Marking Your Anchor Chain

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2015 • all rights reserved

Marking Your Anchor Chain: Don't add to the plastic trash in the water by using cable ties to mark distances on your anchor chain (so you know how much chain is out) -- paint it instead. Tips to make the paint last and be visible.

When you’re dropping the anchor, you want to know how much rode you’re putting out to determine if you’ve got enough scope.

People have come up with all sorts of systems for marking chain (or rope). The most popular two are using cable ties or paint.

With either one, you come up with a color scheme (in the US, red-white-blue is popular) and a distance apart for the markings. On our previous boat, 300 feet of chain was marked every 50 feet.

  • First red = 50 feet
  • First white = 100
  • First blue = 150
  • Second red = 200
  • Second white = 250
  • Second blue = 300

The problem with cable ties is that they get chewed up by the windlass and the bottom, and fall off over time. You can put on multiples so that there will still be another one there for you to see, but that ignores the other problem with cable ties: all those bits of broken plastic in the water.

Individually, they’re not large. But added to the rest of the plastic trash in the oceans? No thanks. I hope others will move away from using cable ties (or other plastic markers) and switch to paint.

To paint the chain, start by laying it out and determining where you’re going to paint. It’s usually easiest to zig-zag it back and forth at whatever interval you’ve decided upon.

IMPORTANT: Paint will appear to adhere to galvanizing when first applied, but actually flakes off easily. Our friend Greg Delezynski, in the picture at the top of the article, told us the secret to getting it to adhere well: vinegar!

The vinegar will etch the galvanizing so that paint can adhere. Just pour it over the sections of chain that you intend to paint and let dry, then paint. Greg uses either white or cider vinegar.

Marking Your Anchor Chain: Don't add to the plastic trash in the water by using cable ties to mark distances on your anchor chain (so you know how much chain is out) -- paint it instead. Tips to make the paint last and be visible.

Greg’s other tip is to use yellow paint for the “white” in the red-white-blue color scheme. White can be hard to spot if you have new galvanized chain — it will blend right in with the galvanizing. Yellow shows up much better.


We first met Greg and his wife Jill aboard their boat Guenevere in the Sea of Cortez. And then last spring, through Facebook, we discovered that we were both going to be in Glades Boat Yard this fall. Greg has several cruising DVDs out as well as shorter clips on his Youtube channel:

And just because this is one of my favorite photos, here’s Guenevere anchored off Juncalitio in the Sea of Cortez:

Marking Your Anchor Chain: Don't add to the plastic trash in the water by using cable ties to mark distances on your anchor chain (so you know how much chain is out) -- paint it instead. Tips to make the paint last and be visible.

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Comments

  1. That’s a great idea and a good alternative to those cable ties that either break off or slice the hands as you haul the chain in. An alternative that came with our S/V Shalayla were cloth ties that had length markings on them. They didn’t last forever but while they were still legible they worked well. Sadly I have no photos of them.

  2. We painted our chain but are now seeing paint flakes as we pull up the chain..maybe need to find better paint.

    • Donald Rushton says:

      Primer paint for galvanized metal is yellow. Combined with the vinegar etching it should stick well. .I don’t know its durability in underwater, but I’m going to try it this year.

  3. I’ve painted a lot of chain. I still like wire ties better. They don’t get chewed up in the windlass if you loop them between links instead of around the side of a link. YMMV.

  4. This was a fun project for us.

  5. Jim Shell says:

    I use nylon webbing strap (recycled from old life jackets and cushions) sewn as little flags onto the chain and nylon rode. I use a similar length marking system. The webbing is tough and does not jam the windlass. This is a good use for odd pieces of left over or old webbing. An advantage to the webbing is you can feel it on a dark night when you are slipping the chain/rode through your hand as you pull the rode form the locker onto the deck before deployment.

  6. Skip Novak uses paint so that’s what I’ll plan on using 🙂

  7. The secret is scrubbing and priming before painting…..ours lasted very well

  8. I’ve used the same plastic ties since 2005, paint made a mess.

  9. We painted sections of our 400 ft. of chain this summer–wow, what a taxing job! The scary part was it wanting to slide off the dock as we zig-zagged it on the dock in front and to the side of our boat…

  10. Seems likely that paint chips won’t be any healthier than bits of plastic in the ocean…

  11. I just count of seconds while powering down, 1 min = 90′

  12. Sorry, you Cannot see paint on a muddy anchor chain, bit plastic ties stick out and are visible.

  13. Little Latitudes says:

    What paint do you recommend? And, would you spray maybe 5 ft. of chain for each color?
    Thank you!

  14. little latitudes says:

    Thank you, Gord.

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