A sea shanty, chantey, or chanty is a type of work song that was once commonly sung to accompany labour on board large merchant sailing vessels. The term shanty most accurately refers to a specific style of work song belonging to this historical repertoire. However, in recent, popular usage, the scope of its definition is sometimes expanded to admit a wider range of repertoire and characteristics, or to refer to a “maritime work song” in general.
Of uncertain etymological origin, the word shanty emerged in the mid-19th century in reference to an appreciably distinct genre of work song, developed especially in American-style merchant vessels that had come to prominence in decades prior to the American Civil War. Shanty songs functioned to synchronize and thereby economize labour in what had then become larger vessels having smaller crews and operating
on stricter schedules. The practice of singing shanties eventually became ubiquitous internationally and throughout the era of wind-driven packet and clipper ships.