Chain Care

By Tom Neale, 10/1/2009


Tom Neale's logs have a new name and home on BoatUS Magazine. We know Tom has a loyal and devoted readership, so we wanted to share his tips and insights with an even bigger audience! For the latest articles, click here for Onboard With Tom Neale.

Have you had to replace your anchor chain lately?  If you have, you know it’s a very expensive proposition. I’m not talking about a few feet on the end of a nylon rode. That’s not a very big deal. I’m talking about maybe one or two hundred feet or more on a rode that’s primarily chain. We’ve ridden out hurricanes, tornadoes, prolonged full storms and a lot more at anchor, and I believe that quality chain, if used properly with nylon snubbing lines, is the best way to go, if you can carry the weight.  But chain, even the good stuff, rusts, unless it’s stainless. Stainless also has corrosion issues, in addition to the extra cost issues, and we don’t use it for our anchor chain.

Chain Coated with Starbright's Corrosion Protection

At first rust on a chain may be only a cosmetic matter. It can mess up your chain locker and your deck as you pull it onboard and it can lend a rusty stain to your deck if you let a length of it lie there.  But a little superficial rust doesn’t necessarily mean that the chain is weakened. It may even add some temporary protection against the inevitable encroachment of deeper rust. But, as I said, that’s only temporary.  Rust will come.  It’ll come as you use the chain and, it’s my experience that it’ll come even quicker as you allow the chain to fester in coils down in the chain locker covered with residue from salt water.  Rust affects chain in more than one way. For example, it can diminish the thickness of the links as the metal scales off. You can see this and measure it with a micrometer. It can also leach into the links and weaken them from inside, through crevices. This you probably can’t see, but the results can be just as disastrous—probably more so.

We use galvanized chain, therefore, depending on the quality and nature of the galvanizing process and the nature of our use of the chain, rust is warded off for awhile. Hot dip galvanization is probably the most common method of protecting chain that you and I regularly use as boaters. Once rust begins to show up, it’s possible to have the chain and other galvanized gear such as anchors, galvanized again.  Galvanizing facilities typically dip the metal in a “pickling” solution to clean it off prior to the galvanizing process. But there are some caveats here.  First, as these companies will tell you, re-galvanizing your chain or other metal just coats it. It doesn’t restore eroded material nor return it to its original strength. Therefore, unless you take your chain to a galvanizing facility very early you won’t know how much strength remains in your links. A second problem is that these facilities generally cater to large industrial customers. They usually charge by the weight of the material, with minimum fees.  So it’s seldom cost effective to have your chain re-galvanized unless you include your anchors and also the chain and anchors of enough friends to meet the minimum.  This is a huge amount of weight to transport and usually requires a lot of time and organization and a heavy duty pickup truck or similar vehicle.  And once you deliver the material, you then usually have to leave it and return later to pick it up. To make matters worse, re-galvanizing plants are not all that common and you may have to travel a long distance each trip. I’ve re-galvanized my gear several times, but this has gotten more and more difficult because of the problems I’ve described. So this time I’m doing something different.

First, I observed carefully the state of corrosion on my old chain, regularly measuring the link thickness. When I found that the links were thinning, I bought new chain.  I had compared the cost of just buying new chain with the cost of galvanizing plus the cost of transporting the chain and other metal, plus the time a re-galvanization project consumed. To me, it wasn’t worth it.  But I don’t want to have to buy new chain again anytime soon. It is expensive, no matter how you look at it. So I’ve taken some other steps.

Before I loaded the chain aboard, I sprayed it thoroughly with StarBrite’s Corrosion Protection. They make many helpful products for boaters, and this is one of them.  There are similar products on the market but, in testing some of these, I found them to be too viscous when sprayed on the metal and therefore they didn’t permeate between the links as well as this product. This is very important. I laid the chain out, doubling back on itself, the lengths side by side. I sprayed 6 coats on, turning the chain over between each coating.  This job wasn’t easy on the back, but it seems to have coated the chain well. Having parallel lengths side by side shortened the spraying time.  I don’t expect this coating to last for a long time with my heavy usage, but if it helps just a little with the problem of chain rust, it’ll be more than worth the effort. So far it’s still on there after months of anchoring.

The rust preventative does rub off a little into the chain locker, but I’d rather have that in the locker than rust.  Also, it makes the chain a little messy (greasy) to handle, but I just take a rag to the bow and try to be careful. I tested before I did this and found that, as far as I can tell, that once set up, the product does not leave a sheen of any type in the water.

Tom's Tips About Chain

1. If you don’t have enough fresh water to spray your chain, take it out regularly when you’re at dock and spray it thoroughly.  Also from time to time wipe salty residue out of your anchor locker with wet towels.

Click Here for More Tips

Also to help my new chain survive longer, I’ve started a new habit. For years I’ve been cleaning mud off my chain as I’ve pulled up the anchor.  Usually I’ve done this by pulling the chain up and down in the water, section by section, as I raised the anchor.  Recently, as my back complained more and more about this type of work, I’ve been hosing it off from the fresh water supply of “Chez Nous.”  She carries 300 gallons.  The 300 gallon tank can last Mel and me almost a month of personal use if we conserve. We usually go in for fuel and fill the tank far more frequently than this and we have a water maker which makes 15 gallons per hour if needed. Now, whenever I raise my chain I carefully hose off the entire length of it to remove the salt water.

Only time will tell how much more life this extra tender loving care will give the chain, but I’m sure it’ll give enough to have made the small extra expense and the large amount of TLC worthwhile.


Boating and water sports involve risk.  Any comments herein should be followed at your own risk.  You assume all responsibility for risk or injury to yourself or others.  Any person or entity that uses this information in any way, as a condition of that use, agrees to waive and does waive and also hold authors harmless from any and all claims which may arise from or be related to that use.


Copyright 2004-2009 Tom Neale