Types of Shanties

January 17, 2021

The different types of shanties and examples!

Sea Shanties are work songs originating from sailing ships. To operate these sailing ships various manual tasks need to be performed by the sailors from moving heavy sails to pulling up the anchor. Due to the variants of the tasks, different shanties were created to match the pace required for the task at hand.

Three key types exist, Short-haul, Long-haul and Capstan shanties. Some other less common or non-work shanty types exist like Forecastle or Whaling shanties. Let's dive deeper into the individual types.

Short-haul / Short-drag

Short-haul, or short-drag shanties were for tasks when only a small amount of quick pulls were required, like unfurling sails. One great example of a short-haul shanty is 'Paddy Doyle's Boots':

Long-haul / Halyard

Long-haul or halyard shanties were for longer tasks that requires breaks in-between hauls due to the need for rest or setup. These were much more difficult or heavy tasks such as hoisting a sail. An example of a halyard shanty is 'Reuben Ranzo':

Capstan / Windlass

Capstan or windlass shanties were for tasks that require sustained or continuous effort, such as raising the anchor where the sailors would rotate around the capstan. 'Drunken Sailor' is an example of a capstan shanty:

Other Types

Some other types:

  • Forecastle / Fo'castle shanties were sung after the work was done and were mostly used to tell stories, these were sung in the crew's quarters, the forecastle.
  • Whaling shanties are more harsh as they represent working on a whaling ship which was one of the more dangerous and difficult sailing as it required two or more years at sea and sailors could be hurt or killed by the whales tail smashing the ship.
  • Pumping shanties used when pumping leakage from the holds of the ship. An example is 'Leave Her Johnny' which was sung while performing the last pump when the ship was at port at the end of a voyage.