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Mistakes can be costly on a boat, which is why, whenever possible, it is best to learn from others who have already made them. What follows is a thousand dollar mistake that we made some years ago, and how we changed our technique to prevent it from happening again.

Most people know that, when anchored, the boat should not hang directly off the windlass. Instead, the chain, or rode as the case may be, should be rigged to a snubber, or a bridle, to transmit the force away from the expensive winch, and onto a strong cleat or post. We knew this of course, but still managed to destroy our first windlass by not rigging this line quickly enough.

The next-generation anchors, like the Mantus we use now, or the Rocna that we had in the past, often dig in quickly. That’s a good thing! When the boat is moving back at a decent clip though, propelled either by the wind or the engines, this quick anchor set can be quite abrupt. So much so that the person on our bow always makes it a point to hold on to something secure before the chain goes taut.

In the period following the installation of our first windlass, we didn’t realize the long-term effect that this abrupt shock loading can have on the device. Without rigging anything to prevent it, that force was always taken up by the windlass. I’m not sure exactly how long it took but eventually our windlass died. In my opinion, it was our failure to protect the windlass from these repeated stresses that contributed to its far-too-early demise. We ultimately figured out our error, albeit too late to prevent us from having to spend a bunch of money.

The burned hand teaches best. After that, advice about fire goes to the heart. — J.R.R. Tolkien

We do learn from our mistakes!

Not about to make the same mistake again, we modified our procedure to safeguard our new windlass from this initial shock loading, and we have done so ever since. Having now cruised on three different vessels, each with a different anchor setup, our method for doing so has been different on each boat. For example, on ZTC we simply put a wrap of the chain (or rode) around the nearest cleat before it went taut. On the Leopard, with the anchor deploying from the center line, behind the trampoline, we used a chain brake to protect the windlass. Now on Frost, we quickly attach our snubber to the chain, and cleat it off before the chain pulls tight. While each method is slightly different, they all achieve the same desired result: they protect the windlass from that initial shock loading. Note that following this, once the boat’s motion settles down, we rig the bridle/snubber as normal.

Why post about this now? The other day, while enjoying some time on deck in the Tobago Cays, I watched as a catamaran anchored nearby us. It was quite windy out, as I recall, and the helmsman had the boat moving back fairly quickly while the chain was being paid out. When bowman stopped paying the chain out, and it came taut, the boat came to a seriously abrupt halt. When it did so there was such an awful sound that I thought the windlass was going to pull out of the deck!

Until that time, I hadn’t considered the fact that some people may be making the same mistake that I believe contributed to us wrecking our first windlass. If you’re among the folks who are, you may wish to learn from our mistake, and modify your system to better protect your expensive windlass.


  1. Good suggestion. I have been doing the same thing for over 20 years:(
    I no longer will be however.

  2. The logic of this suggestion seems flawless and I’m going to amend my anchoring technique to always transfer this load to a line/cleat. Thanks for the great tip.

    Previously I’d never given any consideration to this possibility because I reasoned that if the windlass could generate 1000+ pounds of lifting force that it could certainly handle a strong ‘tug’ that occurs when the boat is brought up short as the anchor digs in.

    However, when thinking of how this load goes from 0 to ‘whatever’ in just an instant when the chain rode suddenly draws tight, then I can imagine that the stress on the gears in the windlass is more like a hammer blow than the steady loading it is designed to handle when bringing up an anchor.

    • While I have no real evidence, I think so too. At the least, doing as I suggest can’t hurt. At the most, it saves us from damaging an important, expensive piece of gear.

  3. We were fortunate when buying Painkiller that the PO had installed a proper chain stopper. Great piece of gear although it deserves a lot of concentrated respect to your fingers when operating the simple hinged flap….

    The more expensive model looks safer as your fingers don’t have to be in contact with the flap….

    • It’s been a while but I know I had purchased one of those (first link). I’m not sure I installed it or not though. Two Fish had one, that’s for sure.

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