What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor?

Edited and Annotated by Douglas Morgan
124 pages | 5 1/4″ x 8″ | $9.95
ISBN: 1-931013-09-8

sailorCompiled and annotated by a longtime Naval officer and author of the acclaimed thriller Tiger Cruise, this funny and unrestrained collection of more than twenty sea chanties is not for small children.

Sung for as long as sailors have gone to the sea in ships, chanties helped to make shipboard tasks easier and to pass the time on years-long voyages. Each generation of sailors adapted the songs to their own needs and cultures, forming an unbroken link from the age of sail to the nuclear-powered navies of today.

With more than 60 illustrations and explanations of Naval terms and life—including some of the bawdier parts of a sailor’s life—What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor? shows the unexpurgated side of military life and literature.   

"Now seamen who spent their time in cargo-carrying sailing ships never heard a decent shanty; the words which sailor John put them when unrestrained were the veriest filth.”

—Master Mariner W. B. Whall

Once there was a serving maid

Down in Kerry Lane

Her mistress was kind

And her master was the same.

‘Til along came a sailor

Ashore on liberty

And he was the cause of all her misery.

With his bell bottom trousers

Coat of Navy blue

He will climb your rigging

Like his daddy used to do.

This book came about in a strange way. I’ve known Doug Morgan for upwards of ten years now, and edited his first book, the military thriller Tiger Cruise. Last winter [2001], he and I were both at a literary convention when I got a call that my father-in-law, LCDR Robert McBain, had died suddenly. The rest of the convention was something of a blur, as writers and editors dropped by to pay their respects and the Swordsmith party planned for that Saturday night transformed into an impromptu wake. (“He wouldn’t have wanted the beer to go to waste,” commented more than one person.) I wrote a brief piece describing how much Mac’s life had touched me and others who I knew, and somehow managed to read it out to the crowd of publishing professionals who had gathered. My [now ex-]wife had also written a piece about her father, which she couldn’t bring herself to read out loud. Instead, she asked Doug to read it for her.

Eternal Father strong to save

Whose arm hath bound the restless wave

Who makes the mighty ocean deep

Its own appointed limits keep.

O hear us when we cry to Thee

For those in peril on the sea.

(A song that doesn’t appear in this collection.)

After he read out her recollections of LCDR McBain, Doug, who has a beautiful voice, broke into the Navy Hymn, joined by a number of former service members in the room. Pretty much everyone was crying by the time he finished. This was a wake, however, and there was a lot of beer in the room, and the point was to celebrate Mac’s life and 30-year Naval career, not just to mourn him. The Navy Hymn soon gave way to “What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor” and “Frigging in the Rigging” and a dozen or so other songs.

The captain of that lugger
He was a dirty bugger
He wasn’t fit to shovel shit

From one place to another.

Frigging in the rigging

Frigging in the rigging

Frigging in the rigging

There was fuck-all else to do.

About a month later I ran into Doug at another conference, and ended up taking him out to dinner. Tiger Cruise had just come out recently and was doing pretty well in terms of sales. We decided to look for another project that would be the kind of fun that Tiger Cruise had been when Doug was first writing it, and the talk drifted back to the previous month’s wake, still very fresh in both our minds.

‘Twas off the coast of Labrador

There we met a floating whore

We fucked her forty times or more

In the North Atlantic Squadron.


Well, Doug spent many years in the Navy before finishing up his doctorate and turning to–among other things–a writing career, and he’s still never far from the sea, at least metaphorically. Soon the idea of this collection was born. There have been many collections of sea chanties, but very few of them print the chanties the way they are actually sung, or put them into the context of the Naval and maritime traditions in which they are created. Every one of these songs was actually sung at sea, on the ships where Douglas Morgan served. His marvelous annotations lay out the background, people, terms, and places that the songs celebrate, as well as showing how they still fit into today’s Navy. Despite Doug’s academic background, his annotations aren’t dry commentaries on dead folklore; they are filled with jokes, intra-service barbs, variant songs, bizarre people, and everything else readers need to understand–or relive, for fellow sailors–what is still a vital, growing body of music, sung in hundreds of variants on hundreds of ships to this day.

A sailor told me before he died

I never knew if the poor bastard lied…


This is not intended to be an exhaustive collection, but a sampling of some of the most interesting, most loved, and most important sea chanties–some dating from the age of sail, and some much newer. A number of them have never seen print before, and most of them have never been printed in their full, unbowdlerized versions.

Table of Contents

              • Haul Away Joe
              • New York Girls
              • Barnacle Bill the Sailor
              • Hog-eye Man
              • Whup Jamboree
              • The Big Wheel
              • North Atlantic Squadron
              • Off To Sea No More
              • Paddy Lay Back
              • The Baltimore Shanty
              • Baltimore Whores
              • Frigging in the Rigging
              • Cruising ‘Round Yarmouth
              • What Do We Do With A Drunken Sailor?
              • The Maid of Amsterdam
              • Bell Bottom Trousers
              • The Fireship
              • The Banks of Newfoundland
              • The Handsome Cabin Boy
              • Blow the Man Down
              • Guantanamo Bay
              • The Captain