Windlass & anchoring

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Chris Foster

Senior Member
Oct 12, 2007
Vessel Name
Vessel Make
46 Grand Banks Classic
OK, here's a really embarassing question to have to ask.* I haven't been able to find anything in Chapmans, on line, or elsewhere.

Boats that I've chartered or crewed on in the past either had no windlass or a bidirectional windlass.* In both cases, I could pretty much figure out how to get the anchor out & down.

But the McMurray on my Rawson has one button only - up.

I note that there's a wheel on the outside of the gypsy, and friction plates on both sides of the gypsy.* So I'm guessing that the gypsy can freewheel by backing off on the wheel.* I played with it for a few minutes and currently I can back off the wheel, but the gypsy and the shaft appear to be as one - I'm thinking that a little penetrant and friendly persuasion would likely fix that.

So - before doing something that I might regret - is it safe to assume that I can back off the wheel a bit, get the anchor away, and use the gypsy and a little friction to give a controlled decent?*

Also - this is the first boat I've run with an all-chain rode.* Anything that I should know about that before I goof something up?

I'd think twice before using penetrant on there. You WANT friction between the metal plates and the friction plates. I'd err on the side of taking it apart and cleaning things up that way. The oil in the penetrant will cause some swelling and some slipperyness that you might not want.

The best piece of advice I can give on all chain rode is to let out chain to the depth of the water (+water to pulpit) and then make sure the boat is moving backwards before dropping more chain. The reason being, that if the boat is sitting still the chain will pile up on the anchor and might foul in the flukes when it does draw taut. It may be that the current/tide is moving you enough to keep the anchor from fouling or you may need to encourage the boat to move some before dropping the final amount of chain.

I can't speak for the McMurray but the big no-name windless that came with our boat had only a single footswitch for powering the windlass in the retrieve direction. Deploying the anchor was simply a matter of backing off on the large bronze brake wheel and letting the wildcat freewheel the chain out. Adjusting the brake wheel while the chain was going out gave us control over the speed.

The new windless we installed last year, a Lofrans Tigres, has footswitches for powering out and in but it can be freewheeled out as well using the brake wheel and the supplied lever that fits over the brake wheel spokes.

The Tigres uses a cone clutch for friction. The no-name windlass it replaced used friction plates on each side of the wildcat. I just took the photo of the old windlass out in our garage and you can see the friction plates on each side of the wildcat. The brake wheel clamps everything together (the outer plate is off its keyway which is why there are gaps between everything, and why*the rim of the outboard friction plate is not flush with the wildcat).

In addition to Ken's good advice regarding deploying an all-chain rode I'll add that all-chain rode is not at all forgiving of fingers. Be REAL careful when deploying and retrieving the anchor to keep you hands and fingers away from places where they could bet pulled in between the chain and the wildcat or pulpit rollers.

-- Edited by Marin at 12:03, 2008-06-02


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With an all chain rode you really want to be sure and use a snubber line to absorb the stress from the ground tackle and send it to something (cleats) that can handle the load.
We have the same type of windless on Ancora. Our problem is with the chain piling up in the chain locker on retrieval and causing the chain to slip off the wildcat. So far, our only fix is to have someone flake out the chain in the chain locker when pulling up the anchor. If there is another fix, we would sure like to know about it.
"If there is another fix, we would sure like to know about it."

The fix is a pain to do , the chain locker must be rebuilt into a deep and narrow locker.

That way the chain can only pile on it self , and the pile cant fall over , messing up the chain when its shot.

If you build it out of ply , be sure to have enough water holes so if needed the chain can be slused down in place to get rid of the mud stench.

Skeens I think has the dimensions , as does any number of B Bingham sail books.

We have a windless like your that only power up.* You can convert it to a power down and a power up sold at most marine stores.* Which seems a bit slow to me as you have to hold the position.*

The Gypsy should free wheel by turning the wheel and backing off the two pressure plates.* Every year it gets stuck so I taker a screw drive to pry the pressure plats apart, with the chain in the gypsy and the end of the anchor secured so the anchor can not move, then bump the windless to loosen the gypsy.I just did that last night seeing you post.* *If you have to use penetrating oil be sure to clean it off the pressure plates after.* ***

The way I let down the anchor is to use the wheel/pressure plates as a break to control the speed.* I have seen other just let the anchor go and let it drop.* I did that a couple of time but still had to*use the wheel/break to slow/stop the chain.

To keep from piling to high let out all the chain and flat/spread out *in the bottom of*locker then start letting the chain pile up. We have 200 ft of chain but the last 50 ft is very seldom used. Might have to play with it to get it right.* The chain locker might to so small for the amount of chain you have.* As FF said maybe you and enlarger/modity te chain locker.*

We always left our old friction plate windlass with the brake wheel backed off. That way the friction plates never "bonded" to the wildcat and we never had a sticking problem. We do the same thing today with our new Tigres and leave the cone clutch loosened until we're actually going to operate the windlass.

We always secure the deployed rode to one or two deck cleats using one or two snubbers so there is no pressure at all on the windlass or the pulpit. And we never set the anchor using the pulpit and windlass to pull against, we have a short line with a chain hook that we use for setting the anchor. When we're at anchor the windlass brake wheel is backed off to no pressure--- we use a chain stay to keep the chain from running out under its own weight.

But if you (or a previous owner) left a friction plate windlass with the brake tightened down for a long period of time it's very possible that the plates and the wildcat can stick together quite tightly and may even have to be pried apart.

We have 200' of all-chain rode and have never had a problem with the chain coming off the wildcat during retrieval. But the chain locker of a GB is quite large and very deep, so the top of the pile of chain is a good three feet below the deck, plus our windlass is mounted on a big teak block about a foot or more above the deck. As others have said, it sounds to me as though your chain locker may be too small or too shallow for an all-chain rode.

-- Edited by Marin at 11:54, 2008-06-03
I am of the opinion you are right regarding the size of my chain locker. We carry 240 feet of 3/8" chain and it fills up the chain locker.
I am of the opinion you are right regarding the size of my chain locker.

Its not the size , its the SHAPE that gives the problems , unfortunatly loads harder to cure.

Why not dump the chain till you get in coral infested waters where you actually need it?
Thanks, gentlemen.

I don't doubt that getting the gypsy freed from the friction plates will be quite a festive event
It was left with the brake wheel tight, and I have no idea how long since it's been used.

Marin - I wanted to be certian that I understand how you're doing this - am I right in saying that you use a line + snubber to 1 or 2 cleats to handle the actual strain of the boat against the anchor, and the chain stop to make certain that what's left on the boat stays there?

On a related topic, do those of you in the "chain gang" paint links to show how much rode is payed out? Or is there a slicker way (or do you just do it by feel??).
I use brightly colored tie wraps. One yellow at 25 feet, one orange at 50, one blue at 75, one of each at 100. Then 2 yellow at 125, etc. They last a long time and when pulling up anchor one can check and replace as needed. I leave the tail long on mine. It doesn't cause any problems and makes the markers easier to see.


If we're going to be anchored for awhile (overnight or longer), we use a chain "plate" as opposed to a chain hook. This is the stainless plate with a slot for a chain link and two holes for shackles to fasten a pair of snubbers to. Some people like them, some don't. We use 1/2" snubbers so they will have some shock absorbing quality. We have two deck cleats at the bow so each snubber goes to its own cleat. Once it's rigged up we let the plate (and chain) out on the snubbers until it's about 4 feet underwater and then cleat off the snubbers. We then let out a bunch more chain to increase the size of the loop hanging between the plate and the pulpit. The bottom of the loop ends up probably 8 feet under water or more.

If we're going to be anchored for a few hours or so, we use just one of the snubbers and chain hook but rigged the same way as the plate in terms of how far underwater the hook hangs and the size of the loop.

In each case we use a short line with a chain hook to hold the chain back against its own weight. This is the line you can see in the photo of our Tigres windlass that's coming back to the cleat on top of the windlass. The hook is just out of the photo to the right. This line is always in place even when the anchor is up because a Rocna is balanced to self-deploy. If we took the line off the anchor would launch itself since we leave the windlass brake backed off. (We have a second hold-back in the form of a bungee.)

We have a short 5/8" line (10 feet long maybe) made up with a chain hook on one end that we use to set the anchor. So we get the boat moving slowly backwards (wind, current, or a moment in reverse), then lower the anchor to the bottom, let out whatever scope we want, attach the chain hook, power out a bit more chain so the hook doesn't fall off the chain, cleat the line, and set the anchor against the line, not the pulpit or windlass.

Finally, if we're going to be anchored for awhile or if it's windy and the anchor is going to have a decent strain on it we attach a buoyed trip line to the anchor and toss that over as we're deploying the anchor. That way we can haul the anchor out backwards if we need to. We never break the anchor out with the windlass. If it doesn't come out easily we use the boat to break it out using the same line we use to set the anchor so there is no strain on the pulpit or windlass.

A lot of people make up color codes for paint or markers so they know how much chain is out. We did that intially but we could never remember what the code was, plus it didn't take long for the paint to come off or get covered by mud. And all we really care about is that we get the right amount of chain out in the first place. So we bailed on the the paint and code idea and simply put a white plastic wire tie every ten feet. We didn't trim the ties so they stick up and are pretty obvious. So if we want 100 feet of chain out, we simply count off ten wire ties as we're letting the chain out. If we have a need to remember how much chain we have out we write it on a sticky note and stick it on the flying bridge steering cable/wire guide in front of the helm. The wire tie ends will break off over time but we'll just replace them when they do.

So that's what we do. It takes longer to describe it than do it. But there are 653,297 correct ways to set up an anchoring rig and anchoring process, so do what you find works best for you.

-- Edited by Marin at 20:57, 2008-06-04
At the risk of sounding stupid (never done THAT before) I'm curious why many people are so protective of their bow pulpit and anchor windlass? I've seen Marin and others talk about using deck cleats to secure their anchor and never using the windlass to do anything but take the weight of the anchor and chain.

It seems to me that the strongest part of the boat is going to be the bow. It is designed to run into the waves and break the water for it's lifetime. It is a complex "bent" shape which seems to be inherently stronger. (take a piece of paper and push against it, then bend it and push) My bow has a 5" x 5" samson post which goes down to and is anchored to the keel/stem. The bow pulpit (2.25" x 14" teak board) is anchored to the samson post and the top of the bow itself, on top of the caprail, creating the famous triangle which truss builders swear is the strongest shape. Under the pulpit is also a grate anchored to the samson post and the bow structure. Under that is the boat deck which is structurally the weakest piece. (fiberglass skin on both sides with plywood in between and teak decking on top, maybe 1.25" thick at most).

So to recap, I have a strong triangle shape (bow/pulpit board/samson post) reinforced in two additional places, all are fairly stout members, all are bolted or glassed in place. Why wouldn't that be the strongest thing to pull against. Wouldn't deck cleats, even properly backed be a weaker place to pull against? Wouldn't that strain be more likely to stress the deck and cause potential leaks?

And why would the windlass manufacturer put a cleat horn on top of the windlass if it wasn't designed to take a strain? I don't see any other use for it.

I know, a lot of questions but if I'm doing it wrong I need to change. It it's just a personal choice then I won't worry about it.

** 2bucks, good questions ALL.* Our last boat did have a sampson post which we used extensivley when tying to our dock and the very, very, very*odd time we anchored (I think 5X in 10 years).* The cleats were mounted on top of the gunwales with no hawse pipes.* Our current boat does NOT have a sampson post but it does have substantial deck mounted cleats and hawse pipes AND it does have a cleat horn on top of the Lewmar windlass.* We have not tried anchoring yet but I am eager to learn the "best" way.

You're correct in that the bow of a boat is going to be strong. The question is how strong is the pulpit itself, or the pulpit attachment hardware? I have heard and read a number of of "horror" stories over the ten years we've been doing this kind of boating about pulpits snapping off under the high strain from setting an anchor, or more commonly, using the windlass and pulpit to break a deeply set or stuck anchor free. Pulpit strength is going to vary with the design of the boat, the make of the boat, the age of the boat, the quality of the construction, and the quality of the attachment hardware.

Our boat is 35 years old. The spine of the pulpit is a big bronze casting wth teak platforms bolted to each side of it. The bronze pulpit spine is secured to the bow with big bronze bolts or screws and there is an angle brace between the back of the pulpit and the heavy fiberglass stem. But I have no idea how strong it all is, I have no idea what shape the bolts or screws are in, and I have no idea what kind of strains and stresses the pulpit and hardware has been subjected to in the past. Given the cost of repairing a broken or snapped-off pulpit we err on the side of caution and don't put any undue strain on it.

I know and can see how the deck cleats are bolted and backed up, so I know how much of a load they can carry, and it's a lot.

As to putting a load on the windlass, whatever load is put on the windlass is put on the gears, the friction brake parts, and the windlass mounting hardware. We broke some gear teeth on our big, no-name windlass the other year. When they broke (and jammed the windlass) the anchor was on its way up from the bottom so there was minimal strain on the windlass gears. But who knows what sort of strain the teeth that broke might have been subjected to by previous owners.

It's my understanding that the cleat on the top of many windlasses is there for the purpose we use it for--- as an attach point for a chain hold-back line. If one has complete faith in the strength of the relatively small bolts that secure the windlass to the deck, the backing plates, and the strength of the windlass casting itself, I guess the cleat could be used to set the anchor although you'd also be putting the strain on the pulpit.

So I don't believe there is a definitiive "do it this way" answer to your questions. Some boats are probably designed and built so you could suspend the whole damn boat from the pulpit and this, as you say, makes the*strongest point to carry the strain of setting, holding, and*retrieving the*anchor. *Others are built with the minimum strength required to carry the anchor and resist a mild amount of strain.

I will say that every article and book I've read on the subject of mooring and anchoring cautions against putting heavy loads on the pulpit and the windlass. The anchoring procedure I described earlier was taken from the best book I've found on the subject plus the advice and experience of local boaters we've met who do a lot of anchoring and use techniques that have proved very successful in this area. Someone boating in the Carribean will probably use entirely different equipment and techniques.

-- Edited by Marin at 16:12, 2008-06-05
Yes, work boats, fishing boats, tugs, etc. are a whole different deal. My comments are directed only at boats built for the recreational market.
I love the big sampson post that TD VINNETT put on the bow of my NORTHSHORE 44.
I have personally seen two bow pulpits that cracked from not using a snubber with all chain rode. Both vessels were being used as R/C boats and were subjected to the wakes of the passing contestants. The one boat sustained stress cracks while the other boat had the pulpit actually snap.
Thanks for all the information. Some interesting opinions on what to trust and not to trust. I'd bet that before the pulpit cracked or before the pulpit broke there would be some indication of a problem. Since my pulpit is totally exposed on all sides except where it attaches I would think I'd see some varnish cracking or other sign it was going bad. The same is true of the samson post, it can be visually inspected from top to bottom. I can't examine my deck core quite so easily. So if it's leaky and going soft like so many do, I might not know it until it pulled thru.

I checked on the bolts holding my winch on today and they are 3/8". The cleats are smaller at 5/16". Also the bolts (winch) have actual bolt heads instead of tapered screw heads (cleats). I'm thinking there is more inherent strength there also. So for strength, the winch has stronger attachment than the cleats. I agree that leaving the strain on the chain gipsy unnecessarily loads the gears and shafts for large loads. At least on my boat, it would appear that continuing to use the post is the best method.

Ancora talks of boats without snubbers which of course I use, so that isn't an issue for me.

Thanks again,
For the lowest anchor loads , simply use Nylon.


You may or may not get an indication that a pulpit is getting ready to go. It will all depend on its construction and leverage involved. Don't forget that strength is not just a factor of the size of the fasteners but is also affected by the leverage the load is able to apply to the fasteners or other components. It's conceivable that one component held with smaller fasteners can carry a higher load than another component held with larger fasteners because of the leverage the load applies to the fasteners via the pulpit or whatever.
The best book I've seen on the subject is called "The Complete Book of Anchoring and Mooring" by Earl Hinz.
I agree with FF on this one .. nylon. I think trawler guys like chain because its heavy. Many trawler owners like thier boats because they are heavy. My father had a wonderful 36' lobsteryacht built of FG with an airex foam core. Dad told the builder to build this and that heavier until the 6-71 could only push the boat 9 knots WOT. Of course he had a big fish boat winch with heavy chain on the bow .. all chain of course. Yachtsmen should know better. Chapman says use a nylon rode with 8 to 10' of chain. There are numerous advantages to all chain but I belive nylon is best. The answer to the following question may shed some light on the popularity of all chain. What do you guys do with a rode of 25' of chain and nylon? What do you do while pulling your anchor when you get to the end of the nylon line and need to swich from pulling nylon line to pulling chain? One shouldn't pull chain with the winch drum .. right? As I see it one would need to take the slack off the rode ahead of the winch and transfer the rode ( where the chain starts ) to the gipsy/wildcat and resume pulling the rode. Since I have enough hair on my chest to pull my rode by hand I don't know what you chain dudes do. Does my theory have anything to do with why you guys like all chain .. and carry 200 to 300' of extra chain and the extra winch power and cost to do it. I can see why you are talking about winches being riped off decks. What .. 100' of heavy chain, a big Bruce anchor, an anchor burried deep ( Bruce anchors do that ) and a guy that breaks his anchor loose with the winch. I have wondered about the cleat on winches but I wonder mostly how you guys make the switch from nylon to chain while raising anchor. Enlighten me or entertain me.

Eric Henning
Where do I start? I've had both types over the years, and prefer all chain. You don't have an abrasion problem with chain as you will with Nylon, at either end. You don't need nearly as much to hold you, as the weight of the chain makes a catenary that is more parallel to the anchor and bottom so it holds better. It's easier to let out more chain for more holding power; again you don't need as much. For windy conditions, you put out a Nylon snubber, that gives you the stretch you need. You don't have to switch from chain to Nylon on the windlass when recovering, although that's not a big deal. With a proper windlass and rope to chain splice, that's not a problem.
Hi Eric, We have 2 anchors and rodes on the bow of Sea Eagle. One has 50' of 3/8 G4 chain and 250' of 3/4" 3 strand, the other has 25' of 3/8 G4 and 300' of 3/4" 3 strand. The chain is braided into the 3 three strand. When we are taking up the anchor Paula runs the boat driving up to the anchor, I use the winch to help me pull in the rode and put it in a plastic container and later put it up in the chain locker. When we get to the chain I manhandle it from the rope side to the gypsie side. Of course I am also washing the chain and anchor as they come up because they are full of mud.

If it was all chain I would not have to manhandle it on the winch and I could just run it right into the chain locker. I just don't want all that weight on the front of the boat.
nomadwilly wrote:

I think trawler guys like chain because its heavy.
Yes, but that's the point.* With all chain you get a big catenary and that helps keep the pull on the anchor low so there is less likelihood of it coming out.* Obviously in a big wind the catenary starts to come out of the chain so the angle of pull moves up higher.* But with a nylon rode, unless you use a kellet, it doesn't take much wind at all*to pull that nylon out straight and move the angle of*pull on the anchor higher.*

150' or 200' or however much chain you have out weighs a hell of a lot--- considerably more than the anchor itself.* So an all-chain rode also*plays a more active role in keeping your boat where you want it than a nylon rode does.

The all chain rode does offer abrasion resistance which is one reason for its great*popularity in the PNW with its often rough or rocky bottoms.* But I know people who use the "standard" combination rode--- anchor, then chain equivelent to the length of their boat attached to that, and then the rest of the rode is nylon--- and so far as I'm aware they've not experienced chafing or wear problems in years or decades*of boating in this area.* So the chafing resistance*rationale may be more of an armchair theory than a real one, but I wouldn't want to say that definitively

Both setups offer advantages.* All-chain seems to be far more popular in this area than combination rodes, and this popularity is not limited to trawlers.* I know a lot of sailboat owners who use all-chain.* However they have boats large enough to deal with the weight.** The owners I know*of smaller sailboats use combination rodes because of the reduced weight.* Same deal with planing boats.* My friend*Carey with the 36' custom lobsterboat*has a rode with about 60' (I think) of chain and the rest nylon.* But his boat*can get up and move at 15 knots or more, so having a bunch of weight in the bow would be detrimental to his boat's trim.***

So as usual with almost everything having to do with boats, there is no one-size-fits-all.* All chain offers, I think, more advantages than disadvantages in this area unless the weight is an issue in a particular boat.* However I'm sure there are other areas*where a combination rode is the better way to go.

Some of the people I have anchored with who use a combination rode simply armstrong the whole works up when they weigh anchor.* They either feel it's faster or their boat (usually sail) doesn't have a windlass.*

The people I've anchored with*who use a combination rode but do have a windlass generally armstrong in the nylon, or have a crewmember motor forward as they haul in the nylon, until the boat is over the anchor.* I would guess the typical anchoring depth in the PNW is about*30 feet.* Yes, I know there are plenty of places where you have to put the anchor down way, way more, but I suspect that 30 feet is about what most people try to shoot for if they can.* We do, anyways.

So when they get the boat up over the anchor, they're probably at or*near the transition from nylon to chain assuming a 30-foot boat or longer.* So when the chain starts coming aboard, they lay it in the wildcat on the windlass and haul the chain and anchor up with that.

-- Edited by Marin at 21:12, 2009-01-09
I keep wondering how the all nylon rode folks would handle anchoring in some of the 10 to 15 fathom depths in British Columbia, don't forget to throw in a 3 fathom tide range plus a couple of fathoms for the bow. Hmmm, at 5:1 thats some 600 feet.* Well at least it won't weigh a heck of a lot.* Nice swing radus too.

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