu” which is featured in Jaws being one of the most famous:


Another benefit of the sea shanty is the camaraderie it built. Working together as a team inevitably builds camaraderie. In the David Coffin video above you can see the joy of the people singing and can almost feel them coming together.

Singing folk songs as a group is a common phenomenon. My father immigrated from the Basque Country of Spain. He taught me this song when I was a kid. It’s a folk song about the people of Bilbao, Spain. It’s a song only someone from Biblao would know.

There’s a rite of passage to these songs. They make a person say, “Oh, you know the song. You are one of my people.”

We live in increasingly divided times, and for good reason. But listening to these sea shanties allows us to imagine a time when we’re all brothers and working towards a common goal.

If you’re curious here’s a playlist full of sea shanties

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