Chain brake

Simon Jinks talks through flaking the anchor chain and using a chain brake.

Simon Jinks talks through flaking the anchor chain and using a chain brake.

Chain flakes and brakes

Once deemed ‘luxury items’ electronics, windlass and hot and cold running water have now become pretty much the norm on many boats. However, I often wonder what seamanship skills we risk losing with all these ‘luxury items’ at our disposal.

Last week I was doing some teaching with a group on an older boat. The boat had been updated but one of the items that had not seen attention was the anchoring system. Thirty years ago most people would have scoffed at a windlass on a 30 odd footer, but this modern day crew looked aghast at the bare foredeck as we trundled into the anchorage.


There are simple techniques for getting the chain out of the locker and carefully down to the seabed. Left alone, the new crew may just chuck the anchor out of the locker and then try to catch the speeding links as they whipped over the bow roller. In order to avoid this, and possibly any lost fingers, we went through the process of flaking the chain and using a chain brake.


Instead of guessing how much chain to let out, the chain is flaked out on deck using stanchions as a rough measuring guide. The 24 metres of chain we required were laid out into eight, three metre flakes of chain on the foredeck.

The end of the chain is secured to a cleat. It should be cleated so that the chain on top of the cleat leads into the chain locker and not to the anchor, otherwise the chain will become trapped under load.

Chain brake

The chain brake allows the chain to run out or stop as required. Importantly it keeps your fingers well away from the rattling links as the anchor is lowered. The brake is fashioned using a mooring warp attached to a centre bollard or separate cleat.

Secure one end of the warp so it leads out from the rear of the cleat and then pass the warp under the chain then back and under the rear of the cleat.


The chain brake is a friction device so easing the warp allows the chain to run and pulling slows the chain’s progress. An extra turn around either the chain or cleat takes the load of heavier ground tackle.

When it is time to drop anchor pop it over the bow roller and ensure that your feet are not caught up in the warps or flakes of chain. Ease the chain brake so the chain pays out at the required speed.

Even if I have a windlass I have used this method on kedge anchors where there is seldom any assistance and a steady drop of the anchor and scope is important. Let’s not let good bits of seamanship go to waste.

Simon Jinks, RYA Instructor and Examiner