A good chantey, it was said, was worth “ten men on a line.”

Chantey means to sing; to speak, read, etc., in a sing-song tone. Chanteys played an important role in the sailors’ lives. When a group of men gathered on the ship to do a job, they needed to work together as a unit. By working with one another, the group could accomplish tasks that would have been impossible to do individually. Such is the nature of teamwork. Chanteying on board sailing ships had many purposes. It coordinated the efforts of the crew by focusing their attention on the job and at the same time it took their minds off the difficulty of the heavy tasks at hand. Singing the chanteys also set the crew apart from the officers on the ship. It demonstrated who was doing the work and who was giving the orders. It gave the crew a way to express their true feelings about the ship’s officers without the risk of punishment.

Most of these work songs involved a lead singer and then a chorus response from the crew. Songs for hauling on ropes were different from songs used to march around a capstan, but in almost every case, one person sang the lead and the rest responded in the chorus.

Listen to a sea chantey

Windlass/Pump                          Walk Away Halyard                       Short Drag