There’ll be no ‘anchors aweigh!’ if the gear is allowed to decay.
While engineers are constantly focused on keeping the lights on, the champagne cold and engines purring, lots of equipment can get overlooked. Often most neglected is all that heavy stuff at the pointy end. Anchoring gear is robust by necessity and appears bulletproof. But when anchoring gear fails, it’s never at a convenient time.
For most boats, an annual ground tackle servicing will keep everything functioning well. The anchors themselves require inspection. They work as well as they do because of their particular design. If shanks or flukes are bent or damaged, it may cause the anchor to not bite in the sea floor. Checking that the flukes move freely on the shank is also imperative. If frozen due to rust or mud, the tips will not dig into the bottom. The shackles and swivels should also be freely moving and without wear. The sand and rocks can wear the fittings and chain, causing weakness.
The chain itself should be checked for wear against the original specifications using a caliper. Class societies and flag states require replacement of the chain if wear exceeds their standards. Swapping the chain end for end will prolong its life, as it is rarely fully deployed. The vessel end will never touch bottom and most wear occurs in the first several meters of chain.
Up on deck, things get more interesting. Disassembling the chain roller and greasing the axle with a quality waterproof grease will help avoid binding when dropping anchor. The windlass might look nice and shiny, but less visible parts are very important. Most vertical and some horizontal windlasses incorporate capstan drums to allow dual-purpose use. This is possible because of a clutch system that disengages the wildcat from the drive shaft. When screwed down tightly, the capstan then drives the wildcat to pull the chain in or out.
In between is commonly a clutch friction pad that is a wear item. Especially on older boats, these are frequently worn down to the rivets, thus damaging the mating surfaces and inhibiting the friction needed. They can also be damaged by deck crew who use the clutch to control the speed at which the chain deploys. While the capstan is off, cleaning and greasing the mating surfaces will allow effortless movement of the adjusters.
Typical windlasses incorporate oil-filled gearboxes. Normally this oil is good for many years but periodic sampling and testing can help spot water contamination, indicating worn seals or early signs of gear wear requiring service before major damage occurs. Many of these windlasses are foreign-made and spare parts can be difficult to come by.
All windlasses are hydraulic or electrically driven. Normal hydraulic system maintenance will cover the oil-driven systems; the electrically driven units are a different matter. The motors may be above deck and susceptible to submersion in seawater if a wave is shipped on deck. Even those below deck are housed in a warm, damp environment and can build up moisture in the electrical windings and corrosion on the mounting hardware and motor case.
Class societies will require Megger testing of these motors at periodic surveys. If the vessel is not classed, this is still a good practice to ward off shorts and groundings in the windings. Electrical motors are driven by VFDs and these should be inspected as well for corrosion and cable tightness on the terminals. The control pendants and their connections need to be opened and inspected for faults.
This seems like a lot of work, but can typically be done in a leisurely day. No one wants to tell the boss they cannot anchor out because of neglect — or worse, have hundreds of feet of chain out with no way to retrieve it. Been there, done that.
JD Anson has more than 20 years of experience as a Chief Engineer on superyachts. He is currently project manager at Fine Line Marine Electric in Fort Lauderdale.