This contemporary shanty is a favorite of Hawaiian Chieftain’s Captain Ryan ‘Otis’ Downs. “It’s perfect for what we do”, he says, because while we admire the old square rig sailors, “modern conveniences have changed the world so much for us. It’s impossible to truly work and live like they did”. The song is an upbeat chronicle of how the environments that sailors work in have changed through time. It takes us from the Age of Sail in the Royal Navy through the Age of Steam and on through to the present day, with radar and sonar. At the end of the day (or the last line of the song),  there are some things that don’t change! Even when a ‘sailor ain’t a sailor, ain’t a sailor anymore’ in some ways, ‘a sailor’s still a sailor, just like he (or she) was before’.

Note: The tunes, lyrics and history of a single sea song or shanty are often diverse and debated, given how these songs were passed along and changed (often simultaneously on many ships all over the seas). This is part of what is beautiful and fascinating about them. What we’re representing in this blog post is only one, and certainly not the only, version of a song and its history.



Full Lyrics: The Last Shanty

My father often told me,

when I was just a lad,

A sailor’s life was very hard,

the food was always bad,

But now I’ve joined the navy,

I’m on board a man-o-war,

And now I find a sailor ain’t a sailor any more!


Chorus: Don’t haul on the rope,

don’t climb up the mast,

If you see a sailing-ship

it might be your last,

Get your ‘civvies ready for another run-ashore,

A sailor ain’t a sailor, ain’t a sailor any more!


The ‘killick’ of our mess,

he says we’ve had it soft,

It wasn’t like this in his day,

when he was up aloft,

We like our bunks and sleeping-bags

but what’s a hammock for?

Swinging from the deckhead or lying on the floor?




They gave us an engine

that first went up and down,

Then with more technology

the engine went around,

We’re good with steam and diesel

but what’s a mainyard for?

A stoker ain’t a stoker with a shovel any more!




They gave us an Aldiss Lamp,

we can do it right,

They gave us a radio,

we signal day and night,

We know our codes and ciphers

but what’s a ‘sema’ for?

A ‘bunting-tosser’ doesn’t toss the bunting any more!




They gave us a radar set

to pierce the fog and gloom,

So now the lookout’s sitting

in a tiny darkened room,

Loran does navigation

the Sonar says how deep,

The Jimmy’s 3 sheets to the wind, the Skipper’s fast asleep.




Two cans of beer a day,

that’s your bleeding lot!

But now we gets an extra two

because they stopped The Tot,

So, we’ll put on our civvy-clothes

and find a pub ashore,

A sailor’s still a sailor, just like he was before!