Many cruisers believe an all-chain anchor rode is always superior to rope rode. Chain is stronger and much more chafe resistant than rope, but you can still do some serious anchoring on rope alone. With rope you do need to be more security conscious and must always check for chafe. If there is coral on the bottom, this means diving on the rode on a regular basis. You should also be much quicker to set a second anchor, not only as insurance when conditions get strong, but also to keep your boat from swinging around too much.
One big advantage of chain is that its great weight keeps a boat from shifting around much in a light to moderate breeze or current. The big disadvantage, of course, is that this same weight hurts a boat’s performance when sailing, an effect that is only magnified when the chain is carried all the way forward in the bow, as is normally the case. If there’s a lot of chain aboard, the best arrangement is to store it as low as possible in the middle of the boat. Very few boats are set up this way, but it can be done.
A small cruising boat anchored on twin rope rodes. This is a good idea when anchoring among boats lying to chain rodes, as it keeps you from swinging into them. Untangling twin rope rodes, however, is always an issue. If you keep one in a bucket or bag this is easier to do
The normal arrangement is to stow one or two chain rodes in the forepeak. On small boats especially this will hurt performance
Because of its great weight, having a chain rode normally means you must also have a windlass. On boats less than 35 feet long you can haul chain by hand if you are strong and resilient. But even on a small boat, if you don’t want to install and maintain a windlass you’re much better off with rope. Note too you must be careful when fitting a chain rode to a windlass. Chain sizes are not standardized, and the link sockets on a windlass wildcat must fit the chain links perfectly for the chain to run smoothly.
Carrying a lot of rope rode up forward doesn’t really hurt a boat’s performance. Indeed, 200 feet of 5/8-inch nylon rope only weighs about 30 pounds, compared to about 350 pounds for a similar length of equally strong 3/8-inch chain. This means rope is actually light enough that it can be stored right on deck if you like, which does have certain advantages. Some bluewater cruisers carry their anchor line on large permanently mounted spools on deck, as this makes it very easy to both deploy and recover the line quickly and neatly. When coastal cruising in a boat with a belowdeck rode locker, I have often stored rope rode in open coils on the foredeck to save the trouble of pulling it through the hawsehole and to keep the mud it picks up from getting below.
Rope rode stored on deck during my cruise up the Gambia River
When using a rope rode, there should always be a chain leader on it to help the anchor set properly and to reduce the chance of the rope chafing on the bottom or on the anchor itself. A chain lead should be at least 30 to 50 feet long, depending on the size of the boat. An excellent compromise, particularly on smaller boats, is to put a long chain lead, say 60 to 100 feet, on a rope rode, as this offers much of the security of anchoring on chain, but is not so heavy as to unduly affect performance. Many modern windlasses now have special chain gypsies that can transition smoothly from chain to rope when hauling rode aboard.
Rope rode with chain leader. Note the neat splice at the transition point. This is the strongest connection and helps a windlass shift from one to the other
Rope rodes should always be three-strand nylon, as this sort of rope, thanks to both its material and structure, stretches very easily and does a great job of absorbing shock loads. The standard rule is that the diameter of a nylon anchor rode should be about 1/8 inch for each 10 feet of overall boat length. When anchoring on chain you should also always secure the rode to the deck with a nylon snubbing line, as chain is not at all elastic and efficiently transmits shock loads to any hardware it is fastened to. The longer and heavier the snubbing line, the better.
Three-strand nylon rope deconstructed. Nylon is much stretchier than polyester, and three-strand is stretchier than double-braid, and when anchoring stretchy is good!
Nylon snubber on a chain rode. This one could be longer. If you make the snubber super long and leave a large bight of chain under the water behind it, the bight can act as a kellet
Most anchor chain is galvanized steel, though very fancy boats sometimes carry stainless steel chain instead. There are various types of galvanized chain available. High-test chain is the strongest for its weight. BBB chain is both weaker and heavier than high-test, and proof-coil chain is a little lighter than high-test and slightly weaker than BBB. The rough rule of thumb when sizing chain to a boat is that the chain’s minimum breaking strength should be at least half the boat’s displacement. For example, a boat displacing 12,000 pounds requires a chain rode with a minimum breaking strength of 6,000 pounds or more.