Features March 2011 Issue

A Look At Anchor Lockers

PS’s dockside inspections and offshore insights.

Jerry-rigged Locker
Photo by Ralph Naranjo

A jerry-rigged locker plug can easily be forced out of place when a plunging bow immerses the foredeck, and locker drains near the waterline (above) can act as water intakes during a hard slog to weather. Fabricating a well-flanged deck opening plug and drain closures are a must if you’re headed to sea.

At first glance, having an on-deck anchor locker looks as practical as having a trunk in an automobile. It appears to be a great place to stow the rode, hide the windlass, pack up the deck brush and a bucket, and perhaps even tuck away a few bulky fenders. Coastal and inshore sailors love the locker, but offshore cruisers and racers have mixed feelings about them, especially when it comes to poorly thought-out wells that have been cleaved into a boat’s foredeck.

For years, we have wandered the Annapolis and Miami boat shows, peeking into anchor lockers and recording the good, the bad, and the just plain poorly designed. This photo essay comes from the scrapbook of photos we’ve accumulated during these dockside tours and our adventures on various boats; the accompanying commentary is gleaned from lessons learned during bluewater voyages, coastal cruises, and inshore passages.

As with all things boat-design related, choosing between an anchor setup with an on-deck locker or one with a deck spill pipe and a belowdecks chain well comes down to weighing the pros and cons based on your needs and what type of sailing the boat will be doing. Whatever your situation—whether you’re buying a boat or looking to get yours properly set up—here are a few points to consider in regards to the sensible anchor locker:

• All points of access should be able to be made watertight.

• The lead angle of the anchor chain to the windlass expedites rodehandling rather than being set to accommodate keeping the windlass undercover.

• There’s enough room for chain to castle (pile up as it is stripped from the windlass) and still provide a clear fall.

• Cleat leads and opening the locker do not conflict.

• The bitter end of the chain has a length of nylon rode connecting it to a hard point on the boat so that the rode can be untied or cut in an emergency.

• The windlass was chosen to fit the task at hand, not just to fit the locker.

Anchor Lockers

Many anchor lockers incorporate on-deck openings that are hard to keep watertight at sea.

A Dry Locker

In the chain pipe versus anchor locker debate, one of the main arguments is that a contemporary on-deck anchor locker is much more difficult—often impossible—to make watertight. The International Sailing Federation’s (ISAF) Offshore Special Regulations treat anchor wells as cockpit volume. This is a clear indication that watertight status is not always in the cards, and in heavy weather, inundation may involve more than the drip from a wet anchor rode.

In heavy seas, even the locker’s drains can become floodwater inlets, as PS Technical Editor Ralph Naranjo discovered on a lumpy passage from Bermuda. The boat’s crew learned the hard way what an anchor well full of water could do to decrease buoyancy and increase the pitching moment of a Swan 48 MKII. It took the repeated efforts of crew wedged in the forepeak to pump the locker dry using a permanently installed manual bilge pump.

Sparkman & Stephens

This sea-going 60-foot custom Sparkman & Stephens forgoes an on-deck anchor locker for chain stowage in a conventional forepeak. The anchor chain’s long fall helps to strip links from the windlass gypsy. It also moves weight aft, lessening its detrimental effect on the pitching moment. Note the substantial “dogs” on the locking door to the watertight bulkhead—all-in-all a superior means of handling ground tackle for an offshore cruiser.

Inspection found that the culprits were the two relatively small drain holes located just above the boat’s resting waterline. Through these, water gushed into the locker each time the bow plunged into a wave face.

While these drains were welcome features dockside and during coastal passages—they help keep the decks clear of anchor mud and other detritus from the depths—the euphemism “locker drain” takes on a whole new meaning at sea.

Lesson learned: Before going to sea, close off the anchor locker penetrations regardless of whether they’re on deck or in the hull, and regardless of whether they’re intended inlets or outlets.

Locker Design

Not all anchor lockers are created equal, as was evident during our boat-show walkabouts. Some had forward-facing anchor rode exits that were more spout-like entrances begging waves to enter; others were built in trench-like recesses that also invite water to follow a path of least resistance. Some were so shallow that only a few feet of chain rode would fit the chain box. A few doubled as a location for bow thruster relays and anchor windlass electrical accoutrements.

Placing a windlass in the recess of a well is walking the fine line of compromise. The upside is an uncluttered deck; the downside includes limited chain fall—the distance between the chain gypsy and the locker bottom—which can lead to problems with chain castling and links jamming in the gypsy.

Perhaps the biggest drawback is that in the event the locker floods during a passage, the windlass, solenoid, and junction box may be submerged for hours or days at a time. If the anchor windlass breaker has been left on, the stray current corrosion can be a very big deal, especially aboard aluminum boats.

And then there’s the anchor lid. Boat designers often wrestle with how it should open and how it will function in concert with lines and cleats. The importance of a well thought-out design was highlighted during one PS editor’s recent charter aboard a 40-some footer.

The boat was anchored using a chain/rope rode secured to a twin set of cleats just aft of the anchor locker. When a formidable 0300 squall rolled in and the crew needed to get out a second anchor, they soon realized it was stowed in the on-deck locker, and the primary anchor’s rode ran straight across the locker lid, barring access. The rope rode, tight as a guitar string in the gale, would have to be rerun before the crew could extract the second anchor. In order to simply open the locker, the crew had to attach a line to the primary rode, put a block on the rail, and as the rode was slipped from the cleat, another crew transferred the tension to a cockpit winch.

When money is no object, naval architects can create some amazing ways to hide ground tackle and bow thruster appendages. The upside of this custom 120-foot Vision’s underbody anchor well is a lowering of the center of gravity, and the anchor chain has a great lead angle. But the complexity of this trap-door anchor deployment is akin to that of a submarine escape hatch, a project with a maintenance regime ill-suited for most boat owners.

Lesson learned: Be sure there’s no conflict between cleat leads and the locker’s opening; if there is, store essential gear elsewhere.

Construction Inspection

A peek into an anchor locker can give you a good idea of the boat’s construction quality. A boat’s stem area is usually free of laminate-hiding liners, and the curious consumer can see how well controlled the layup was, how the hull-to-deck joint was made, and what efforts were made to spread the loads linked to attached hardware. So while you scrutinize the line locker, also take a look at how the boat was built.

This quick inspection could save you from big headaches down the road, as one delivery skipper discovered. He learned the hard way how some production boatbuilders cope with putting a lid (the deck) on a very big box (a boat). The better the builder, the tighter the fit. More hurried builders over-trim bulkheads and some even allow them to “float.” And that is exactly what made life miserable for the delivery skipper and his crew.

Anchor Locker

It doesn’t take much to clog an anchor locker drain, and flooded lockers aren’t just a worry at sea. This Bristol 29.9’s anchor well filled with rainwater in short order when its overboard drain became clogged with a perfectly sized bung-plug (inset) that had escaped from the toerail. The added water weight was enough to lift the transom 6 inches out of the water.

As they beat to windward and their anchor locker filled, the water discovered the bad hull-to-deck fit and the builder’s less-than-careful tabbing. In effect, it was the exact opposite of how a collision or watertight bulkhead should be constructed, and the result was a leak that was nearly as threatening as a crack in the hull.

Lesson learned: If the boat you own—or the one you are about to buy—has an anchor well, check carefully and see how it’s sealed off from the rest of the boat. Also check sealed wire-run leads and all bulkhead penetrations.

Anchor Locker


By no means is this a condemnation of the concept of an anchor well. For coastal cruisers and offshore sailors, it can work, but it’s important to consider the points we’ve covered here. Every builder varies in their approach to locker design and construction, so give any boat you’re potentially buying close scrutiny to be sure the anchor locker has been well thought-out and well built. If you already own a boat, be sure it is up to the task at hand.

Comments (2)

No anchor locker on Mildred Rose! There was one, the previous owner decked over it. Anchor is stored on the anchor roller, the rode is carried up each time I need to use it. Can't leak or flood that way!

Not hard to carry the rode (200' line + 6' heavy SS chain) to the bow)

Downside is - harder to deploy in an emergency.

But it keeps the deck pretty! Keeps extra weight out of the bow, creates more storage in the boat!

No wet rode smell in the boat.

Posted by: Phantomracer | June 17, 2013 1:35 PM    Report this comment

thank you for the article about anchor lockers. there was not a lot of finger pointing to certain brands of boats as being better than others and you did a great job of describing realistically favorable designs. i think it will help a potential buyer decide what boat to buy, but it is also food for thought for designers. good job. thanks.

Posted by: JOHN B | March 27, 2011 2:38 PM    Report this comment

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