The Mystery Chain from China

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The Mystery Chain from China

Were just wrapping up our extensive three-part test of anchor chain and find ourselves caught in a web of intrigue. For the past couple of decades weve been recommending that boaters stick with American-made chain from reputable manufacturers. These chains are manufactured to meet industry specifications, they are clearly labeled, and the source of the chain is advertised with pride.

In contrast, verifying the source of Asian-made chain has proven difficult, making it very difficult for us to make any recommendations. In the past, this hasn’t been an issue as the U.S.-made chains have clearly performed better, but this time we got a bit of a shock as one of the over-the-counter Chinese chains rose to the top of the heap in our most recent test. (The results of this test will appear in the January 2015 issue of Practical Sailor.) The trouble is, we can not confidently track down enough information to direct buyers to the well-made chain.

Our report on galvanized chain in June of 2014looked specifically at the types and sizes of chains, comparing the pros and cons of new high-tensile chains. For the January report coming up, we focused on the galvanized coatings. Testers dragged a variety of chains across an ocean bottom for the equivalent of six weeks at anchor. Looking at the results, our testers concluded that a galvanized coating thickness in excess of 100 microns is sufficient for long-lasting anchor chain. If you can find chain with a 150-micron coating (assuming it does not flake) then youve got a good chain.

Although we found a rough correlation between coating thickness and abrasion resistance, it is not exact. In our testing, the thicker coatings invariably performed well in terms of abrasion resistance, but some thinner coatings also performed well-the reasons for this are not entirely clear. In our testing, it the products with twice the coating weight offered twice the abrasion resistance-although our test field was too small to assume this is a general rule.

Surprisingly, one of the best performing chains was one of the generic Chinese chains. This chain showed good strength, and had a thick galvanized coating that showed a high resistance flaking and abrasion.

However, the other generic Chinese chain we included in our test showed appalling performance, so bad, that we believe it is unconscionable for any marine chandler to sell it. It was weak, abraded quickly and had a very thin galvanized coating. The galvanizing completely disappeared, even before our long-term test was complete.

And here is the quandary. Weve identified a promising, economically-priced chain, but it is virtually impossible for the average boater to distinguish it from junk. Neither of these chains are manufactured to an industry specification; neither chain has any marking that would allow us distinguish one chain from the other; and neither retailer we bought from would or could reveal the source of the chain. As weve found with anchors, sometimes even the distributor cannot know with absolute certainty which foundry was the original source.

We will continue to work to solve this mystery, but given the preponderance of chain manufacturers in China and the difficulty of following the convoluted supply network for Chinese-made chain, we are not hopeful.

The good news is that we do have a clear winner in our chain testing, one that is readily available in the US and abroad, so boaters can be sure they are getting quality chain. Stay tuned for the January issue of Practical Sailor when we announce the king of the chain gang. If you have any information on reputable Chinese foundries who might be the source of our mystery chain, contact the editor at practicalsailor@belvoirpubs.com.

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on marine products for serious sailors for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising or any form of compensation from manufacturers whose products we test. Testing is carried out by a team of experts from a wide range of fields including marine electronics, marine safety, marine surveying, sailboat rigging, sailmaking, engineering, ocean sailing, sailboat racing, and sailboat construction and design. This diversity of expertise allows us to carry out in-depth, objective evaluation of virtually every product available to serious sailors. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser with more than three decades of experience as a marine writer, photographer, boat captain, and product tester. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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