New Anchor Chain, New Depth Markers

When we replaced our rusty anchor chain, it was important to mark the depth on the new chain. Depth markers let you know how much chain you have out – critical in deciding how much scope you need to stay safely anchored.

We usually anchor with at least 5:1 sometimes as much as 10:1 scope with an average being about 7:1 scope. Don’t forget, scope is defined as the depth of the water PLUS the distance from the water to your anchor roller. On our boat, that means if we’re anchoring in 10 feet of water, our “scope” depth is 15 feet — and 7 times the scope depth of 15′ is 105 feet of chain out. The markers are the only way we can judge how much scope we have out.

David Measures Our New Chain For New Depth Markers

When we started cruising, we painted our chain markers – a different color paint for every X number of feet. But the paint wore off quickly and then we had no idea how much scope we had out. Then we tried red fingernail polish with stripes for the number of feet – so 3 bars for 30 feet, marketing every 30 feet, 6 bars for 60 feet, 9 bars for 90 feet etc. It also wore off too quickly and the stripes had to be fairly wide or we didn’t see them as the chain freewheeled out.  Friends use cloth ties, we’ve even heard of a chaincounter you can install on the windlass, but that’s far too high tech for us!

On our new chain, we used our old system using bright neon colored cable/electrical ties to mark every 30 feet of chain.  You can get them at the marine stores, but we haven’t noticed any difference except the price from the ones at any hardware store, usually in the electrical section. We use different neon colors representing each 30 feet. We’re doing 4 computer ties for each segment, just to give us more of a chance to see them if the chain is freewheeling down.   Keep in mind, the colors will fade with time — David usually just makes a note that neon orange is now brown or whatever, but you could replace the ties when they fade.  We always have plenty on hand because they’re useful for so many things — including jerry-rigging our throttle connection when it failed last winter while cruising the Florida Keys.   Here’s our coding, but usually every boat’s is different.

30 feet = neon orange

60 feet = brilliant blue

90 feet = lime green

120 feet = hot pink

150 feet = neon yellow

David puts the markers on the chain, using 4 for each color so hopefully while the chain is freewheeling, he’ll be able to see the different depths. Then he trims off the excess “tail”. We’ve done it both ways, leaving them on or cutting them off. The new markers David chose to cut off because the “tails” also wore off quickly, leaving extra pieces of plastic in the anchor locker.

So do you have a special way to mark your anchor chain depth?  Please leave a comment and let us know!  THANKS!  Jan

Putting the Hot Pink 120 Feet Markers in Place

Trimming the “Tails” Off


  1. I read on another blog that they used rescue tape for marking the rode with some success. I haven’t tried it yet but it sounds possible.

    • Yes, Rescue Tape is really cool stuff, and we have a couple of rolls aboard ourselves, but at $25 for 2 different color rolls vs less than $4 for a bunch of neon colors of tie-wraps, we’ll stick with our tie-wraps… we may need to replace them more often, but they work and are still less expensive … I think there are better uses for rescue tape. 🙂 Happy New Year! Jan

  2. I marked our chain with wire ties also, but didn’t bother with colors…just used one at thirty feet, two at 60, three at 90, etc., etc. Seems to work ok, and everything goes through the gypsy (mounted on a manual Simpson Lawrence) fine.

  3. We use skinny bright stiff yellow nylon line cut into 8″ strips that we weave into our chain every 25′ with the first one at 50′. We had to burn the ends so it does’t unravel. It goes through our windlass without a problem, and it costs less than $5 at any hardware store. We added it to our chain in 2009 and it shows no sign of needing replaced. We are currently cruising full time.

  4. K Lipski says:

    Since we use Chain Rainbow ( no problems anymore.

  5. Keith Davie says:

    One last thought, love the system, but have you ever caught one of thosr cut ends when handling the chain? Those things can really gouge you, particularly after they age a little and get brittle.
    I still use them. But carefully!

    • Hi Keith! Now that’s a new one! We’ve never caught the cut end of the anchor line markers on anything, not even ourselves! But now we’ll be aware that it does happen! THX! Jan

      • Billy Jack says:

        Electricians method of finishing the attachment of cable ties is to use a pair of side cut pliers (snub nosed) to cinch up the tie and then twist it off. No cut end, and a fairly smooth finish to the installed tie. Looks great on a cable project as well.
        Cheers, Billy Jack

  6. What I have done (not on really nice boats of course), but figure out the depth and scope needed, then pay out the chain on the deck. On a 37 foot boat, you can get about 25 to 30 feet payed out on the deck, walk it up and back twice, and you have pretty close to what you need. The only thing doing it this way is to hand-hold the chain so it doesn’t tear up stuff as it’s being payed out. This worked well for nylon rode. I’m going to use some sort of marker myself, and I think they’re a good idea, just thought somebody might find it useful to know if they’re on someone else’s boat and find themselves staring at a pile of chain.
    s/v Renasci

  7. Thanks for the great info! I am about to mark our chain and this was very helpful.

    Quick question ~ when you are letting out chain are you counting markers as they are coming up on deck, when they go over the bow roller, or when they hit the water? Guessing it is from the roller?

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