There are few careers as romantic to the imagination as that of being a sailor. The word itself conjures up images of wooden ships, pirates with peg legs, distant adventures around the equator, and other things we’ve picked up from hundreds of years of books, operas, musicals, and movies on the subject.

Sailors are always seen as daring, full of clever lines and camaraderie. They’re often tough but with a tender side. Given that stereotypical image, why don’t more people want to be sailors today?

The modern sailor, it has to be said, for those who even consider the idea anymore, does not enjoy that dashing romantic life we’ve come to believe in. In fact, it was probably never a career that fun or amusing. The journeys were tough, dangerous, and long. There was weather, disease, and loneliness to contend with, among many other things.

Surprisingly, the modern sailor’s situation isn’t all that different. Though the ships are now city-sized tankers that constantly prowl across the ocean, and the wooden pirate ships are long out of fashion, it is still a career of last resort, one taken up often by the poor and the desperate.

And it is still very dangerous.

According to the Telegraph, 34 ships still sink every year. As the article suggests, imagine if that were true of planes or trains. How would we react? And yet, with ships, it is shrugged off, because sinking ships and dying sailors (around 2,000 a year) have always been part of our understanding of the world.

Perhaps just as amazing is the amount of lawlessness that still exists on the seas. That same article is full of horrible events that took place because of that mad lawlessness of people far from land and accountability.

The sailors suffer the brunt of this abuses, and the bulk of these deaths as well.

From the sound of that article, it seems like there aren’t much of the musical-type hijinks and capering about that we’ve all come to associate with the career. In fact, the author calls sailors slaves in the article.

It’s incredible how dangerous that career is, and how little we care, considering how crucial shipping is to our modern way of life. It’s really not so different in that sense from 200 years ago.

And yet, we’ve let these people suffer from appalling conditions. And that doesn’t even take into account the continuing struggles against the weather and other natural problems ships come up against.

At least nowadays there are places for US citizens to go if they are involved in any of these troubles. Lawyers can take cases of abuse, accident, and injury and help get sailors get compensation after the fact. It’s something at least, but not enough.

Perhaps it’s time for us to update our view of what it is to be a sailor and to find a way to help those in that profession to live lives with a little more security and dignity.