By Wayne Spivak
National Press Corps
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

An often overlooked and unappreciated
team member on your
boat can be the very reason you
may survive a mishap at sea. The
term “at sea”is somewhat misleading,
because it can be used
to describe your vessel in a small
lake or a Great Lake, a tributary, a
river, a bay or the ocean.

Our team member, who works
in concert with such other high
profile friends, such as your VHF
radio, your visual distress signals
(VDS) and even your personal
flotation device (PDF). Yes, we’re
talking about safety items that
are either mandated by federal
law (and sometimes state law) or
strongly suggested by the Coast
Guard Auxiliary as items that
make the great sport of Recreational
Boating Safety, safe!

Why are your anchor line and
rode so important? Well, as we
nautical types know, ropes are
called lines on your vessel. The
rode is the line that’s connected
to your anchor, and your anchor,
well, it’s your anchor. But that
didn’t answer the question, did it?

Your anchor has many uses.

From the obvious, keeping your
vessel secured to the ground, so
it doesn’t float away, to the not
so obvious of keeping your vessel
from straying into danger. And
let’s not forget its ability to work
as a kedge, a tool I’ve unfortunately
had to use too many times,
living on Long Island, New York,
and boating in the Great South
Bay (known for not having much
water depth). Yes, we’re talking
about grounding here….

For those not familiar with
the term kedging, Chapman’s
Piloting, 56th Edition:

“The term KEDGE is also applied
to an anchor of any type that is
used for getting a boat off when
she has run aground. The kedge
is carried out by a dinghy or
other means and set so that a
pull on the line will help get the
boat off, or at least keep her from
being driven harder aground; this
process is called KEDGING.”

Notice that you need to “pull
on the line” in order to actually
perform the process of kedging.
You’ll also note that when you
set an anchor, you slowly lower it
over the side (not throw it) from
the bow(preferably). When you
retrieve or weigh anchor, you pull
up the anchor by the line, again
stressing the fibers.

Now, I’ll really answer the
question I asked four paragraphs
ago,why are your line and rode
so important? Because line that
is not kept kink free, clean, and
without knots, will increase the
likelihood of the line failing.
Lines, depending on the type of
material used to manufacture
them,the thickness of the fibers
and overall thickness of the line,
and the uses to which it will and
has been used, will determine the
amount of stretch or load that
the line can handle. A line that
has been abused will snap (break)
at a lower load, than a line that
has been handled with care.

What good does it do you, especially
when you’re in a situation that can go from bad to worse, for your line to snap? Not only does an anchor sitting on the
bottom, not attached to anything
sitting on the surface, do you
no good, but you’ve probably
suffered a financial loss because
of the lost anchor.

So, how do you keep your line
and rode in optimum condition?
There are several methods you
can use. One of the easiest is to
eliminate chafe. Chafe is when
the line rubs against another
surface and begins to fray. A
frayed line is a weakened line.
Use rubber tubing or some other
type of material to surround the
line at chafe points (usually at
chocks and blocks).

Do not knot your line unnecessarily.
Knots, as well as splices
(the art of combining two pieces
of line into a single unit) decrease
the overall strength of the line.
If a regular 25 foot ½ inch line
has a strength of 100, one simple
square knot will reduce that
strength by 55%, a bowline by
40% and an eye splice on thimble
(used to attach the line to the
anchor itself) by only 10%.
Think about it; a single square
knot will make the line have 45%
of its normal strength. Now take
a look at your anchor rode. How
many knots do you have in it? Did
you put knots in at every 50 feet
or so,as the old mariner’s tale
teaches? Well, luckily you found
out now.Some urban (or nautical)
legends can be dangerous.

So, let’s clarify. Keep your line
clean. Don’t let it kink (think
knots here). If you need to
repair your line, do it sooner
than later. If you need to repair
large portions of the line, think
about either replacing that line
or reducing the size of the line.
Keep your line safe from chafe,
abrasions and friction damage.
Most importantly, use the right
line for the right job, and inspect
your lines often for wear and

To learn more about marlinespike,
and safe boating, contact
your local Coast Guard Auxiliary
Flotilla by visiting our web site
at: or
by contacting your local Coast
Guard unit, listed in your phone
book or on the web at