If ever there was a subject where the details matter, it's anchoring, so let's dive into some details around all-chain rodes:
Anchoring—Chain: Stoppers, Termination and Marking
by John HarriesReading Time: 9 minutes
Next: 20 Tips To Get Anchored and Stay Anchored
- 4 Vital Anchor Selection Criteria and a Review of SPADE
- SARCA Excel Anchor—A Real World Test
- SPADE, SARCA Excel, or Some Other Anchor?
- Rocna Resetting Failures and evaluation of Vulcan and Mantus
- Some Thoughts On The Ultra Anchor, Roll Bars and Swivels
- Specifying Primary Anchor Size
- Kedge (Secondary Anchor)—Recommended Type and Size
- Third Anchors, Storm Anchors and Spare Anchors
- Anchor Tests—The Good, The Bad, and The Downright Silly
- Making Anchor Tests More Meaningful
- We Love The Way Our Anchor Drags
- Things to Know About Anchor Chain
- Selecting a Chain Grade
- Anchor Chain Catenary, When it Matters and When it Doesn’t
- Anchor Rode Questions and Answers
- Q&A: Hybrid Rope And Chain Anchor Rodes
- Anchor Swivels, Just Say No
- A Windlass That Makes The Grade
- The Perfect Anchor Roller
- Install A Wash-down Pump—And Save Money!
- Anchoring—Chain: Stoppers, Termination and Marking
- 20 Tips To Get Anchored and Stay Anchored
- Choosing an Anchorage
- Choosing a Spot
- 15 Steps To Getting Securely Anchored
- One Anchor or Two?
- Two Anchors Done Right
- It’s Often Better to Anchor Than Pick Up a Mooring
- Yawing at Anchor, The Theory and The Solution
- Yawing at The Anchor, an Alternative Cure
- How To Use An Anchor Trip Line
- ShoreFasts—Part 1, When to Use Them
- ShoreFasts—Part 2, Example Setups Plus Tips and Tricks
- ShoreFasts—Part 3, The Gear
- Gale And Storm Preparation, At Anchor Or On A Mooring
- Storm Preparation, All Chain On Deck
First thanks for your great articles and website (as this is the first time I add a comment). Still happy that I became a member almost 3 years ago.
A couple of years ago I bought new chain and marked it with wire ties as you recommend here. I used a bit too complicated 3-colour code but that is not what I was about to say now. I also independently already implemented the idea to tie them all to one side of the chain – which correspondents with anchor up in the correct position. That helps to see long in advance if it is off. (I don’t have a swivel but the anchor – a Rocna, sorry – comes up correct by itself more than 80% of the time).
My experience is however that the wire ties get ripped off quite often, either when passing the roller or the gypsy (= wild cat, I understand). Even before they start to look ‘tatty’. So, when seeing the subject of you article I jumped to it, hoping to find the expert way 🙂
By the way, it is still easily maintainable – as you said – because I used double ties on each link, and two ties for one colour mark. And the first and last colours in the ‘three digit code’ repeat the same colour, indicating a ‘region’ of 25 meters.
Interesting, particularly since that has not been our experience. My guess is that it’s set up specific. A lot of variables including roller and wildcat construction. Might be worth trying the West Marine gadgets that others have recommended further down the thread.
Great article. Has persuaded me to fit a chain stopper.
Glad it was useful, always gratifying to know that, thanks.
You don t mention colored chain link inserts ? They do fall off but not more than wire ties.
RYBWG was a traditional color code in british navy. “Rub your balls with grease”
For the bitter end we fitted … a swivel so that the chain can turn freely and not have the short rope doesn’t wrap so tightly that it shortens andgets stuck.
Didn’t mention them simply because I didn’t know about them. I suspected that there might be other alternatives that I didn’t know about so that’s why I asked for input in the comments. So thanks for filling in.
Now there’s an aid for an aging memory. My favourite Royal Navy quote is “shouldn’t have joined if you couldn’t take a joke”. Often heard on Morgan’s Cloud when things get unpleasant.
Thanks John, you have prompted me to fit a chain stopper before our next offshore trip. We have never really felt the need for one, using a chain snubber and chain preventer for the different applications. But I like how quick and easy it sounds to protect the windlass when backing up or over-riding the anchor in difficult conditions. It will be a Maxwell one for sure, with an external lever to keep our fingers clear of the chain. Motivated to comment because I so hate plastic cable ties used anywhere they end up in the ocean – they are just horrible sorry. It sounds like your gypsy doesn’t shred them and you are diligent in replacing them in good time which is fine. But let’s be honest here – most folk will just leave them on their chain until the sun makes them brittle and then they are in the sea FOREVER – I find them on the beach…aghhh! The racing community (I see it frequently in the NOR) banned their use (even wool ones in NZ!) as bag spinnaker ties. Cruisers need to be just as mindful. Hang on while I get off my soap box…we use the simple chain markers that are easily sourced, because they don’t end up in the sea (our experience anyway). Good picture here of their application, but most chandleries sell them: https://www.westmarine.com/buy/imtra-corporation–1-2-chain-marker-blue–17192915 You push the markers down hard into each link until the link’s two inside radiuses slot into the groove on the two outside edges of the marker, so the marker fits snugly. They are made of a tough but slightly malleable plastic so they snap into place under some force (I used a large head screwdriver on the concrete dock with a wooden block under the chain) so they don’t shake out as the chain releases, even in free fall modes. We put on new chain (100 m) for 6 month cruise of the Pacific in October 2016 and have been widely coastal cruising in NZ since and haven’t lost a single marker and we hardly ever use a dock or marina (NZ is all about the anchorages). I checked the chain this year on the dock and the markers are like new still. They don’t seem to fade or dis-colour and NZ sun has some of the highest UV levels anywhere. They don’t clog with mud either and wash-down easily. They seem to come in metric and imperial variants for the different sized links. We used the 10 mm ones off the shelf in NZ. Pretty cost effective using our marking scheme (see below). Only disadvantage is when we let the chain go in a breeze and it’s flying off the gypsy, you can’t spot how much is going out. But I tend to know roughly from experience how much has veered and can easily check once the brake is applied, since we mark the chain at frequent intervals. We use a red marker for every 10 metres, so… Read more »
Sounds like a good recommendation. But, as you say, whether or not they fall off may be anchoring set up specific, see Denis’ comment above. Also, I’m guessing they won’t be as visible as wire ties when the chain is running fast. That said, I would encourage everyone to use whichever gets lost overboard least on their particular set up.
We have the same press in markers. I think we have lost 2 over the last 2.5 years of continuous anchoring. Certainly lasting much better than our chain.
If anchoring in muddy areas and getting a lot of mud on the chain they can get hard to see but they clean off very easily.
I can normally see the colours flashing by but imagine wire ties would be slightly easier to see.
Another vote for the press in markers. I think the ones we have were branded ‘Osculati’.
I find it handy to have a couple of white ones (so as not to fade in sunlight) to show when the anchor is at the waterline and when it is just below the roller.
I used the plastic inserts for marking chain and found them generally adequate to the job, but a bit harder to see in marginal conditions: no big deal.
Of more concern (and this may point to an over-active imagination) was my discomfort with there being salt water tapped and held against the chain and the area between the plastic and the chain-basically the whole interior of the wire link-unable to “breathe”.
It was this latter (unvalidated) concern that caused me to pop out the inserts and return to wire ties. It has been a while, but I do not remember the year or two of the inserts leading to increased rust etc. on the links.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Dick, I think that with galvanised chain if you are not getting a thick patch of white zinc oxide where something is touching it, you don’t need to worry.
(Stainless chain is beyond my pay grade!)
And one more vote for the press markers. They lasted as long as the chain and never once fell out. For the new chain I couldn’t find exactly the ones I had so I took what was available: plastic markers consisting of two halves which are pressed together inside a chain link. During the first anchoring half of them fell out and litter the ocean so I removed them all and switched back to the old ones. So stay away from the clip on markers.
Yes, I think wire ties will be easier to see, since, even if the whole thing is covered in mud, they do seem to pop up out of the muck.
We tried a few options and settled on fisherman twine tied to the chain at regular intervals. In several years of cruising we replaced only a couple preventatively, and never lost one.
My husband thought we’d use it all the time on the boat so he bought 200m of each colour that was available at the chandlery (red and blue). We used only a few metres of each in 6 years cruising!
That sounds good. How do you tie them to the chain? I’m thinking that it will need to be with a knot that is reliable, but not too bulky?
We used a series of reef knots on the link needing marking, with about 1 cm of tail left intact, which helped with visibility.
Thanks for the fill.
As I see it might be impossible to release a chain stopper when under load as the blocked link is pressing with all its might against the stopper claw. How would you handle it then when you “need to go in a hurry”? If I understand the loads correctly this would mean you need to use the engine to motor up against the anchor before being able to release the stopper, or rig any alternative to unload the chain at the stopper which might prove quite time consuming, and it would need to get unmounted before letting go the chain…
While this might be doable with a crew, at least two persons, one driving and one at the bow, I think it is impractical when single handing, especially in one of those blows – you simply cannot control both ends of the boat at the same time.
Yes, you definitely have to unload the chain stopper to release, usually by taking the load on the windlass in some way. On our boat we just step down hard on the chain between the windlass (with brake on) and stopper which unloads the stopper.
In about 30 years of use, I don’t remember ever having a problem, but I can see scenarios where it might be. I guess in a worst case you would have to rolling hitch a line to the chain and take it to a winch to unload the stopper. Then again, snubbers can cause problems, and even be dangerous, under load too. Nothing is perfect, particularly around boats!
Hi Ernest and John,
I am aware of 2 types of chain brakes. The first actually goes around the link of chain and cannot be released under load. The second simply rests against the top forward portion of a link of chain that has its width axis vertically oriented. Looking at the pictures of the chain stopper in the link that John has below from Schaeffer, I believe that this may be of the second type, I am used to seeing them for large chain where getting everything perfectly aligned to go around a link is a bit impractical. This second type can usually be released under load. Some larger vessels have windlasses which do not go in reverse so it is common to take the load on the chain brake, lay out a bunch of chain, belay it on the windlass and then trip the chain brake and let it rip out until the windlass catches it. Typically it is tripped by a large pry bar which fits into a purpose made hole or slot.
Ideal Windlass also makes an excellent heavy duty pawl type chain stopper. It is chrome plated cast bronze, a design from another era & built to last. Ideal is now owned by Schaefer Marine and they have great customer service, unlike the previous management.
Thanks, I should have know that since we have an Ideal Windlass. Here’s a link https://www.schaefermarine.com/our-products/ideal-windlass/ideal-windlass-accessories/
That said, albeit after only a quick look, I think I prefer the Maxwell.
I am lazy so I mark only 50, 100, 200 ft with the wire ties . This system is forces me to anchor at higher scope ratio…did I said that I am lazy?
I mark the chain just a bit prior to the bitter end of the chain coming out attached to the securing tether. I liked the idea of having a bit of warning that the nylon was about to emerge as I figured things could be a little chaotic at that time and I could then stop the chain with the windlass rather than having it fetch up hard on the securing tether. I could then easily attach the float, let the chain go out completely and cut the tether.
I keep a dive knife seized to the pulpit at the bow as, even when dressed, and not in my usual nighttime attire, I am often without a knife.
It has been my belief, wholly unsubstantiated by any data, that emergency knives are best built with at least part of the blade serrated. A heavy blade with a serrated edge seems to cut fast and through most material, although in brutal manner that leaves no clean edge: not a concern in an emergency situation. I would be interested if those with experience/data were to comment.
I have also noticed, that even unused knives, seem to lose their edge in some unexplained manner: another reason I like serrated edges for emergency knives that may get neglected for a while. Again, has anyone else noticed this? Or is it just my perception?
I also, have used wire ties for decades: mine are bright yellow which allows good visibility and they travel through the windlass without trouble. Since Colin’s observant comment in a past articles about the likelihood of adding plastic to our oceans if/when the ties break off, I have tried to replace them every year and to keep an eye on their condition.
Agree completely about painting chain.
We do not have a chain stopper, but are diligent at using snubber(s), sometimes heavy, when conditions warrant. As one who has used my engine to wrestle with a stuck and fouled anchor on multiple occasions, I guarantee you it is a time to be careful when near the bow, but I also concur that one can execute all necessary maneuvers with a very stout snubber mimicking a chain stopper.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Good point about serration. We keep a couple of cheap serrated fisherman’s knives that are sold in every marine store in Maine. They will cut anything very quickly, but on the other hand don’t last long and are impossible to sharpen, so we only use them in emergencies.
\My local knife sharpener says knives get dull even when not regularly used because the metal molecules move around. But, of course, he has sharpening business to maintain.
That is my observation. Thanks for checking it out. Dick
I have a serrated bread knife in the anchor well. It cost me two dollars at a yard sale. It’s about 40 cm. long and, as tested on the Dacron-covered 6 mm Dyneema core I use as a “fuse” to the bitter end of the chain, it will part said fuse in two swipes. I have a shorter serrated folder permanently on my PFD, which, especially in dark o’clock fire-drills, I would hope that I would don before going forward. I agree that serrated knives stay functional longer than, say, Wichard sheepsfoot folders, but they too suffer in terms of leaving a clean slice, which is not an issue when the point is to save precious seconds.
This is all good discussion for us as we are finalizing our ground tackle prior to leaving down the St. Lawrence in the spring. I have yet to rig an anchor float/trip line to the crown of the 30 kilo SPADE we now have, but I’m persuaded to order that Maxwell stopper in the 10mm-12mm size as I assume it will work in 3/8″ chain of any grade (we have BBB and want to go to G43 or G70, if I can get the right gypsy). Oh, and a note: we’ve just purchased a JS drogue from Angus Coleman, who happily gave us the AAC discount, so we consider ourselves the AAC membership a very good deal, indeed.
Might I make a suggestion.
For decades, our anchor has a ~~6 foot pennant secured to the crown of our anchor with a small float (fish net type and orange for good visibility underwater) and a loop at the end. The anchor may set deep and buried in the seabed, but the float with the loop is likely to still be floating free.
In the rare times when an anchor needs retrieving by pulling out backwards, the float-with-loop makes finding an attachment point much easier. Finding and then using the crown eye in most anchors when deployed is a real challenge, perhaps impossible if dug in deep or obscured in a sunken tree or some random equipment. The loop allows me to free dive with a line and a clip (spring loaded carabineer) as at depth (any depth) I am not going to be happy or skilful at tying a knot nor do I wish to reeve a line through and drag back it to the surface.
In the last resort, I carry dive gear for anchoring problems (or other underwater problems).
The line with the float does double duty by securing the anchor when it is on the bow.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
I think that’s quite a feasible idea in shallow, warm waters, Dick, and thanks for the suggestion. We are starting, however, with a North Atlantic run and few prospects of warm water until, say, Portugal, so I would probably choose a strong trip line of Dynneema under Dacron to a float on the surface, alerting others as to where the anchor was (or close by, depending on the excess trip line) and allowing me to haul out a snag from our tender. The carabiner idea is a good, tidy innovation that lessens the need for knot-tying in potentially annoying circumstances.
There is no question that the short tether I wrote about is most comfortably anticipated to be used in warm, shallow and clear waters. Actually, one hopes never to have to use it at all.
But if a backing-out anchor retrieval is ever necessary, whatever the water, having an easy to spot float with a loop signaling where the anchor is located and giving an easy attachment to the end of the anchor is likely to be appreciated: maybe even more so in cold murky waters.
That said, I think many, probably most, will go through a cruising life never needing to institute backing-out measures to retrieve their anchor. But if preparing for the unlikely does not take effort or cause unintended consequences (and proves useful as an extra tie-down when seated at the bow), I tend to do it. (If we cruise long enough, the unlikely becomes more likely.)
I would also urge you to re-consider a general use of a trip line with buoy for all the reasons stated in my previous post. I would suggest that it is generally, not always, but generally, pretty clear where the anchor of other vessels is located. If there is any question, it is also an opportunity to start neighborly interactions and ask how much rode is veered and in which direction if there is any question. Establishing good relations with my neighbors in a cozy anchorage is always a priority.
And, we may actually be sharing an anchorage, as we are headed into the Great Lakes from Newfoundland next season, so we are at least likely to be crossing paths as you make your exit.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Many many thanks for the observations on Lewmar anchor windlasses. Having swapped out my came-with-the-boat, completely corroded and frozen Lewmar windlass years ago for a Lofrans, I have marveled at the blind devotion of my sister ship owners replacing their defunct Lewmars with new Lewmars. “Cornwallis’ Revenge” indeed.
In a similar vein, you could devote a whole article to the care and installation of windlass solenoid relays, which seemed to have been created to drive boat owners crazy. On my Lofrans, the relays are tucked into the stainless steel motor housing, which has kept them warm, dry, and operational for years.
How to retrieve a CQR using a Lewmar V1 windlass:
1-Don’t bother stepping on the little black button
2- Secure a masthead halyard to the chain using a rolling hitch.
3- Haul in the chain as far as possible without rubbing on the mast. If you don’t have an electric winch, go get a beer.
4- Tie off the chain to the bow roller using a short pennant.
5-Drop the anchor chain onto the deck and switch the halyard to the pennant.
6- Repeat the process, inserting beer as necessary.
Once the anchor is on board, take an 8# sledge out of the tool locker and beat the shit out of the Lewmar Ocean Series windlass. If you don’t follow this procedure you will never get the frozen lump of electrolysis out of the deck. Now switch from beer to rum, go buy a new Lewmar windlass and sign up for a university course in mental flagellation.
I feel it’s good practise to use a trip bouy and line , with every anchoring . I also use Maxwell 8 plait for my bitter end of anchor chain . I have found This lines flexibility, softness and durability a better fit then 3 strand .
I insist on being prepared for anything and being able to cut my anchor loose with little notice is a necessity in any anchorage .
It also keeps others from anchoring to close to me helping to alleviate a problem at night if all hell breaks loose .
I would like to try and talk you out of an anchor/trip buoy. I wrote this awhile back.
There are a number of arguments against the use of anchor buoys.
Firstly, a danger with buoys is that they can get caught in your propeller or rudder when the wind goes slack and the boat is just moseying around the anchorage. Or if you get a wind vs tide situation. I have seen boats get hung up on their anchor ball on calm nights only to trip their anchor handily when the wind came up in the morning. At best, this could be particularly entertaining to all around as he could no longer use his engine: at worst…
A similar scene could occur when the wind shifts and the whole anchorage re-aligns to the changing conditions. All re-align except the anchor ball which stays in place and is a threat to those swinging into it. I have seen a couple of instances of boats firing up their engines to leave in the morning, not realizing they have caught another’s anchor ball, only to stall the engine and do damage when put in gear and their prop eats another boat’s anchor ball and line. These incidents were unfortunate, but a worst-case scenario would have boats hung up during a squall at night where all the boats are starting to play bumper-boat.
I have also observed the yelling going on from boat to boat when the anchor buoy is mistaken for a mooring buoy and the “offending” skipper is attempting to pull the mooring line onto his bow.
Finally, if the anchorage is at all crowded, an anchor buoy is just un-neighbourly: it takes up two (or more) anchoring spaces as the buoy is a fixed entity that all other boats must work around in addition to the need to work around the boat to which it belongs.
I think there are rare instances where an anchor buoy is wise, but, in general, I believe them, even when anchoring on one’s own, as un-necessary and un-wise. Unnecessary as, in many thousands of anchorings in many locations, I have never not been able to retrieve the anchor, even when it had become initially fouled. Not wise because, I believe it is far more likely, in the long run, to cause trouble rather than save trouble for you and/or others.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Food for thought for sure . I have not experienced those particular circumstances you discussed and if I had my conclusion would likely be as yours .
Despite my words above, I wouldn’t endorse using them every time, but some anchorages have pretty foul bottoms with snags, but this is worthy of a deeper think. Thanks.
I’m with Dick on this one: not a fan of trip lines, except in special circumstances: https://www.morganscloud.com/2011/01/28/anchor-trip-line/
I use a permanent dyneema strop and chain hook attached to base of one of my bow deck cleats instead of a chain stopper. Just stop the windlass, slip on the hook, and let out another few inches of chain and we’re ready to set the anchor, or break it free of bottom. Maybe not as easy as chain stopper but dyneema can be cut.
For my chain end, I bought a 100 foot hank of bright orange colored dyneema winch line which is attached to chain so that it rides through windlass and is fastened in anchor locker. Rationale is it light and smaller diameter and will float so I should be able to let it free and cut in an emergency and fine the orange tail floating on surface- no need to fumble with a fender etc. But I hadn’t considered “booby trap” for others props etc so May rethink this solution- thanks!
I follow exactly this rationale. dyneema is your friend…
Yes, but no friend to the poor person that gets it around their drive line. Stuff can work up inside the stern tube and cutless bearings doing untold damage.
That’s a nice substitute for a chain stopper, as long as the cleat is strong enough, and a lot easier to fit.
Yes, definitely want to rethink that line, particularly since it’s Dyneema, which could completely trash someone’s drive line if it got around the prop.
Jolly good article.
I keep looking for a chain stopper mounted on a shock absorber. I remember these as standard ‘bigger boat fittings’ forty years ago but they seem to have vanished entirely. It may be said that nowadays we use a snubber but the use isn’t quite the same. The things that I remember had the stopper mounted on a slider with a travel of about four inches to provide a last line of defence against the chain coming bar tight and trying to snatch the stopper out of the deck.
Great idea, but like you I have never seen one in yacht sizes, a pity because it could really save things if the say the snubber parted off.
Consider this neat trick for your chain stopper.
Most have a hole in the flap that engages the chain. Tie a Length of bungy to the hole. Tie a small carabiner to the other end, making it long enough to reach the lower lifeline without going tight but short enough that you’ll need to stretch it to reach the top lifeline.
When lowering the anchor, stretch the bungy to the top lifeline to keep the chain stop up and free.
When you want to set the anchor, hook the carabiner on the lower lifeline; the stopper will lie on top of the chain. When you release one or two links of chain you’ll Automatically engage the chain stopper.
To retrieve the anchor, replace carabiner on the top lifeline. As soon as you take the load off the stopper with the windlass, the chain stopper will pop up and remain out of the way under light tension from the bungy.
All the movement of the chain stopper can be done without getting your fingers anywhere near the chain or stopper.
After Thousands of miles and hundreds of anchor sets and retrieval’s, this little trick has worked every time, never released when it shouldn’t and never been in the way of any other activity at the bow of the boat.
Nice idea indeed. I really like that keeps fingers away. That said, I do like the look of the Maxwell with it’s release handle.
Like you we use zip ties. Years ago I bought a pack of zip ties that have 4 colors and we have a little saying that helps us remember the order. In our case they are put on every 25′. I used to cut off the ends and then saw someone who hadn’t and that makes them so much easier to see. We actually run them on 2 different links which really helps with seeing them especially if it is dark or something. I do find that I have to be careful to replace them before they end up on the bottom somewhere, I am embarrassed to admit that I have lost a few over the years. When dealing with chain that is 3/4″ or larger, it was pretty easy to put lashings on that would last maybe 100 uses and could be seen, we typically did this when painting wasn’t practical (I never saw the zip ties on any of these boats but it may well have worked).
For termination, we use 5/8″ 3 strand attached to our 5/16″ chain with a rope to chain splice and then the other end is tied in the locker with enough to get the chain bitter end most of the way to the bow roller. Our Mawell windlass has a drum which accepts both remarkably well so it works well even over the splice. Since a 3 strand splice only takes a few minutes, end for ending halfway through the chain life is no big deal.
I like proper chain brakes but we have a soft stopper that we use on our own boat. It is a soft shackle attached to polyester braid (what I had kicking around). The good thing is that a knife can free it, the bad is that you have to more consciously use it. I also keep the biggest piece of polyester that fits easily through the chain handy as sometimes doubling through the chain can be helpful as it lets you fully release in a controlled manner.
Sounds good. And yes, I think you are right, the effectiveness of lashings is probably chain size dependant.
Hi John, thanks for the article
We have marked our 120m of 5/16 G43 chain by following advice from one of Lin & Larry Pardy’s books (Capable Cruiser I think). We have anchored in numerous anchorages while cruising for about 5 months and so far it seems as good as they said it would be.
The method used is to hand sew 1/2″ webbing with good sailmakers thread to the links, leaving about 1″ protruding.
One at 10m, two at 20m an so on until 50m. The next one at 60m (the middle of our chain) goes back to 1 tag with the next at 70m going to 5 tags (with a stripe on the tag from here on) then at 80m going to 4 etc and back to 1 at 110m. When the chain needs reversing the marks are still valid and the marks do not need to be redone. Larry says that this method lasts until the chain needs to be regalvanised.
For us, we have a maxwell 2200 winch and there is no problem with the tags going through the chain wheel and the tags are still in good condition.
That does sound line a good system. I guess it might not be quite as visible as wire ties when the chain is covered in mud, but then again, I can’t see them coming off. I do wonder if the webbing might catch the stripper on some windlasses and result in a nasty snarl up since webbing is so strong.
Your last point gave me pause for thought. I have a 25 kg Rocna as bower and have never liked that first moment when the shank suddenly becomes vertical and the chain starts to run. I had the idea to run a length of line from the pulpit, through the hoop (what the hell is the correct name for this?) and back to the pulpit. But your idea of using the line through a link of the chain sounds much better. Did I understand your comment correctly?
An excellent subject, and I’m 100% with you on the cut-away line, but I’m confused at this part, “The simplest way to set up for this eventuality is to splice a piece of three-strand nylon to the chain bitter end and then tie it in the anchor locker to a good big pad eye so that it’s just long enough that the splice appears through the hawse pipe, but not long enough that the rope goes over the wildcat.”
Perhaps I’ve misunderstood the description, however, how do you do that? The chain pipe is part of the windlass, so there is no gap between the two.
My protocol, detailed here https://stevedmarineconsulting.com/april-2019-newsletter/ calls for a rope to chain splice, and then adjustment of length so that when fully deployed, the splice comes to rest on the pulpit, with the reason being that if accidentally run out, in the event of a windlass malfunction for instance, you can access the chain to use a chain hook, and the warping drum, above the wildcat, on the windlass (your windlass has one of those right?) to retrieve the chain enough to re-reeve it onto the wildcat.
I’ve tested all this using a Maxwell vertical windlass (I like these and their cast stoppers), you need to release the clutch to let the rode run free in any event, and that allows the rope cut-away to easily pass over the wildcat.
Good point. I guess it depends on the configuration of the windlass. On our Ideal windlass there is just enough separation and accessibility between the hawse pipe and the wildcat to get a knife in to cut the line. The benefit being that if we screw up and run the whole chain, the bitter end is still on the wildcat. So yes, I can see that your system will be required on many windlasses. The only change I would make is not to bother with a chain hook and just use a rolling hitch to attach the nipper line.
All that said, I think our system would work on a vertical windlass since one only needs to have a couple of links still on the wildcat when the line comes tight for it to work, and it looks like there is room to get a knife between the end of the pipe and wildcat. Of course one would want to test carefully to be sure.
OK. The Ideal windlass does use a separate chain pipe, whereas the Maxwell’s is integral and support the chain stripper. At night, in wind and rain I wouldn’t want to be searching for that tiny gap.
I’m curious, have you ever had to use yours, or have you actually tested it?
Too bad the owners if Ideal sold the company, I knew them well and wrote about their operation, comparing the windlass they made to a Volvo 240 automobile I once owned, rugged, simple, easy to work on and reliable, it was, IMO, one of the best windlasses on the market, I used them for years, and they had forever support, never saying, as many other windlass manufacturers do after just a few years, ‘that part is no longer available, but we can give you 10% off a new windlass’.
A few thoughts.
Painting chain. I tried markers, really I did. But my specific windlass loved to jam on everything I tried or cut it off. True, paint does not last forever, but it is what the US Navy and ships in generally use, so let’s talk about it.
Mess. The first article I wrote for Good Old Boat was about painting chain markers with zero mess. I did it on-deck, with spray paint, without a drop cloth. The trick? Get a large cardboard box with one side open. Notch it in pairs, and drape only the sections to be marked. They should be hanging in mid-air with ~ 8-12″ of droop. Rotate the the sections to paint the back side. Leave the paint to dry until the next time you are at the boat and throw the box away. Zero mess and repainting every few years is child’s play. (I watch another sailor do it this way and borrowed the idea–it’s brilliant).
Don’t over-mark. Some folks want to mark every fathom. Honest, every 10 or even 20 meters is enough. You can also skip the first 30 meters, since you won’t deploy less than that. Some folks like a 3-meter mark, so they know when the anchor is nearly up. You can estimate distance between marks, as though scope were an exact science (it isn’t). This will simplify the system.
Time. If your winch powers down, counting seconds works on dark nights. After nearly having fingers go through a windlass on a choppy night (a wake threw me off balance) there is no way I will ever “feel” the chain for markers. Any OSHA safety guy would have a stroke on the spot. A headlamp is smart.
Long splice. Consider the Irony Splice AKA chain long splice, if you use a combination rode. It is very nearly full straighten and flies through a gypsy without trouble. It does take practice, but I’m sure John could knock one out in a thrice!
Tying the bitter end makes sense. Some people feel the need to splice everything, I don’t The lashing-in-the-locker method is bad, as John explained.
That sounds like a good plan if markers really won’t work. That said, pulling all the chain out on the the foredeck and laying it out to do that would be a colossal hassle on our boat, and a huge mess too, so I think I would wait until we were hauled and do it on the ground.
And I agree about feeling for chain markers. We try never to get our hands anywhere near the chain when the windlass is running and always take a head lamp forward for anchoring operations at night.
Laying the chain out on the foredeck is easier on a cat…;) You just flake it back and forth across the tramp.You can even use the width of the tramp as a measure.
Yeah, on the hard would be easier for most.
Oh Drew, you’re just far too modest.
You have perfectly explained the Irony Splice on your own blog – here’s for other readers reference: https://sail-delmarva.blogspot.com/2019/05/the-best-rope-to-chain-splice.html
And btw I wanted to say “thank you” for another “best blog” besides AAC, https://stevedmarineconsulting.com/, and https://marinehowto.com/.
Um, just found a good video for the Irony Splice as well: https://youtu.be/yqVF4NcpqXs
Almost everything needing to be said has been…said, but I can’t resist.
I tried Zip ties initially but they fell off running through the windlass so tried painting my chain with the predictable loss of colour and the drudgery of having to do it all over again annually.
I then looked again when people claimed their Zip ties stayed on for the long run. The difference I found out was that I had wrapped the ties around the side of the chain link rather than inside the mating point between the links. That made all the difference. We have had our ties in place for the past few years with very few coming off.
I am curious as to why people are content with so few markers though.
Here in BC, we can often be in tight little anchorages with stern ties with a need to be more accurate in knowing how much rode we have out. Some may consider it overkill to mark every 5 m but I actually find it very helpful to have an accurate handle on how much chain we have out. If we are in a tight anchorage where I have to use 3:1 scope in 12 m water I want to know when we are between 35 – 40 m. There are times when anchoring close to shore or other hazards, 10-15 m difference in chain is the difference between staying off the hard or not sleeping.
I have marked our 115 meters of chain every 5 meters with zip ties of differing colours in groups of 12 ties for each solid colour and 4+4+4 for the multi-colour marks using the following Rainbow (ROYGBv) marking scheme:
up to 50m then add one group of Black Ties to the same scheme repeated from 60m – 100m.
(I wanted us to start the sequence at Blue since it’s a shorter wavelength for shallower depths but my safety officer failed to appreciate the logic in that…after all the mnemonic was always ROY-G-BIV in her mind 😉
If we need more scope, I can sleep better knowing I do actually know how much chain we have out there.
Wow, that seems complicated and way too much for this aging brain to remember. Also a huge number of ties. Why do you need 12 ties at each point? And, with that many ties I would have thought it was difficult to see what just went by when the chain is running out fast.
Also, when anchoring in a small area with shore fasts we just put the anchor as far out as possible, or 7:1, whichever is higher. Attache the shore fasts and then pull really hard on the anchor. If it drags, or the scope is even slightly inadequate, we go some place else. To me this is safer than just measuring a safe scope, particularly if it’s so close that 5 meters would make difference. But then, as I have written before, I’m not a fan of really tight anchorages: https://www.morganscloud.com/2011/11/04/choosing-a-storm-anchorage-part-one/
But then again, I think you have a lot less wind on the BC coast than the areas we are used to cruising in.
Well, it probably is over-complicated but I was afraid I would be shedding ties & lose a few. It does mean that as the marks pass by, you don’t miss them (We are only talking about 3 feet of chain at each mark.)
As it has turned out the ties have been quite durable and with at a glance we know exactly where we are on the rode.
As far as wind goes, it depends on where on the coast we are. In the relatively protected Gulf Islands, there are many tight little pockets to anchor where the biggest hazard is the next boat trying to squeeze in… (Summer time is a good time to head further out and away but on the open coast, we will certainly see more wind.)
My paint color scheme is quite simple. I’ve used this on three boats, both on rope and chain. Easy for me to remember.
25 feet, one red band 6 inches wide.
50 feet, two bands.
75 feet three bands.
100 feet, four bands.
125+ keep repeating, starting over at one band. I know how many hundred feet are out, although honestly, how often do we run out more than 200′ of chain?
Single 3-foor wide band 25 feet before the end.
The system we use is very inexpensive we change the markers about every 5 to 8 years and it’s very easy to calculate in your head even when you’re tired as to how much chain you need to put out. We use 1.5 oz spinnaker cloth that we hot knife into strips approximately 2 inches wide and 20 inches long. I made ours from scrap so we got from a local sailmaker for no charge. Simply tie the strips of cloth through A link in the chain center them and tie it with the reef not. You have two tails approximately 10 inches long so that they are very easy to see. We always freefall our anchor and chain and even in a deep anchorage as they go whizzing by they are easy to spot even in the dark. We have no problems at all with our Lighthouse Windless damaging The markers. The chain is marked by the depth we will be anchoring using a 5 to 1 scope. One marker goes out for each 5 feet of water depth. When calculating the amount of chain for 5 feet of water below the keel I take into consideration that we have 10 feet from her Keel to her anchor roller. So effectively it’s 15 feet for the calculations or 75 feet of chain. We use the red piece of cloth for a first marker then each marker is 25 feet from the one before it with the last two markers being red so we know we’re getting to the end of the line. Example, you pull into an Anchorage and Your depth finder says you’re in 30 feet of water, 30÷5 = 6. Therefore you let out six markers. Often will stop a little bit past marker five in this example. put the snubber on it and then let the rest of the chain out so this snubber is taking the load. When that happens marker six is already out of the chain locker. If you like you can always put numbers with a sharpie marker on each of the markers so that you know how many how many are out if you lose track. You can stop the chain with the clutch on the Windless. read the number on the marker and get yourself back on course. We have however, never needed to do that because it is so easy seeing these big markers flying out of the chain locker. When putting this snubber on we let the chain stopper take the load. Before putting the snubber on we will set the anchor using the engine reverse and at least 2000 RPM. After we have confirmed that the anchor is set we will then put the snubber on, Release the load on the chain stopper by standing on The chain between the chain stopper and the wildcat. This pulls in enough chain to remove the load from the chain stopper allowing you to transfer the load to the snubber.… Read more »
Sounds good, although I’m amazed that spinnaker cloth lasts. Pretty sure our set up would shred the lot in days, but I could be wrong in that I have never tried it.
I was pretty amazed myself. Our haws pipe is nothing more than a rectangular hole, say 2”X3” cut trough the 1/4” stainless steel plate directly under the wildcat. By having the marker tied in the middle of the link, it is not making direct contact with the pockets of the wildcat so there is very wear. It is time to reverse the chain before we head to the southern islands next month so will most likely renew the markers.
Tried the Imtra markers And found they don’t last long. Also white wire ties which are pretty good. We are now trying polypropylene in different colors. We use a piece about a foot long and weave it between the links, no knots. So far it is outlasting everything else!
Our chain-marking system is similar to many of the zip-tie systems detailed in this thread, but instead of zip ties, we use short lengths of 1/8″ line, cow-hitched to a chain link (with an added stitch of sail twine to secure them). We’ve developed a fairly simple system of overhand knots tied into the lines to indicate segments of 25′. The knots allow us to read depths in the dark.
Sounds like a good system.
We have a Lewmar vertical windlass aboard, that we’re looking to rip out of the deck(for a variety of reasons) and it is a hell of a pain. We’re planning on replacing it, perhaps with a manual model, and fitting a chain stopper. I’ve not yet started thinking about how to strengthen the spot where the chain stopper will go, but your tips are very helpful. I’ll make sure to add a good backing plate under deck, and to level it well enough. Thank you.
I fitted a Simpson Lawrence Tiger manual windlass on Kukri. They are still available new, made to order by S-L Spares in Glasgow. It sits on a hard nitrile rubber pad on a good sized 4mm 316 stainless plate on an iroko pad through bolted with lots of gloop to a 4mm plate on a plywood pad on the underside with a stainless tube through the deck.
Deck is the usual balsa core. I don’t think that lot is going anywhere in a hurry,
I guess I still would have removed the core in the way of the windlass if it had been me. On my first boat I did almost exactly the same thing, but over time the core compressed and the bolts loosened.
It would be an awful lot of core to take out – the core was removed iwo the bolts and the pipe and replaced in the usual way. The 555 is not going to be the only windlass – it’s going to be joined by a Lighthouse once the £ regains a rational relationship with the US$! I know the Lighthouse has an excellent manual system and I could have fitted a double one, but I just feel happier with two windlasses. There will be a substantial rebuild of the bow rollers.
How about just removing the core around the bolt holes, rather than the whole lot under the windlass? Not too bad a job and I bet it would solve any potential future issues with the core compressing.
Here’s a nice how to on that from Steve D: https://www.cruisingworld.com/how/core-concerns-reefing-and-backfilling/
Just realized you did that. A bit dozy this morning!
While I usually I put simplicity first, I’m not a fan of manual windlasses. Just too exhausting to hoist the anchor using them, and I think that can result in not re-anchoring when we get say positioning a little bit wrong. Also, in an emergency with a short handed crew the time and exhaustion factor of hauling with a manual windlass can make the difference between losing the boat and not.
My hugely experienced friend Wilson recently changed from manual to power and Mick, of Hanna fame, has told be some truly scary stories of barely getting out of a jam because of the time and stamina it took to retrieve the anchor manually. In fact the only reason they did not lose the boat on at least one occasion is that Bee, his partner, is a try-athlete and near-superhuman.
Is it more realistic to have a manual windlass for a smaller, lighter yacht? I have a Yamaha 33. I did get rid of my old Lewmar, but haven’t yet decided what I want to do. I’ve heard many horror stories too, from people with manuals, but also a lot of really good ones? I met many sailors while cruising the South Pacific who had them on their boat. I only heard praise, not complaints, but then again, maybe they’re the lucky ones…
Thank you for your advice.
Sure, the smaller the boat the less of a problem not having an electric windlass will be. Still, I would always lean toward a good quality electric one, particularly if anchoring on all chain.
When you get that Lewmar out of the deck, make sure you throw it overboard so somebody doesn’t find it at a swap meet and make the mistake of installing it. I retrieved a 55# anchor and associated chain by hand all the way up from Panama. Had to use the boat’s power winches and a halyard to eventually get all the frozen parts out of the deck.
Lived with a SL 555 manual for years. I’m with John on that one!
I finally did get it out, what a pain… oh what a pain! For a while I thought it would stay stuck forever. Had to use brute force to get it out, not something I like to do but it would not yield otherwise. I’ll make sure to dispose of it well.
I’ve been hauling the anchor up by hand for the past 4 years, but my anchor is much lighter than yours. I also make a point of always anchoring in under 40 feet, which helps a great deal for retrieval.
Do you mean to say you struggled with your SL 555? I want to make sure (I’m collecting horror stories). Really though, I’ve mostly heard good things about manuals in my usual circles, and I want to form a well-rounded view.
I just bought a Maxwell hight adjusted chainstopper. It looks as a real piece of art and it is massieve.
What is the best position to mount it in relation to the windlass? It can be fitted between 20 and 60 cm from the vertical windlass. Closer or better a little bit further away?
Met zilte groet,
Bernard SY NoMad
Good to hear on the Maxwell chainstopper.
With the design of that chain stopper Better to be a bit further away from the windlass since it would give you a bit of room to double rolling hitch a nipper line on the chain if the windlass failed and you needed to unload the stopper using a cockpit winch.
That’s a very good remark. Thank you.
During anchoring I use a long snubber.
But, when Murphy rules and everything goes wrong at the same time, the chainstopper could obstruct slipping the anchor.
we have tried wire ties, paint, and the rubber/plastic inserts for marking chain while extensively cruising in the Bahamas. All have eventually failed. What has worked for us is different color Polypropylene rope which we cut to about a foot long and intertwine through the chain links. The only maintenance ever is occasionally tucking in the ends as you lower or raise the anchor. We pick up different colors as we find them walking the beaches. We have not had to replace any of our markings since we started doing this two seasons ago. That’s over a year of hanging on the hook.
Now thats a great and simple idea. Do you by chance have a photograph of your “intertwine” system ?
Sounds like a good solution. The only thing that might worry me a bit about it would be the rope getting jammed in the wild cat stripper at a bad moment.
Good get. You are correct. Occasionally the rope gets jammed but never seriously. I just back it out and tuck in the end that became loose then it’s always been fine.
In that case I think I will stick with wire ties since I know that even if one got fouled it would not be strong enough to impede the winch. There have been few times in my cruising life where I have had to get the anchor up in a really big hurry so I have a visceral fear of anything that can impede that process, even a little.
Hi Christopher and John,
I too am a fan of wire ties.
I have used them for decades without issue in the windlass and otherwise. In yellow (never seen white) they are easy to see at night (I leave a considerable length sticking out: ~~6 inches) and how many ties at each mark can indicate the length of chain at that point. Close observation has them just folding up alongside the chain as it goes into and around the gypsy and then dropping into storage.
Although they often last a season, I am careful to replace early after Colin flagged a while back that there is already way too much plastic in our waters.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
May I caution the use of polypropylene involving long term exposure to UV – say if you are in the habit of leaving the marker on deck or just above the water, when at anchor. Or if the rope has been laying on a beach for a while.
Polypropylene has poor resistance to UV and will break down, shedding micro-plastics into the water and into your chain locker. Polyester on the other hand has really good UV resistance if you can find the right colours and gauge.
But good on you for picking up plastics from the beach!