How To: Safer Anchoring

A bow rail and anchor pulpit provide added
 safety and easier anchoring.


Many owners opt to forgo bow rails and pulpits for the sake of style, but you can’t always count on a calm anchorage. When it’s rough, a bow rail adds peace of mind to the task. (Photo by Marc Montocchio) Marc Montocchio

At some point, every boater comes across a situation that calls for tossing out an anchor, and if you don’t have the right tools or have purposely neglected being properly prepared for anchoring, you’ve made your job much more difficult. Many folks think it’s cool to have a boat with no bow rail or pulpit, but they are putting form over function and risking serious injury to whomever has to go forward and deal with anchoring or just tying up the boat. I’m surprised builders are not mandated to install at least a minimal bow rail for safety or classification ratings.

Sending crew forward to tie up or anchor the boat isn’t always done in calm conditions, especially when catching bait or anchoring on a wreck. The bow is usually rising, falling and pitching with the seas. With a bow rail, pulpit and windlass, at least you have some tools to steady yourself while you deploy the ground tackle. Without a bow rail, you have nothing to steady yourself; you are totally exposed and at great risk of going overboard or being injured. I’ve seen deckhands slip and fall on the foredeck while still in the harbor, out on the bait patch and while walking forward to get to the anchor. I’ve even seen a couple go overboard because they had no bow rail to grab.

I once worked as a deckhand on a boat that didn’t have a pulpit, windlass or bow rail — and we were fishing the Mud Hole off New Jersey with a 15- to 18-knot northeasterly breeze and rolling sea. We had to anchor off the transom, and when we wanted to make a move, I had to get a ball on the line to pull the anchor. Well, we quickly found out that our ring and ball were too small to raise the 55-pound anchor. Once the anchor was up, trying to lift it over the transom without hitting the boat in the heaving seas was even harder. By the next weekend, I had found a larger, reinforced, back-banded ring and an A5-size ball to lift and float that anchor. It solved the lifting problem, but it was still hard to get it into the boat.


We now have a great system and try to always keep safety first when operating on the foredeck. We also have a skiff on the bow that we need to launch and load — without a bow rail, the difficulty of that job increases exponentially.

We took a great deal of time and did loads of research to make sure our ground tackle was right. That meant gear that makes deploying the anchor easy and safe every time without fail. It’s a heavy-lifting job, and there’s no room for error. Much has been written about anchor types and their holding power. On the 72-foot Brier Patch, we anchor out a lot when catching bait, fishing a wreck or reef, or just hanging on the hook for the night at a good anchorage. We use an 80-pound Bruce-style anchor with 100 feet of chain and 500 feet of rode. On the 63-foot Saranita, we deploy a 60-pound Bruce with 50 feet of chain and 500 feet of rode.

Scope is the ratio of length of rode to depth of water, so when anchoring, the best rule of thumb is to use a ratio of 7:1, remembering to account for tide rise and fall. That means if you are in 100 feet of water, you should have 700 feet of rode on hand.


Once you have your ground tackle dialed in, you need to be sure your pulpit, anchor chute and roller are set up to handle the type of anchor you have selected and that your windlass has the power, as well as the ability, to pull both rode and chain. You may need to adjust the roller to accommodate a Bruce or plow-type anchor. We use a windlass with a chain roller and a drum on top of the chain roller so we can pull the rope if it slips in the chain roller. There are several manufacturers, including Muir Storm series, Lewmar CPX models, Maxwell, Powerwinch and Galley Maid, to name a few, that have the type of windlass best suited for sport-fishing applications.

Be sure your anchor locker has a minimum of 12 inches of drop from the underside of the deck to the locker so there is enough room for the rode and chain to fall into the locker and stow properly. It is a good thing to mark your chain and rode at depth intervals so you know what you have out and what you will need for scope. We also pull the gear out after trips, let it dry and re-stow it so it is ready for the next trip. It is no fun when you go to drop the hook and the chain has fallen beneath the rode in a jumbled mess after a rough ride.

The bow rail doesn’t have to be a monstrosity, just a nice clean rail that surrounds the pulpit and comes back to contain the foredeck for a couple sections, depending on how big the boat is. The rail is the simplest piece of safety gear. It is great to lean on when grabbing a line while docking or hold onto while leaning over and spraying off the hull after a day’s fishing. A proper rail gives those on deck something to hold onto when anchoring in sloppy conditions and is a line of defense to help prevent falling overboard. The folks at Bausch-American Towers, Palm Beach Towers and PipeWelders all know how to make a good-looking bow rail that will keep you and your crew safe.


When your captain or owner says you don’t need a bow rail, pulpit or quality ground tackle, send him forward on deck to do the dirty work. My guess is the boat will get a bow rail pretty quickly, and if there are plans to anchor out in the islands or fish wrecks, a pulpit, quality windlass and solid ground tackle will soon follow. Only then will you be able to enjoy all the good things that come with finding a pleasant anchorage.


Bow Rails

Bausch-American Towers;
Palm Beach Towers ;



Muir ;
Galley Maid;


Email Newsletters and Special Offers

Sign up for Marlin emails to receive features on travel destinations, event listings and product reviews as well as special offers on behalf of Marlin’s partners.

By signing up you agree to receive communications from Marlin and select partners in accordance with our Privacy Policy. You may opt out of email messages/withdraw consent at any time.