The Sailor's Comprehensive Handbook: Mastering the Art of Anchoring from Snubbers to Chains

  • The Sailor's Comprehensive Handbook: Mastering the Art of Anchoring from Snubbers to Chains

Anchoring a boat or yacht is both an art and a science, and no, it's not just about throwing some heavy metal overboard and hoping for the best. What is an anchor snubber? Why is it important to understand the art of anchoring? Whether you're new to boating or a seasoned sailor, this article aims to be your comprehensive guide. From anchor snubbers to anchor bridles, yacht anchors to sailing anchors, we will delve into it all. Strap in!

Snubbers: What Are They and Why Do You Need Them?

Snubbers: the unsung heroes of your anchoring system. Acting as shock absorbers, snubbers help to ease the stress exerted on your boat, anchor, and chain by wind and waves. They are a must-have in any serious sailor's toolkit, providing a sense of security when mooring your vessel.

Types of Snubbers

When it comes to snubbers, variety is the name of the game. Primarily, you'll find two types—chain snubbers and line snubbers. Chain snubbers are generally heavier and more durable, whereas line snubbers offer more elasticity and are lighter, making them easier to handle. Each type has its pros and cons, which we'll explore in depth later.

Anchor Snubber: What is it?

Role in anchoring.

Imagine you're the rope in a tug-of-war game. You're pulled from both ends and subjected to enormous pressure. Now, insert an elastic band in the middle of that rope. The stress would distribute better, wouldn't it? That's precisely what an anchor snubber does. It acts as the "middleman" that eases the tension between your boat and the anchor chain, especially under adverse weather conditions.

A typical anchor snubber comprises a length of rope, usually made of a high-strength material like nylon, and often includes a chain hook. This setup allows the snubber to attach securely to the anchor chain, reducing the direct pull on your boat's structure and fittings.

How To Anchor A Boat

Pre-anchoring checks.

Before you dive into anchoring, first take stock of your surroundings. Check the weather forecasts, assess wind conditions, and know the water depth. Your boat's GPS and depth finder will come in handy here. Ignoring these checks is like going into a battlefield blindfolded—a rookie mistake you'd rather not make.

The Anchoring Process

Anchoring a boat is a multi-step process that begins with selecting an appropriate anchoring spot. Once you have found the ideal location, lower the anchor smoothly while letting out the chain. After you think the anchor has settled, let out more chain and attach the snubber. Finally, slowly reverse your boat to set the anchor firmly into the seabed. It's a delicate dance that requires keen attention to detail.

Anchor Bridle: Another Level of Anchoring

Definition and function.

If an anchor snubber is your anchoring system's shock absorber, consider the anchor bridle to be its stabilizer bar. It serves a similar function to a snubber but provides a balanced distribution of the load across two points on your boat. This adds an extra layer of stability, especially crucial for larger boats like yachts.

How to Use It

Setting up an anchor bridle is straightforward. Attach the two ends of the bridle to strong points on either side of your boat's bow. Then hook the bridle to your anchor chain using a chain hook or shackle. Now you've got a robust system that can withstand the trials and tribulations of the open sea.

Yacht Anchors vs. Sailing Anchors

At first glance, you might think an anchor is an anchor, right? Wrong. Yacht anchors and sailing anchors may serve the same basic purpose, but they are as different as chalk and cheese. Yacht anchors are generally heavier, more robust, and designed to hold much larger vessels. On the other hand, sailing anchors are built for agility and are usually lighter.

Importance of Choosing the Right Anchor

Think of your anchor as a mountain climber's pickaxe. It's your primary support and must be suited to the terrain—or in this case, the type of boat you have. Using the wrong type of anchor could lead to drifting, or worse, your boat could break free, resulting in potential damage or loss.

How Does an Anchor Work?

Basic principles.

The underlying principle of how an anchor works is relatively straightforward—it digs into the seabed to create resistance, thereby holding your boat in place. But it's not just the anchor that does all the work; the anchor chain also plays a significant role. The weight and length of the chain help in setting the anchor deep into the seabed, providing an added layer of security.

Common Mechanisms

You'll find several types of anchors on the market, such as fluke, plow, and claw anchors. Each has its unique mechanism and suitability for different seabeds. Fluke anchors are great for sandy and muddy bottoms, plow anchors excel in rocky and grassy conditions, while claw anchors offer a good all-around performance but may not excel in any particular type of seabed.

Anchor Chain Hook: The Little-known Helper

Also known as the anchor chain connector, the anchor chain hook is a small but vital piece of equipment. Its main role is to attach your snubber or bridle to your anchor chain securely.

Uses in Anchoring

The chain hook might be small, but its importance is anything but. It ensures that the snubber or bridle stays in place, effectively transferring the load and preventing any potential weak points in your anchoring system.

Sailing Anchors: Special Requirements

What sets them apart.

Sailing anchors are generally designed with mobility in mind. They are lightweight and easy to maneuver, which makes them ideal for smaller sailing vessels that don't have the horsepower to lug around a heavy anchor.

Best Practices

When choosing a sailing anchor, go for one that is corrosion-resistant and designed for various seabeds. You never know where your sailing adventures might take you, so it's better to be prepared for all eventualities.

How Much Anchor Chain Do You Need?

Length vs. depth.

When it comes to determining how much anchor chain you need, the key factor is the depth of the water. A commonly used rule is the "5:1 scope," meaning you need five times the length of chain as the depth of the water. But remember, this is a rule of thumb and should be adjusted based on other conditions such as wind and currents.

Factors to Consider

There are other variables to consider too, like the weight of your boat, the type of seabed, and even the local tide. And let's not forget the 'snubbing' element. A longer chain means your snubber will have to work less, and this can extend the life of your anchoring system.

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Anchor Chain Size: Importance and Considerations

Diameter and link types.

Choosing the right chain size is not just about length. The diameter and the type of links are also crucial factors. A chain with too small a diameter may not be strong enough to hold your boat, especially in challenging conditions. Also, be mindful of the link type; calibrated chains are usually the best choice as they fit most windlasses.

Significance in Anchoring

A mismatch in chain size could compromise your entire anchoring system. Too heavy a chain for a light boat could lead to poor setting of the anchor, while a chain that's too light might snap under pressure, leading to potentially dangerous situations.

Line Snubber: Alternative to Chain Snubbers

Definition and role.

Line snubbers are made from high-strength nylon and are generally used for lighter boats or as a temporary anchoring solution. They offer excellent elasticity, making them an effective shock absorber in turbulent conditions.

When to Use It

Line snubbers are perfect for smaller boats or dinghies and can also be used as a backup for your primary snubber. However, for larger boats or more permanent anchoring solutions, a chain snubber is generally recommended.

Common Mistakes in Anchoring

Misjudgment of depth.

This mistake is more common than you'd think. Always use accurate depth measurement tools to avoid this blunder. Remember, the water may look shallow, but appearances can be deceiving.

Wrong Type of Anchor Used

From fluke anchors to plow anchors, each type has its specific uses. Using the wrong kind of anchor can lead to inefficient anchoring, and in the worst case, your boat drifting away.

Whether you're a weekend sailor or a maritime aficionado, understanding the intricacies of anchoring—snubbers, anchors, chains, and all—is indispensable. It's more than just dropping a piece of metal into the sea. It's about understanding the mechanics, the types, and the techniques that ensure you, your boat, and everyone on board remains safe and secure.

Armed with this knowledge, you're now better equipped to tackle the challenges and joys that come with anchoring a boat. So go ahead, set sail and anchor away, but do it wisely.

So what are you waiting for? Take a look at our range of charter boats and head to some of our favourite  sailing destinations.

FAQs: Anchoring

It's a device that acts as a shock absorber between your boat and the anchor chain, reducing stress and potential damage.

Different anchors are suited for different types of seabeds and boat sizes. Choosing the wrong type can lead to ineffective anchoring.

It's similar to a snubber but distributes the anchoring load across two points on your boat, offering enhanced stability.

The general rule is a 5:1 scope, but this can vary based on several factors such as boat weight, seabed type, and weather conditions.

Misjudging the water depth and using the wrong type of anchor are common errors that can lead to ineffective anchoring or even accidents.

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31 Jul 2018

A guide to taking the shock load off your windlass and chain

Electric windlasses are now commonly fitted on cruising yachts from the outset and they are also proving to be a popular upgrade for owners of older yachts.

Anchor rodes comprising only chain are becoming correspondingly more prevalent. There are still plenty of good reasons to extend your chain with a stretchy warp. Chain and warp combinations featuring LIROS Anchorplait White Nylon spliced to the anchor chain have been a specialty at Jimmy Green Marine for decades but this is the subject for another article.

If your anchor rode is all chain or all chain with some extra warp that’s rarely used, there are some very important points you may want to consider.

Yacht at anchor

Don’t rely on the windlass as a brake. It isn’t designed to withstand the snatch loads of an anchor rode. There are many options which can be used to take the load off the chain e.g. a specifically designed chain stopper, a substantial restraining pin through a link of the chain or simply wrapping the chain around any convenient cleat or bollard.

Scope and Catenary

Laying plenty of chain has a calming effect on a yacht’s anchoring behaviour in benign weather. It helps to limit the arc created during a swing in the prevailing conditions and stop the yacht sailing around it’s anchor. The amount of chain laid along the seabed before rising to the yacht determines the precautionary allowance of slack that needs to straightened before it is brought up short or taut. The dampening effect of the catenary is dependent mainly on the length of anchor chain but the weight is a helpful factor.

However, when conditions deteriorate, the weight of the catenary has little effect and the length of chain in proportion to the depth of water in the anchorage is the most important factor. This proportion is known as scope and is measured as a ratio e.g. 6:1 would relate to 60 metres of chain deployed in 10 metres depth. There is no one scientific/mathematical rule to arrive at the correct ratio for your yacht because there are important variables, not least the depth of the anchorage. However, it is generally considered that 5:1 is a good starting point rising up to 10:1 for world cruising. There are research articles that state 8:1 to be the optimum scope in adverse conditions.

Windy Seas

Adverse conditions involving excessive wind, tide, waves or swell may lead to the yacht being frequently brought up short. This causes a shock load on the anchor rode which has a detrimental effect on the chain and connectors, the strong point and eventually the holding power of the anchor, not to mention the comfort of the crew.

Anchor snubbing is a very good method of dampening the shock load for anchor rodes that are all chain.The main principle of snubbing is to deploy a stretchy line from a strongpoint on the foredeck to a point on the chain beyond the bow. The chain can then be slackened. This takes the strain off the windlass and allows the snubbing line to take the shock load.

Deciding on how comprehensive and bespoke a solution is required comes down to your anticipated cruising intentions. Consideration should be given to likely anchoring conditions, the amount of time spent at anchor, with or without crew on board and a worst case scenario evaluation.

Chain Hooks or Chain Grabs

There are plenty of Chain Hook and Grab options available for attaching to the anchor chain. These are divided between captive and non captive versions.

Captive pin Kong and standard hook

Non Captive chain hooks remain attached under load but may detach when the snubbing line is slack. During deployment, the bitter end of the snubbing line must be made off to a strong point first. The hook can then be attached to the chain and held in place by maintaining tension in the snubbing line whilst paying out the chain. Tension must be maintained until the strong point is taking the load. This will prevent the hook detaching during deployment. It is worth noting that it is virtually impossible for a non-captive hook to detach once correctly deployed and under load. The Standard Chain Hook and Ultra Chain Grab are both non-captive chain hooks. The Ultra chain grab is also designed to be attached to a vertical chain whilst suspended from the snubbing line. The Standard Chain hook needs to be installed by hand directly to the chain.

Captive chain hooks are more secure but correspondingly more awkward to fit/remove when leaning over the bow, especially in a seaway. During deployment, these hooks can be attached prior to securing the snubbing line without fear of the hook detaching. This means everything can be secured and checked prior to paying out the chain. Especially useful with V-bridles that are commonly longer than strops. The Mantus Chain Hook, Kong Gripper and Wichard Chain Hook are all captive chain hooks.

Sizing and Layout

Whichever hook you decide to use. The snubbing line diameter is typically one size down from your Anchor Warp Size for coastal hopping. The lighter diameter line will give more stretch under load and therefore a more comfortable anchoring experience. For those living at anchor, ensuring your snubber is as strong as the rest of the anchoring system will bring greater peace of mind. Especially when the breeze picks up during the night. The trade off for stronger snubbing lines is that they stretch less under a similar load to lighter lines and therefore offer less cushioning. Increasing the length of the snubbing line or introducing rubber snubbers will compensate for the loss in rope stretch. Having decided the diameter of your snubber, there are 2 options for the configuration of an anchor chain snubber.

Chain Snubbing Strops are single lines fastened to the chain and a strong point. The simplest solution available. A strop is commonly led over the bow roller but can also be passed through a gunwhale mounted fairlead for convenience during a lunch stop. If used as the primary snubber, care should be taken to make sure the line stays clear of abrasive surfaces. This may include the anchor chain, bow roller fittings and other deck fittings up near the bow. The snubbing line needs to extend beyond the bow by 1-5m depending on the size of the boat. Liros 3-strand Nylon is ideal for such applications.

Chain strop

Chain Snubbing V-Bridles are the most popular solution for the discerning cruiser looking for a more substantial set-up. V-Bridles spread the load between two legs. Both legs need to be able to take the full load because the boat will not always remain straight on to the conditions during adverse weather. Therefore, a bridle should be the same diameter as an equivalent strop. The main draw-back is that when both sides of the bridle are loaded simultaneously, the load for each side is halved and therefore the spring is significantly reduced. This can be mitigated by increasing the overall length of the V-Bridle. The extra length will help increase the spring in the line. V-bridles typically extend 3-10 metres beyond the bow depending on the size of the boat. The bridle is created using Anchorplait or Octoplait Nylon. The 8-plait construction is ideal for centre eye splicing. A simple Brummel locking tuck in the middle of the snubbing line provides two tails which can be led either side of the bow to strong points. This means that the snubber will remain clear of all abrasion points at the bow while maintaining a central pull on the chain.

Chain bridle

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Introducing the Mantus Anchor Bridle and Snubber System:


Strong and Durable Designed to absorb the shock load from wind gusts and waves Employs chafe protection to all areas exposed to rubbing Uses heavy duty 316L stainless steel thimbles Mantus Chain Hook/Grabber sized for your chain

When mooring we recommend the use of the  Mantus Mooring Snap Shackle .

The anchor snubber ensures that your anchor has the highest chance of staying put and your boat staying intact.


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Probably more information than you ever wanted to know about anchor snubbers and bridles

Anchor Snubber & Bridle Size Calculator

The anchor snubber and bridle size calculator below is designed to provide directional estimates for optimal snubber line diameter and length for 3-strand nylon. The results indicate the diameter and length of line required to absorb the kinetic energy of the boat for the weight and speed provided.

  • The top-half of the cell represents the load imposed as a percentage of the rope's minimum break strength. If the value is higher than the WLL you entered, this portion of the cell will be red.
  • The lower-half of the cell represents the deceleration/acceleration of the boat as the snubber or bridle absorbs and releases the energy. The lower the value, the gentler the motion; the higher the value the more uncomfortable the motion. Green denotes gentle motion, yellow is uncomfortable and red is approaching snatch loads.
  • Remember, the results reflect the snubber or bridle requirement for the boat speed entered - which should be worst-case. If the table states 30 feet or 10 meters is needed, that's for worst-case. Obviously, fair weather will not require a full 30'/10m deployment.
  • Catamaran's should size up in diameter and length. See our Catamaran Anchor Bridles page for details.

The calculator uses the formula for kinetic energy, KE = 1/2 Mass X Velocity 2 , to calculate the energy generated by the boat.

The capacity of the snubber or bridle to absorb the kinetic energy of the boat is calculated using the elastic potential energy formula PE = 1/2 kx 2 where k is the spring constant and x is the displacement. The spring constant is calculated using Hook's law k = F/x, where F is the force needed to extend the spring and x is the displacement length. We use 10% elongation at 20% minimum break strength to determine displacement.

The following deductions in strength are built into the calculator: 1. When wet, nylon's strength is reduced ~12% 2. Splicing reduces nylon's strength ~10% 3. Hard (or thimbled) eye reduces nylon's strength ~20%

Calculator Values

Snubber type.

Single line snubber or double-line bridle.

Boat Length (ft or m)

Boat length overall (LOA) is used in the Drew Frye calculation.

Boat Weight (lbs or kgs)

Weight of vessel fully loaded: fuel, water, gear, black water, crew, etc

Boat Speed @ Anchor (knots)

This is the boat's speed at anchor, not wind speed . To calculate the kinetic energy of the boat, the speed in knots is required. A boat's speed at anchor is difficult to measure but here are some generally accepted values used in various articles:

  • .5 knots - lunch hook, fair weather boating and/or well protected anchorages (light wind)
  • 1 knot - working hook, boaters venturing out in less than ideal conditions, cruisers who are likely to get caught in a stiff blow (medium - heavy wind)
  • 1.5 knots - storm conditions (approximating gale force)
  • 2 knots - violent storm (gale force 10 / hurricane)

Working Load Limit % (WLL)

The generally accepted range for the WLL% of 3-strand nylon rope is 10% - 20%. The calculator uses 12% as the default. Please feel free to use your own value.

Terms of Use

In using this calculator, you, the user, understands and accepts the limitations of the information provided:

  • The results are directional estimates based on the values you provide;
  • The result is not an engineered solution;
  • The calculator does not account for other forces that might be applicable or present (e.g. veering (yaw), pitch, waves, fetch, tidal current, rolling, rafting with other boats, etc)
  • The default value for "Speed at Anchor" is based on generally accepted use in publications and is not backed by actual scientific studies and you understand the value can be changed to a value you believe is more accurate;
  • The default value for Working Load Limit (WLL) is 12%. It's generally accepted the WLL for 3-strand nylon is 10% - 20% of the minimum break strength depending on the safety factor. Again, the value can be changed by you to a value that you deem to be more accurate.
  • The values for rope tensile strength used in the calculations are based on an average of values published by several manufacturers and/or the American Cordage Institute;
  • Snubbers and bridles may vary in design and the quality of construction and raw materials used in them may vary from manufacturer-to-manufacturer. This calculator assumes the manufacturer's design is sound, and the construction and materials used are of sufficient quality to support the product's intended purpose(s);
  • The calculations and subsequent results assume the rope is new and has not been altered or damaged.

Limits of Liability

To the maximum extent permitted by applicable law, and 48 Degrees North, LLC shall not be liable for any direct, indirect, incidental, special, consequential or punitive damages, loss of vessel(s), property damage or personal injury to the user or others, whether incurred directly or indirectly, from the use of the calculator service. THE AGGREGATE MAXIMUM LIABILITY OF SNUBBERHEAD.COM AND 48 DEGREES NORTH, LLC ENTITIES SHALL NOT EXCEED TEN U.S. DOLLARS ($10.00 USD) FOR ANY CLAIM. The limitation shall apply to any liability, whether based on warranty, contract, statute, tort - including negligence - or otherwise, and whether or not and 48 Degrees North, LLC have been informed of the possibility of any such damage and, and even if a remedy is set forth herein is found to have failed.

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How To Anchor


Take your time, don't overdo the engine, and let nature do most of the work.

Dropping anchor

In advance, work out silent communications between the spotter at the bow, and the helmsperson: When the spotter wants slow RPM, she raises one finger. More RPM, hand in circular motion. Neutral, hand up. Less RPM, hand palm down. Kill engine, fist. Develop your own hand signals, review them with crew, and stick to them. (Photo: Billy Black)

Now, let's go through the steps for how to drop the hook and make sure your anchor holds.

Avoid the Biggest Boat Anchoring Problem

Prepare For Anchoring

Before the anchor goes over the bow, make sure you have plenty of rode and that it's free of tangles and ready to run. Anchor rode that you've already marked with the length helps you determine how much to put out. A length of chain helps weigh the rode down at the anchor, ensuring better holding. When you're ready to set, the boat should be motionless, or drifting very slowly astern. Any forward motion may knock the anchor against the boat's stem. This is especially true on boats with a plumb (vertical) bow. Forward motion can also cause the boat to run over the rode, possibly setting the anchor in the wrong direction and also fouling keel, rudder, and prop.

Penny Rode Markers

Measure your anchor rode, then, in some easy-to-remember pattern, attach zip ties through a chain link or to one strand of three-strand line. My system is one tie at 25 feet, two at 50 feet, three at 75 feet, and four at 100 feet. Then I just repeat the pattern, one tie at 125 feet, and so on. Some other progression might work better for you. The only takeaway here is that you must mark your rode in some manner, and zip ties do the job perfectly for just a penny each.

— Don Casey

Drop The Hook

Pick a spot to drop anchor, keeping in mind where you want the boat to end up and that the anchor will drag a short distance before it sets. As the boat drifts back, lower the anchor to the bottom, then gently pay out the rode. This will prevent the chain from piling up in a heap. If the anchor and rode all pay out in one line, free of tangles, everything should be ready to set it securely in the bottom. Take a turn around a cleat, if using a rode, and snub it off every now and then to take the pressure off your windlass and to let the tackle straighten out on the bottom.

Which One Is Best?

Results of a head-to-head anchor test.

Several years ago, Fortress Marine Anchors sponsored an in-water test of 11 different anchors to determine the holding power of each in a typical soft mud bottom. The test vessel was a position-stabilized research vessel from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Here are test takeaways:

  • The anchors that set the quickest and hardest were usually the ones with the sharpest flukes.
  • Few anchors exceeded 700 pounds of holding power, the American Boat and Yacht Council's calculated load in high winds for a 30-foot boat; 5 of the 11 anchors only reached 700 pounds once.
  • The Danforth and Fortress with their long, wide flukes outperformed the claw and plow anchors in holding power in soft mud.
  • "New generation" anchors performed no better than older designs.
  • Mantus and ULTRA were the only new-gen anchors that exceeded 700 pounds of tension on three of five sets.
  • The Fortress FX-37 at the 45-degree fluke angle was the overall holding power winner with three sets holding over 1,000 pounds and two sets exceeding 2,000 pounds.
  • Like real life, most anchors had one good set that far exceeded the rest. Almost all had one trial where the anchor didn't seem to engage the bottom at all, reinforcing the need to take your time when anchoring, letting the anchor settle before backing down on it.
  • It took between 10 and 20 feet of dragging for most anchors to reach 300 pounds of holding power, a bare minimum to consider for an anchor of this size.

— Charles Fort

Pay Out Proper Scope

Your anchor holds best when the load on it is horizontal, not vertical. So let out enough scope to accomplish that. First, add the depth of the water to the height of the bow from the water, then multiply that by 5 and pay out that amount of rode for a "lunch hook" when you'll be aboard, awake, and watching in calm conditions. If the tide is coming in, adjust for it so you rest at 5-to-1 scope once it's fully in. If it's windy or you might go ashore for a bit, pay out at least a 7-to-1 scope. If you're spending the night on the hook, pay out an 8-to-1 scope. NOTE: When you calculate scope, don't include the chain at the anchor end of the rode unless there's more than 6 feet or so; the chain's job is simply to weigh down the anchor.

Anchor scope chain rode illustration

Depending on the wind strength and length of time at anchor here are appropriate scope recommendations for a mixed rope/chain rode. For larger boats or for anchoring overnight, two to four boat lengths of chain attached to your rode is ideal.

So, for example, if you're anchoring in water that's 10 feet deep and your bow is 5 feet above the waterline, water depth (10) + bow height (5) = 15 feet, which means that for a lunch hook you should put out 75 feet of rode (15 feet x 5).

For an overnight stop in the same location, put out 120 feet (15 feet x 8), and so on. Some circumstances such as bottom type or expectation of a storm may call for more rode. But always make sure to stay clear of any boat or obstruction down wind or current.

Chain Rode Vs. Line

Chain is far more durable if you happen to anchor in bits of coral, rock, or debris. Also, chain will dig into mud or soft sand, helping the anchor. It forms a catenary, or curve, in the rode helping to keep the pull on the anchor horizontal so it digs in when under tension. An all-chain rode has some catenary in all but the strongest (i.e., hurricane) winds.

Anchor chain

Photo: Getty Images/gvm61

Catenary comes from weight, but unfortunately, weight is often the last thing you want aboard, and too much of it in the bow can adversely affect a boat's handling. Unless you have a larger boat, or you're going cruising, an optimal rode is composed of a length of relatively heavy chafe-resistant chain attached to the anchor, then a lightweight, strong, stretchy line attached to the chain — the best of both worlds.

Nylon line gets its shock-absorbing properties from stretch rather than through catenary action, and it's this property, along with its lighter weight and strength, that makes it a good rode. Three-strand nylon line has the most stretch. Polyester line is about 15% stronger and more resistant to chafe but doesn't absorb shock as well. Avoid using polypropylene line for this reason.

One to two boat lengths of chain is sufficient for most purposes, although more is always better. Be aware that with a rope/chain rode, only certain windlasses can bring in rope and chain on the same gypsy. Those that can will require that you use a rope-to-chain splice, which can be more vulnerable to chafe when not maintained/checked seasonally.

To create an effective rode, use good quality shackles to tie the system together, and mouse the pin to prevent it from unscrewing at a bad time.

— Bob Adriance

Set The Hook

Once you've let out ample scope, let the boat settle back on the anchor to straighten out the rode. A gentle breeze or a mild current may be sufficient for this step. If not, use the engine with just a touch of reverse. Pause and take a good look around, especially abeam (opposite the boat's middle), and note your position relative to other fixed objects.

Now, put the engine in SLOW reverse. You can expect to move slightly astern as the anchor and rode set themselves and stretch out. Soon, though, the boat should settle in a fixed position. If at this stage the boat is still moving astern, your anchor may be dragging; pick it up and dragging; pick it up and drop it again, perhaps in a different spot. If the boat's position is fixed, you should see prop wash alongside aft, and your anchor rode should be straight and taut.

To thoroughly set the anchor, with the engine still in reverse, increase the rpm. If the boat stays put, you can rest (relatively) easy, knowing you're hooked. Check your swinging room again, assuming that the wind or current might come from any direction.

How To Rig A Snubber

An anchor snubber, or snubbing line, performs two important functions for boats using all-chain rode: absorbing shock loads to an anchor rode and preventing the anchor windlass from taking all the strain as the boat swings at anchor and rises and falls with waves.

Snubber illustration

Notice how all the strain is taken by the snubbing line. The anchor chain is slack between where the snubber attaches and the windlass.

Anchor snubber line illlustration

The simplest way to rig a snubber is, after setting the hook, attach a 20-foot length of nylon line (ideal because it stretches) to the chain or rode using a rolling hitch, before you deploy the final length of chain. (Lengths may vary depending on your circumstances.) Attach the other end of the subbing line to a strong bow cleat, then feed out more anchor chain/rode until it hangs loosely between the rolling hitch and the windlass or other point where it attaches to the boat.

When rigged correctly, all the weight is taken by the snubbing line, not the windlass. Also, letting your chain loop down between the rolling hitch and cleat will add additional weight, thus producing more catenary effect which may improve the holding power of the anchor and give additional shock absorption to the rode.

To make rigging a snubber even quicker, many boaters with all-chain rode invest in a snubbing hook or chain hook. Both come in different sizes to suit the size of your chain and can be permanently spliced into the end of a suitable snubbing line. Once you're successfully anchored, slip the specially shaped hook over a chain link, attach the other end of the snubber to the boat, then let out a bit more chain until the snubber is taut.

— Mark Corke

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Anchor Snubber Shock Load Test

Material and length help determine absorbtion ability..

yacht anchor snubber

Photos by Jonathan Neeves

In the past, a snubber was simply a device incorporated into the anchor rode to take the load off the windlass and onto a strong point on the boat. Historically, the strong point was the Samson post, but now its usually a bow cleat.

The snubber, by taking the load off the windlass, also stops the chain grinding on the bow roller, making it easier to sleep in the forepeak. Snubbers were short, maybe 6 feet long, and could be made from almost anything. Over the last couple of decades, boats have grown in size, windlasses have become standard equipment, and although gypsies can now take combination chain/cordage rodes, there remains a preference for all-chain rode.

Because chain is effectively non-elastic, it can be pulled bar-tight under more severe conditions, and the boat is entirely dependent on the holding ability of the anchor. In gusty winds of more than 30 knots, the boat can begin to yaw at anchor, and this movement can impose sudden snatch loads on it, loads that can either bend the anchor ( PS , May 2013 ) or yank it free. Well-matched snubbers introduce elasticity to the rode and can reduce these snatch loads.

What We Tested

Our tests were conducted as part of a long-term project to determine general guidance on anchor-snubber selection, deployment, and care. Although there are some pre-fabricated snubbers on the market, most cruisers make their own, so this initial comparison was more generic in scope, focusing on common materials and designs. After talking to chandlers and sailors, we settled on three materials: rubber, plaited rode, and climbing rope. All of the suppliers were major manufacturers, and we consider the products typical of what you could find almost anywhere in the world where recreational sailing (or rock climbing) has a following.

We looked at a 1-inch-diameter rubber snubber with a working length of 16 inches, one size of plaited anchor rode, and one size of climbing rope. Plaited anchor rode comes in two plaits: eight-strand (octoplait) and 12-strand, and in various materials. We looked only at eight-strand nylon. The tensile strengths of multiplait and three-strand nylon are similar. Plaited lines generally stretch less, are softer on the hands, and much less likely to hockle.

Covered climbing rope comes in a range of sizes and materials, generally from 5/16 to 3/8 inch (8 to 11 millimeters). It is classified as either a static rope, with low elasticity, or a dynamic rope, with high elasticity. We looked at a 7/16-inch (11-millimeter) dynamic rope, the same material used on the 6-ton Lightwave 38 catamaran sailed by PS tester Jonathan Neeves. Climbing rope isn’t cheap and can be hard to buy in short, snubber-sized lengths. We got ours from a recreational wall-climbing facility that needed to retire ropes at set intervals. As a result, our climbing rope was well-used, while the anchor plait was new-although we did break it in before testing. (See How We Tested on right for details on the test protocol and data.)

Other materials also have potential as snubbers. Off-road and military vehicles carry retrieval webbing, or flat rope. These nylon webbing tapes usually have sewn loops at each end. Tensile strengths of around 10,000 pounds are common in these flat ropes, and lengths can be hundreds of feet. The Quickline Flat Rope & Reel we reviewed in the December 2006 issue features a polyester webbing with a reported breaking strength of 8,000 pounds. We have seen one multihull using such flat rope as a bridle, but do not know how effective it might be. It is often too wide and stiff to belay to fittings on board.

Need For A Snubber

Any sag, or catenary, in an anchor rode reduces the angle of pull on the anchor, preventing dragging. As load increases, catenary is reduced, i.e. the rode becomes tauter and straighter. To determine the load required to pull slack chain off the bottom, we conducted a simple experiment with 100 feet of 5/16-inch chain at a 5:1 scope. We would have liked to try longer scopes, but these limits were determined by the availability of a good location for such a test. In total, the chain weighed 100 pounds. We fixed one end and then tensioned the chain with a come-along until the last links at the lower end had lifted free of the ground. Lifting this required a load of 190 pounds, which translates to 158 pounds in the water. Based on data from last years test (PS, May 2012), this would be the equivalent of about 15 knots of wind on a 40-foot boat anchored in about 15 feet of water with 100 feet of 5/16-inch chain.

Anchor Snubber Shock Load Test

In real life, increasing tension beyond this 190-pound threshold would begin to increase the angle of pull, making the anchor increasingly prone to dragging. It is at this point that snubbers earn their keep, because they can store, as potential energy, the kinetic energy generated by the wind and waves on the boat. The more energy the snubber absorbs, the more catenary remains in the rode, making the anchor more effective. Obviously, a heavier and longer chain will require a greater tension to lift. Based on our data, 100 feet of 3/8-inch chain would weigh 133 pounds in water, requiring 270 pounds of tension to lift the last link from the bottom at a 5:1 scope.

Loaded With Theory

In theory, calculating loads on an anchored boat shouldnt be so difficult. A boat moving at anchor develops kinetic energy (KE), determined by mass (weight) and velocity (speed). KE = 0.5 x boat mass (in pounds/kilograms) x boat velocity squared (in meters per second/knots). Kinetic energy is expressed in foot pounds, or more commonly, in its metric equivalent, joules.

For a 22,500-pound (10,000 kilogram) boat moving at 1 knot (0.5 meters per second), the kinetic energy is 1,250 joules. At 2 knots, it is 5,000 joules. However, its difficult to measure the speed of a yawing boat. A heavier displacement might move more slowly, and a skittish, lightweight boat may accelerate quicker. For our purposes, one knot seemed a reasonable assumption, but when you start adding waves and gusts into the equation, tracking loads gets very complicated ( PS , May 2012 ). Ultimately, if there is no catenary and the rode is bar tight, an elastic snubber helps absorb some of the kinetic energy (load) that would be transmitted directly to the boat or anchor.

Practical Sailor has looked at a variety of rubber snubbers in the past ( PS , June 2006 , July 2009 , July 2011 ). Most of these snubbers have employed rubber or similar elastic material. Rubber snubbers come in a variety of forms. The most common are long, flexible, rod-like devices that you intertwine with your mooring or dock line. Taylor Made, Forsheda, and Unimer are some of the many makers who sell this type of snubber.

Technical data on the performance of rubber snubbers is almost non-existent. Our tests showed we could stretch our sample rubber snubber slightly more than 50 percent of its original length at a tension of 540 pounds. At that point, however, the rode was usually taking the full load. We could increase the amount of stretch by using cordage with more elasticity, but then the cordage-not the snubber itself-was providing the extra elasticity. It might also be possible to increase the stretch of the snubber by increasing the number of rode turns to four or five, but this is not recommended by manufacturers. Obviously, more than one rubber snubber will increase the potential to absorb energy, but at a minimum price of $50 each, they are not cheap.

Our calculations based on our test results indicate that a rubber snubber, used by itself with an inelastic piece of cordage, would absorb 233 joules, about 20 percent of the energy developed by our yawing, 10-ton boat. This isn’t much, considering the cost of some of these snubbers. The rest, or most, of the energy of the boat would be imposed on the catenary.

There are other rubber snubber devices, such as Anchor Shockles (PS, June 2013 and December 2012), and recently, we have seen mooring lines fabricated with rubber incorporated into the cordage. It is possible to stretch these by hand. While these might be fine for everyday docking or lunch-hook anchoring, these devices are too stretchy to absorb the energy developed by a boat moving at anchor in strong winds.

Another way to absorb the kinetic energy is to use elastic cordage. Think of how a bungee-jumper slows and gently stops his downward motion when he reaches the bottom of his leap. The cord, which can stretch up to four times its resting length, absorbs all the jumpers kinetic energy. While we wouldnt want that degree of yo-yoing in our rode, the principle is the same: Snubbers are bungee cords for boats.

The most commonly used materials in bungee cords are nylon (polyamide) and Dacron (polyester). Raw nylon or Dacron fibers have an elasticity of 24 percent and 17 percent, respectively, but these numbers increase when incorporated into a rope. Although we tested only a nylon snubber, keep in mind that you can get the same results with Dacron, you just need to make the snubber longer. Dacron is about 15 percent stronger than nylon; both materials are about 30 percent of the strength of high-modulus fibers like Kevlar or Dyneema.

Rope construction comes in a variety of forms: three-strand, multi-plait (either eight-strand or 12-strand) and braided (also sometimes known as kermantle).

There are many manufacturers that prominently publish their technical specifications and sell by length. There are equally as many that sell rope by weight, often unbranded, with no published specifications. For snubbers, we want only the former.

Based on manufacturers specs, three-strand nylon has great elasticity at lower loads, 16-percent stretch at 50 percent load compared to 13-percent stretch at 50 percent load for multiplait. However, both three-strand nylon and multiplait fibers begin to fail when stretched to about 35 percent.

The world of rock climbing was a natural place to look for a stretchy rope. As we saw in our September 2012 article, there is a range of climbing equipment that can be used on boats (PS, September 2012). Dynamic nylon climbing cordage is constructed specifically to provide additional elasticity. However, these ropes are only manufactured up to a maximum diameter of 11 millimeters (7/16 inch). This would be too small for many boats longer than about 45 feet. Dynamic climbing rope has an elasticity of about 45 percent (or more) at failure, but it also has a slight reduction in breaking strength compared to the same size three-strand or multi-plait rope.

In the May 2012 issue of Practical Sailor, we demonstrated how wind loads on a six-ton catamaran anchored in 16 feet of water with a 3/8-inch, all-chain rode (scope ratio of 6.6:1) could generate snatch loads of 600 pounds. Even higher loads were generated at lower scope ratios. The test catamaran had windage similar to a 45-foot, 10-ton modern production monohull.

When you consider this data, it becomes evident how a basic rubber snubber absorbs relatively little of the total anchoring loads. Since the amount of energy increases in proportion to speed, how fast a boat is yawing matters greatly. A six-ton boat could generate about 750 joules, but a lighter boat accelerating up to 2 knots would generate 3,000 joules.

The calculation of energy absorption by an elastic rope is complicated. Each rope type behaves differently, and the relationship is not linear. As load increases, the elasticity reduces. In addition, new rope is more elastic than old rope. Rope seems to stabilize with usage, and we found that elasticity is effectively stable after a rode has been loaded 10 times to 50 percent of its breaking strength. Because we needed predictably stable elasticity for our analysis, we pre-loaded our eight-strand multiplait multiple times prior to testing.

Elasticity also varies by construction. Three-strand nylon is slightly more elastic than multiplait, so it will absorb or store slightly more kinetic energy. Dynamic climbing rope is 30 percent more elastic than either multiplait or three-strand. When looking at these numbers, however, its important to remember that rope performance is degraded by both usage and being wet. (See the online version of this article for details.)

Anchor Snubber Shock Load Test


So how did our various snubber materials fare? The tables accompanying this article offer some guidance. On our hypothetical 10-ton boat yawing at 1 knot and generating 1,250 joules of kinetic energy, a 33-foot length of 3/8-inch octoplait will, based on our tests and calculations, store approximately 675 pounds of tension. In our May 2012 test (38-foot catamaran, 3/8-inch chain, 16 feet of depth, 6.6:1 scope), about 30 knots of wind would generate this load.

Moving to thicker cordage for more elasticity at higher wind speeds can be problematic. For example, 9/16-inch octoplait will stretch less, so when subjected to the same 675 pounds of tension, it will store 391 joules. The remainder of the energy, 859 joules (1,250 – 391 joules = 859 joules), would be absorbed by straightening out some catenary, or by the anchor dragging.

At first, the 9/16-inch looks like a wiser choice because it can store more energy at higher windspeeds. It is also enticing that the 9/16-inch cord is working to only 7.5 percent of its breaking strength, while the thinner cordage is working to approximately 15 percent of its breaking strength. However, if the idea is to keep catenary in the rode and minimize load on the anchor, the thicker snubber isn’t doing its job.

The previous discussion can lead to the incorrect conclusion that the snubber first takes all the wind load to a certain point, then the chain picks up the rest-or vice versa. The reality is that the chains catenary and the snubber are going to share kinetic energy; some of the catenary will be lost in lifting the chain further off the seabed, and some will stretch the snubber. However, the more elastic the snubber is, the longer the chain will sit on the seabed. This keeps the rodes directional pull more horizontal, so that the anchor is less likely to pull out.

Furthermore, as winds increase, these higher loads should be absorbed by the snubber, not the catenary in the chain-provided that the snubber is appropriately sized. As an anchor chain straightens, the effort required to straighten it further increases geometrically. Because the snubber also becomes more tenacious as load increases, the happy medium is generally found by using the thinner (stretchier) snubbers.

A downside to snubbers (and less-so for chain) is that the energy stored in the snubber needs to go somewhere. The energy in the stretched rope (and lifted catenary) is expended in propelling the boat forward, causing a yo-yo effect. Depending on the boats design, this can cause a boat to turn broadside to the wind, sharply increasing the load on the anchor.

But how much yo-yo is there really? For our 3/8-inch, 33-foot-long snubber loaded to 675 pounds (assuming the snubber is taking all of the energy), the stretch is 10 percent, or 3 feet, and this doesn’t seem to be excessive. Based on sensible snubber lengths of 20 to 45 feet, yo-yoing should not be a tremendous concern. However, since every boat behaves differently and sea conditions vary greatly, it is difficult to generalize.

Nylon snubbers might appear to be the answer to many anchoring problems, but there are some concerns. First, snubbers should be replaced regularly. They are being cyclically loaded any time you anchor, so they have a shortened lifespan. Some of the energy produces heat, and synthetic ropes don’t like heat. Have a spare snubber ready, and keep enough reserve chain in the locker to deploy a second snubber.

Snubbers tend to run over parts of the hull or deck, and because they are elastic, they rub. Apply chafe guards where that might occur (PS, July 2011 and June 2012). We have found that snubbers can fail without warning and with no indication of wear. Because snubbers can break, there needs to be some form of chain lock, to ensure the loads are not suddenly imposed on the windlass.

Anchor Snubber Shock Load Test


Snubbers need to be attached to a strong point, a deck cleat, or Samson post. Deployment often depends on the layout of your boat. PS tester Jonathan Neeves attaches his 45-foot-long, 7/16-inch dynamic climbing rope to the stern cleats of his catamaran and runs it forward through the stanchion bases to turning blocks on the bow. You can attach snubbers with a chain hook or soft shackles-loops or slings-made of Dyneema. (Dyneema has good abrasion resistance.) Three-strand and octoplait are relatively easy to splice; splicing dynamic climbing rope is difficult. It might be possible for a sailmaker to sew an eye in climbing rope.

During testing, we used bowline knots in the dynamic climbing rope and they held. At the highest loads (higher than would be expected in real use), we broke the outer braid, but the snubber held.

A snubber for normal conditions might not be good enough for a hurricane, so carry one set of snubbers for every day and another, thicker set for extreme conditions. One approach for storms is to use two snubbers side by side: a shorter, thinner one to take the lower loads, and a longer, heavier-duty snubber that will start to stretch at higher wind speeds, say over 40 knots.

Based on our testing, either nylon (or a longer length of Dacron/polyester) would be the preferred snubber material. For a 35- to 45-foot cruising boat with no more than 12 tons displacement, 3/8 to half-inch three-strand or multiplait would be adequate. Larger boats will need thicker cordage. Dynamic climbing rope will be too small for larger boats.

There is very little research on ideal snubber length; this will clearly vary depending on boat type. The snubber needs to be long enough to stretch, but not so long that you yo-yo around an anchorage. Somewhere between 18 and 30 feet seems reasonable; but you will have to experiment with length until you are comfortable. You don’t want your snubber to be able to touch the seabed where it can snag or chafe, so deck layout and anchor depth will dictate how the snubber is deployed.

Be sure to buy brand-name cordage, as quality can vary greatly among the no-name cordage. Whatever brand you settle on, use chafe guards.

The more we dug into this topic, the more we recognized that snubber solutions can vary greatly from boat to boat. We would be extremely interested in sharing your snubber solutions with our readership, to kick-start a dialogue on this topic and to help guide our future tests. You can leave comments with the online version of this article, or email photos and details to [email protected] .


Thanks a new source of reliable info I will use with confidence often. Thanks Ley Finney Cape Breton NS

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