20 Best Sea Shanties of All Time (Sea Shanty & Sailor Songs)

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Written By Will Fenton

Founder of MidderMusic. From numerous bands to stints working in music shops, read more about me on the 'Here's My Story' page!

Sea shanties are songs that sailors and workers sang to keep their morale and spirits up in tough times.

Though most sea shanty songs are old, they are constantly being covered by today’s singers.

If you’re someone who enjoys sailing and listening to sea shanties on board, we have some of the best sea shanties for you.

1. “Roll, Boys, Roll!” by Clayton Kennedy, Nils Brown, and Seán Dagher

“Roll, Boys, Roll!” by Clayton Kennedy, Nils Brown, and Seán Dagher is among the famous sea shanties of today.

The shanty song became popular after being used in the video game, Assassin’s Creed.

The shanty is from the perspective of a sailor in love with a black slave woman.

2. “Old Maui (Rolling Down to Old Maui)” by The Longest Johns

“Old Maui” aka “Rolling Down to Old Maui” is one of the old sea shanties that can be found covered by numerous artists on the internet.

The shanty is about a whaling crew sailing back home to Maui after six hellish months at the Kamchatka Sea.

3. “The Cruel Wars” by The Longest Johns

“The Cruel Wars” covered by The Longest Johns and is a combination of various old sea shanties. 

It reminds you of the horrendous situations faced by forgotten war heroes.

The shanty reflects their valour and courage to be fighting at sea defending their people at the cost of their own lives.

4. “Roll Northumbria” by The Dreadnoughts

Roll Northumbria” is a modern sailor shanty that was released in 2019 by the Canadian band, The Dreadnoughts, as a part of their album called Into the North.

It pays homage to the service ship, Esso Northumbria which was launched in May of 1969.

The ship retired after 12 years of service in 1982.

5. “The Last Shanty” by Nathan Evans

“The Last Shanty” by Nathan Evans depicts the life of a modern man who joined the navy.

He describes how modern navy life is very different from the old sailor tales that his father told him.

6. “Barrett’s Privateers” by Stan Rogers

“Barrett’s Privateers” by Stan Rogers is a famous sea shanty from the perspective of a 16-year-old fisherman.

The boy boarded the ship called The Antelope after he was promised a peaceful journey back home.

However, the boy ended up losing both his legs after the ship was attacked by a rival American vessel.

7. “Song of the Vikings (My Mother Told Me)” by Perly I Lotry

Song of the Vikings” aka, “My Mother Told Me” is one of the most popular sea shanties of all time.

The song was used in the TV series, Vikings.

The sea shanty has recorded the old authentic culture of Vikings that is rarely found anywhere else.

8. “Bonny Ship The Diamond, from Cures What Ails Ya” by The Longest Johns

“Bonny Ship The Diamond, from Cures What Ails Ya” by The Longest Johns is about sailors boarding a ship to go whaling.

They are saying goodbye to their loved ones.

The popular sea shanty aims to boost their morale and help them with their sadness.

9. “The Seaman’s Hymn” by David Coffin

“The Seaman’s Hymn” by David Coffin is one of the most famous sea shanties that often gets played at shanty festivals.

The song calls for peace and urges to stop wars that are really just games played by the people in power.

10. “Drunken Sailor” by Nathan Evans

“Drunken Sailor” is one of the best sea shanty songs and was sung on ships as early as in the 1830s.

The old sea shanty is centered around ways to sober up or punish a drunken sailor with each verse suggesting a new way.

11. “Roll The Old Chariot” by David Coffin

“Roll The Old Chariot” aka “A Drop of Nelson’s Blood” is among the famous sailor shanties.

In each verse, the song addresses the different things sailors would miss while at sea.

The last line of each stanza reflects how the sailors continue to be optimistic despite all the things they miss back home.

12. “Lowlands Away” by Sean Dagher, Nils Brown, and Michiel Schrey

“Lowlands Away” by Sean Dagher, Nils Brown, and Michiel Schrey is one of the best sea shanty songs that were composed for the video game, Assassin’s Creed.

The shanty is about losing love as one travels and faces tragedy along the way.

13. “Blow The Man Down” by David Coffin

“Blow The Man Down” is among the classic sea shanties and is quite recognized even today.

The shanty sings of how sailors used to be kidnapped in old times and then sold into slavery.

The words, “Blow The Man Down” refers to how drunk sailors were lured into trap doors at taverns.

14. “Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmate” by Sean Dagher, Nils Brown, Clayton Kennedy, David Tinervia, and David Gossage

Assassin’s Creed brought light to some of the best sea shanty music.

Another favourite shanty from the video game is “Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmate” by Sean Dagher, Nils Brown, Clayton Kennedy, David Tinervia, and David Gossage.

The shanty was sung in the Napoleonic Era by British Royal Navy sailors.

15. “The Scotsman Kilt” by Nathan Evans

“The Scotsman Kilt” by Nathan Evans is one of the newer sailing shanties and made sea shanties popular on TikTok.

The sea shanty portrays the quirky side of a drunk Scotsman who is on his way home after winning a contest at the pub.

16. “Spanish Ladies” by The Longest Johns

“Spanish Ladies” is one of the popular shanty songs and became famous when it was featured in the film, Jaws.

The song is sung by a sailing crew in the movie as they search for a dangerous shark.

The shanty sings of sailors that befriended Spanish ladies during their travel.

17. “The Dead Horse” by Sean Dagher, Nils Brown and Michiel Schrey

Another shanty from Assassin’s Creed, “The Dead Horse” by Sean Dagher, Nils Brown and Michiel Schrey is a favourite.

It was usually played after a sailor completed his first month on the ship. 

The song addresses how often sailors don’t even get all of their first month’s salary due to their initial expenses.

18. “You Can’t Hold A Good Man Down” by The Pirateers

“You Can’t Hold A Good Man Down” by The Pirateers sings of all the trials sailors faced when they were at sea. 

The song also mentions drunken sailors, ghost ships, and ship battles.

The shanty is often called the Swiss Army knife of sea shanties.

19. “Leave Her, Johnny” by Michiel Schrey and Seán Dagher

“Leave Her, Johnny” is a sea shanty that has been covered by various artists.

The shanty was often sung on the last day of a voyage.

It convinces sailors to leave the ship now that the voyage has ended even if they feel sad doing so.

20. “Wellerman” by Nathan Evans

“Wellerman” also known as “Soon May the Wellerman Come” is a shanty from New Zealand.

The song went viral on TikTok and sings of working men looking forward to an alcohol shipment.

Best Sea Shanties – Final Thoughts

The best thing about all the songs in our top sea shanties list is they can be used even in current situations to raise your spirits.

From traditional sea shanties to modern shanty music, this list is perfect to recommend to someone going through a low phase.

So give this list of popular sea shanties a listen and put your worries on a back burner.

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Songs About the Sea