SJ23 Tech Tip J05, (Updated 2019-07-18) Bob Schimmel


Mooring Design for a Pocket Cruiser.
The information in this document concerning corrosion applies to Wabamun Lake.  It may not apply to other waters.

INDEX - Weight, Chain, Fittings, Ball, Pennant, Deck Fittings, Set a Mooring, Move a Mooring, Winter Storage, Hunting at the Mooring, Mooring corrosion.

It is often said, "There are those who have run aground and there are those who are gonna run aground!"  I prefer to belong to the latter group and hope the storm gods will be kind to my boat should she break loose.  I used to moor Panache on the north shore of Wabamun Lake, Alberta, along with a dozen other boats.  The anchorage was located just West of Whitewood Point at 16W, 530 34' 06" N.  & 1140 35' 47" and about 1 KM east of "fabled" Coal Point, the choke point of the lake.  For you land lubbers, that's approximately 70 km west of Edmonton on Highway 16.  The anchorage is protected from NW to NE winds.  The majority of it blows from the NW but the worst of it comes from the SE, thankfully not as often because it is fully exposed from that direction.  We could count on at least one major storm in early Spring and several major thunderstorms during June.  The thunder storms have a nasty habit of delivering golf ball size hail and the odd tornado.  In 2003 a tornado skipped over the moored fleet, just above mast height, saving the boats from major damage.  However, just to remind us of the brute force, it obliterated solar panels, some windows, lots of Windexes and stripped all the foliage off the trees.  What a day that was.  Once a major storm is raging through the anchorage, it's too risky to row to your boat to beef up your mooring lines.  This is why an exposed boat requires a strong, dependable mooring ALL the time.  The mooring design that follows may seem like overkill, but it's a system that allowed us to sleep at night!  It is scaled to handle a pocket cruiser sailboat, weighing up to 3000 lbs, moored in 10' (3M) deep water.  Many 27' (8.5M) cruisers copy the design by scaling up the components.  The picture above shows the overall design of an all chain mooring equipped with a small mooring buoy.  If you use a large buoy then use a single heavy chain that goes through the buoy with a nylon pennant to the deck cleats.  This makes good use of the catenary effect of the chain to dampen hull sailing at the mooring.  What follows is a description of each component from bottom to top of the design.  Today's weather forecast.

MOORING WEIGHT - Somewhat by accident (and maybe with a bit of intelligence) one of our previous club members discovered that a surplus truck brake drum (Kenworth size or larger) makes an excellent mooring weight.  At 110 lbs, one of these 16" steel drums will suck itself into the bottom goop (mud and sand) so well that it sticks like "shit to a blanket".  The "secret ingredient" is the open rim that settles into the soft bottom, leaving no projections that might foul the chain and shorten the rode.  Once the drum is buried, it is an ideal shape to handle the 3600 swing of the mooring chain.  The drum must be placed on the bottom with the open side down to ensure it sinks straight down into the mud.  In most locations here the drum sinks so deep that the chain is the only thing showing at the bottom; perfect.  We generally let a new mooring drum settle into the bottom for about a week before using it.  This to prevent dragging.

For those of you who cannot find a surplus truck brake drum you could imbed scrap steel in a steel container securing it with concrete.  Use as little concrete as you can so the majority of the weight is steel.  Include a steel rod equipped with a ring to attach the chain to the top.  Only the ring should be outside the concrete.  Another very effective shape is an inverted pyramid, with the pointy end down and the ring welded to the base.  This is a design idea from Texas where it works well to hold a navigation marker. 

A truck brake drum can be converted to a mooring weight by using one of the methods described below.  The drum shown in the picture at right uses the first method.  The good part of this design is that steel does not corrode in deep fresh water.  The metal stays in pristine condition.   

  1. Weld or bolt a 3/4" steel rod to the inside of the brake drum across the axle hole.  Slip a heavy duty shackle over the rod and captivate the chain.  Wire the shackle pin to prevent it coming loose.  This technique will never let go and creates a snag free attachment for the chain.  The shackle permits you to replace the chain.  "Hold your breath for a long time or put your SCUBA gear on!"  

  2. Yet another method is to bolt two chains across the axle hole at 900 to each other.  Crossed as they are, it creates a perfect place to attach a clevis for the main chain.  Double nut all bolts, use washers and grade 8 bolts.  After a couple of weeks under water, the bolts will corrode so the nuts can't spin off.  This method has the advantage of pulling from the middle of the drum. 

NOTE: For years I moored my 3000 lb San Juan 23 in 10' deep water using a brake drum, 30' of 5/16" bottom chain and 8' of 1/4" top chain.  See diagram above.  She never dragged her mooring in winds that reached 70 knots.  The reason I used 1/4" top chain is that I didn't want to sink the small float at the surface.  Now that I have a large ball with lots of buoyancy the chain has been changed to all 3/8".  The heavier chain results in a smoother, steadier ride.  The bottom in our anchorage consists of light goop or mud over sand.  (This goop is actually decaying vegetation but locally known as "Loon shit," being named after a beautiful bird that doesn't deserve this label!  Go figure)The drum works itself into the sand in only a few weeks, thereby increasing the holding power due to the suction.  However, some sailors are adamant about adding more weight to their mooring and do so by lowering a second drum over (on top of) the first one.  The technique for doing this is to stretch the chain up vertical over the drum while dropping the new drum down over the taught chain.  It is quite the experience to feel a 110 pound drum bumping to the bottom along the chain.  It feels like it will snag the chain and pull you down. 
SAFETY NOTE - Don't let go of the chain while you do this job.  Wear gloves, secure the chain to a cleat and keep your fingers clear!  Be prepared to release the chain should the drum snag it.  The second drum sits loose over the chain, on top of the bottom drum.  Ultimately you want a strong, durable system with the least amount of abrasion to minimize failure.  The fewer number of fittings at the bottom, the fewer things that can come loose!  It'll be a long time before you can inspect the drum, so do this job right and inspect the hardware thoroughly before you launch it into the deep!  The remainder of the design comes from my 40 or so years of trial and error and I haven't lost a boat from a mooring yet, knock on wood!  I came close a couple of times though. 

Shown here are two photos of assembled guest moorings, ready to be deployed. 

HEAVY BOTTOM CHAIN - The catenary effect of a heavy chain is very effective at holding a bow down.  It dampens the pitching forces that result in a boat riding quieter at anchor.  The effect is strong enough that it all but eliminates "hunting" on my SJ23.  Therefore, use 3/8" or heavier chain, going through a float, terminated in a ring on top of the float.  If you use larger chain it will stand up longer to the chemical corrosion and abrasion on the lake bottom.  If you use grade 70 chain, which is 10 times harder than grade 30 chain, it can withstand abrasion that much better.  In my experience corrosion is the problem, not abrasion.  If you want extreme strength and weight, use closed link chain.  However, this is also very costly stuff and difficult to acquire!  When you think about it though, the chain is cheap compared to the cost of repairing your boat!  A 4x1 scope for an all chain rode is adequate at Wabamun Lake.  Considering that the average mooring depth is 10', then the bottom chain should be about 45' long.  (Includes freeboard).  See LIGHT TOP CHAIN for the remaining portion of the rode. 
STABILITY of an ANCHORED or MOORED BOAT - Hunting is a term used to describe the side to side motion of the boat while anchored or moored.  The bow is pushed to one side of the mooring by the wind till the end of the line stops it.  Then the boat rebounds and the wind pushes it back to the opposite side till it comes to the end of the rode.  The seesaw motion repeats itself, add nausea.  It would be nice if you could stop this motion as it would greatly reduce the strain on the boat and anchor or mooring.  One technique is to tie the boom off over a gunwale instead of along the centerline.  This biases the hull to one side of the wind to create a quieter ride.  It is also easier to get into the cockpit with the boom clear of the cockpit.  A friend swears that a riding sail attached to the back stay of his SJ24 works but I have never tried it.  I've also heard that dragging a weight over the bottom (from the bow) helps to dampen the motion.  Most trailerable sail boats experience a calmer ride by raising the centre board and the rudder.  It's also a good idea to keep them up just in case the boat goes aground.  No sense in damaging more stuff than you have to!!! 
A long keel hull, as shown in the photo above, points into the wind naturally due to the same directing force that feathers on an arrow provide.  On the other hand, a modern yacht has a cutaway fore foot and a powerful rudder with the mast located ahead of the center of the boat.  The lack of underwater resistance aft of center is reason why the wind can start the hunting action.  While these features are necessary for good upwind performance, they make the boat highly unstable when tethered from the bow in a strong wind.  Fortunately these same features make the boat very stable when moored from the stern on a bridle.  Consider this technique if you have to ride out a storm and have the sea room to use a Jordan Series Drogue
NOTE - A chain and rope combination is considered to be too light for a permanent mooring.  There is not enough weight to pull the bow down and the angle is too shallow to prevent "hunting."  An all chain rode slides mostly over the bottom and creates the greatest mechanical advantage to prevent hunting.  Chain also stands up better to the abrasion of sliding over the bottom.  In reality though, a great deal of the chain sinks into the mud and it is the mud that holds the boat, not the weight.  It takes a very strong storm to pull the chain out of the mud. 

LIGHT TOP CHAIN - If you use a small 12" mooring ball in 10' deep water then use 8' of 1/4" chain from the surface down to the heavy bottom chain.  Cut the length of 1/4" chain 2' shorter than the depth at your mooring.  This ensures that the heavy bottom chain takes the wear and corrosion right on the lake bottom.  Attach the light chain to the end of the heavy chain with a quick link or a double clevis adapter.  For security, wire both pins shut using mild steel wire.  Use water proof grease on the thread of the quick link so you can remove it later. 
The reason for using light chain to the ball is to ensure that your small ball sits high in the water so it is easy to spot between the waves at night or to reach from the deck with a mooring pole. 

FITTINGS - All chain fittings MUST have a rating of at least 1 ton.  Lock all pins with mild steel wire, not stainless steel wire.  Dissimilar metal will corrode in one year on the coal-laden bottom of Wabamun Lake.  Don't use a nylon tie-wrap to lock your fasteners.  They rot in only one year under water.  This surprises me since nylon line lasts "forever" under water. 
Label your 
chain with the vessel's name to designate ownership.  It eliminates confusion when the mooring chains are lifted in the Spring.  A UHMW plastic name tag mounted 1 meter below the surface works very well. 

MOORING BALL - The float MUST be equipped with a swivel, either internal or external, to prevent torque loading (twisting) of the chain and premature wear.  Twisted chain wears much faster than strain relieved chain.  Most rigid foam filled or inflated mooring balls are equipped with an internal swivel, so attach your light chain directly to the bottom ring using a shackle.  Wire all screw pins shut using mild steel wire in such a way that the chain cannot rub against it.  See the picture below. 
IMPORTANT - At the end of each sailing season, check the wear on the bottom ring of your ball and any other fitting you can access.  If the bottom ring is worn, have a welder repair it.  The harder metal of the weld will far outlast the original soft metal of the ring.
A later and much superior version of a mooring ball is the rigid foam filled fiberglass ball equipped with a hollow tube through the center.  Notice the chain pulled through the ball in the photo above.  The chain slides through the tube and the ball floats on the surface.  Use a quick link to attach a 4" diameter 1/2" thick steel ring to the end of the chain to create a tie point for the nylon pennants.  If this is a permanent mooring then install a swivel somewhere in the free section of chain.  Mine is installed above the ball and works just fine.  If this is a guest mooring with occasional use, a swivel is not required.  This style of mooring ball results in less hunting at the anchor since the catenary effect of the chain weight pulls the bow down to dampen hunting at the mooring. 
A mooring ball can't be big enough.  The bigger it is the easier it is to spot between the waves and the easier it is to pick up the mooring lines.  I leave my lines permanently attached to the chain at the top of the ball.  Additionally, it is easier for the water borne "cowboys" to see a vacant mooring ball.  This way they hopefully avoid it and don't gouge it with their propeller.  Grrrrrr. 

OWNERSHIP - Label your mooring ball with the name of your vessel, owner name, address and phone number to designate ownership.  This is a mandatory regulation under the Canadian Coast Guard Aids to Navigation and it sure minimizes confusion when a guest arrives in the anchorage.  I've been told this rule is seldom enforced by the Canadian Coast Guard but it may be legally advantageous to comply should another vessel founder after striking your mooring ball.  Ask a lawyer! 

MOORING PENNANTS - I like the security of two mooring lines instead of a single one.  If I know a huge storm is approaching I will temporarily add a third line from the bow eye on the stem directly to the chain at the bottom of the ball.  I give it enough slack so the ball has just enough room to move as if the third line were not there.  My two main mooring lines consist of two equal length of 1/2" (minimum) triple plait nylon with a loop spliced at the top end.  Set at least six tucks in the splice.  Do NOT use a knot.  A splice reduces line strength only 10% and lies flat on the deck.  These lines should have no more than 1' of slack in calm water to ensure they don't wrap around the mooring chain.  When the bow picks up the chain as the wind gets stronger it helps to dampen the hunting at the mooring and keeps the ball from bouncing against the hull.  Avoid the temptation to use all the line you bought simply because you don't want to waste it.  Pennants longer than 1' of slack will droop in the water and wrap around the chain below the ball as the boat ghosts around the mooring ball.  That's exactly the situation to avoid prior to a storm as the line will abrade right where it wraps around the chain.  Another way to prevent the pennants from wrapping around the chain is to slip a foam tube (noodle) over each.  A noodle is foam tubing that kids play with in the water.  While preventing a line from sinking it also makes it easier to pick up when you approach the mooring.  If you use lime green foam they stick out like a sore thumb in the anchorage.  Don't use red, you won't be able to see it at night.  Don't use floating yellow poly line because it rots with the UV. 

Yale cordage introduced a new manufacturing process with 3 strand nylon.  Rather than weaving 3 strands into rope, they pioneered a unique eight-strand weave.  This new line is called Brait.  It is worth investigating as an alternative to triple plait nylon. 
Splice a metal thimble in the bottom of the pennant that connects to the ball.  A metal thimble increases strength significantly and minimizes wear. 
The rope will soon wear through without the protection of a metal thimble.   As you splice the loop around the thimble bind the junction of the lines at the open end of the thimble with a whipping to keep the thimble captive inside the eye.  The eye of nylon line MUST be tight around the thimble.  Attach the two lines to the ball using a single shackle as shown above.  For some reason, two shackles will bind around each other and of course one can't!  I have no explanation why this happens except that it does.  Just take my word for it!  Now that you've become an expert at splicing, splice another loop at the deck end of each line.  Make this loop just large enough to slip over the deck mooring cleat.  This is a very convenient and secure method for quickly fastening the boat with maximum strength.  See picture below.  If you want extra security, tie a light line over the cleats to lock the heavy ones in place.  My lines have never slipped off their cleat since I started this in 1980. 
A splice retains approximately 90% of the original strength of the line.  A bowline retains 70-75% of the strength and all other knots about 65%.  This is the reason why riggers always splice.  Besides, a splice is far more compact than a knot and lies flat on the deck.
Before you splice in the top loops, slip a 2' length of 3/4" rubber garden hose over the line.  This is the cheapest and BEST chafe gear you can use.  If this combination is too thick to pass through your mooring cleat, the cleat is too small.  Replace it with a bigger one. 
NOTE: Don't use polypropylene line as UV deteriorates the line quickly and it doesn't have as much stretch as nylon.  The muskrats love to chew on poly.  They have razor sharp teeth that make real quick work of a 1/2" line.  The incision resembles a knife cut so don't be mislead into thinking this is a malicious event. 


DECK FITTINGS - On Panache there are two ways to run the 1/2" mooring pennants; through the mooring chocks mounted on the edge of the deck (shown above) or over the anchor rollers (shown right).  In either case the pennants terminate at their deck mounted cleat.  I also tie the pennants to the rollers to ensure they stay there.  The boat rides quieter when the lines are attached further forward.  All deck fittings MUST be firmly through bolted, equipped with a generous solid wood backing plate and sealed to the deck with marine adhesive, Sikaflex, 3M or butyl rubber to prevent movement and water leakage.  Use a large metal plate that straddles both mounting bolts of the chock or cleat to distribute the load equally.  Use nylock nuts on the bolts to ensure they stay tight with vibration.  Imagine that you have to hold 1/3 of the boat's weight from the cleats!  Use 3/4" rubber garden hose (not vinyl) as chafe gear around your pennants as shown at right.  Slip the line through the hose BEFORE splicing your loops in the end. 
Check everything monthly and the beginning of a sailing season. 

 SET A MOORING DRUM FROM A SAILBOAT Attach the chain to the drum and roll it into waist deep water so you can float the bow over it.  Slip a 30' length of 1/2" yacht braid through a chain link, run it up to the bow and tighten the line.  This should pull the bow down so when you walk to the stern it should lift the drum off the bottom.  Slowly motor to your previously marked mooring spot and let out the line so the drum settles to the bottom in a controlled fashion.  This ensures that the drum rests upright on the bottom.  In 10' of water you require about 30' of line to have a workable tail end on deck.  Keep the line taught to the surface while you retrieve it.  A flat barge is another excellent platform for this type of work.  In many ways I prefer it due to the extra stability and walking area.  

SET A MOORING DRUM FROM A DINGHY Attach the chain to the drum and slide it into knee deep water over a plank laid on the bottom.  Lash a 6' long (2x8)" on top of a dinghy so it sticks out 6" past the transom with the rest over the center seat.  Lash it securely to the middle seat and sit on the plank.  Float the dinghy transom above the drum.  Slip a 30' length of 1/2" yacht braid through a chain link (just above the weight) and pull both free ends over the (2x8)".  Snug up the line and secure both ends to a cleat on the plank.  This will pull the stern down but as you sit in the dinghy your weight should counter balance the drum so it lifts off the bottom.  Slowly row to your marked mooring spot and let out one of the lines (wearing gloves) so the drum settles to the bottom in a controlled fashion.   This ensures that the drum rests upright on the bottom.  Allow the chain to pay out freely, keeping some tension on it so the chain does not get trapped under the weight.  In 10' of water you require about 30' of line to have a tail end of workable line in the dinghy.  Keep the line taught to the surface while you retrieve it.  Remember to attach a float to the end of the chain before you lower the weight to the bottom! 

RELOCATING A MOORING DRUM - Relocating a mooring drum can be a heck of a job if it has settled into the bottom for many years.  Our technique is to pull the chain vertical under the bow and clip a chain hook (with block & lift line attached) to the chain, preferably at or below the water line.  Both ends of a 3/8" poly lift line are directed over Panache's bow roller and secured to a strong cleat on the bow.  A Venture 23 equipped with the long bow sprit also works very well.  With a couple of guys standing on the bow (the heavier the better) we pull the lift line as tight as we can, lowering the bow at the same time.  Then everyone walks to the stern which raises the bow and usually loosens the drum from the bottom.  If it doesn't loosen, gun the throttle to break it free from the bottom.  Be patient so you don't break things. 
Having loosened the drum from the bottom, we reset the chain hook as low as possible and move the other end of the lift line to a primary winch.  The winch should be able to lift the 100 pound drum off the bottom.  With the drum hanging from the bow we motor to the new location, NOT STOPPING till we reach it because momentum is everything.  It is helpful to have previously marked the new location because this is not the time to figure out where to go!  With the drum over the marked location we slowly release one of the lift lines to lower the drum, keeping the chain off the bottom so it doesn't pile up under the drum.  You have to be really careful to protect your hands when releasing the line. 
This job is easier when moving the drum to same depth or deeper water.  If you move it to shallower water you will have to pull up the lift line each time the bottom comes up to the drum.  Eventually you will get it to shallow water so you can roll or drag it to shore.  This procedure is also useful to remove a mooring drum.  To relocate the mooring a long way, it is best to place it in a dinghy and tow it there.  Beer sure tastes good afterwards. 

SAFETY - ALWAYS WEAR GLOVES when working with chain, heavy weights or line that has the potential of zinging through your hands like a greased pig.  You'd be amazed at how fast poly line can remove flesh, leaving nice white bones to look at!  Damn that smarts. 

MOORING INITIATION - The first time you connect your boat to your new mooring should be done in calm weather.  It takes a week or more before the drum settles into the bottom, which is when the holding power really increases.  How long it actually takes depends on how soft the bottom is.  At Wabamun Lake, where the bottom is mostly sand and thin mud, this process takes a couple of weeks.  If you have a gravel bottom it will likely take much longer.  I couldn't begin to predict how tidal current affects the settling.  That being the case I would suggest adding a second drum.  Anyway, I think that slight tugging on the mooring chain during calm weather will hasten the settling process.  The tidal current should help sink it as well.  DO NOT connect the boat to a new mooring with a storm arriving.  You will likely find her against a shore somewhere. 

WINTER STORAGE and SPRING RETRIEVAL - If the water in your area freezes during winter, you have to remove the ball and lower the chain to the bottom before it turns hard.  Trust me, you don't want to attach a sacrificial float and let it freeze in the ice.  You will likely find your mooring quite some distance from where you left it.  Ice moves in winter!  The clever thing to do is stay under the ice.  Attach enough 1/2" nylon line to the end of your chain so it clears the surface by a few feet.  It helps to splice a loop in the end for Spring pickup.  Then attach 1/8" nylon line or light steel cable to the end of your 1/2" nylon line to extend it to shore.  When close to shore bury the line or cable in the bottom so the ice can't get at it.  Ever hear of ice moving a beach?  I didn't think so.  Tie the end of the line to a rock or something else you can find in the Spring.  I usually do this in 1 foot of water.  No sense in getting any wetter than you have to.  The beauty of nylon or steel cable is that it sinks to the bottom where it can stay under a fisherman's hook.  Occasionally the line sinks just into the bottom all the way to the mooring.  You couldn't ask for better protection.  One last point with regard to pulling the chain up to the surface in Spring, the 1/2" nylon line attached to the end of the chain is strong enough to really haul up on the heavy chain without fear of breaking.  That might be the case if you used 1/8" line.  Oops.  Chain has a nasty habit of settling into the bottom over a winter and sometimes it can be quite a tug to rip it out of the mud.  Once you get the end of the chain to the surface, flip the end over the gunwale, shove a screw driver though it and into the oar lock to keep it there, attach your mooring ball and flip the whole works back into the drink so you are good to go for another season.  OK you were supposed to pull the screw driver out before flipping it all into the drink!  Geeze.

HUNTING OR SAILING AT THE MOORING (or ANCHOR) - Some hull designs continually "hunt" or sail at the mooring.  This is really uncomfortable to the crew and hard on the deck fittings and mooring line.  If your SJ23 hunts then consider the following hints: 

  1. Lift your center board and rudder blade, locking them up so the hull has less grip on the water for steerage.  (It also helps to preserve the board if the boat breaks free of the mooring and ends up against a shore).

  2. Push the boom to one side and tie it over a gunwale.  (It helps to bias the hull to one side, dampening the hunting and it keeps the cockpit clear.

  3. Stow your gear to one side to heel the hull.  This biases the boat to one side of the wind to minimize hunting.

  4. Keep your mooring pennant lines as short as possible.  No more than 6" of slack.  (The quicker the hull picks up the weight of the chain, the less hunting it will do).

  5. Use an all chain mooring line from the bottom weight to the ball.  At least 3/8".  The heavier the chain, the greater the dampening.

  6. Move the mooring pennants from the deck cleats to the bow eye.  (This helps to dampen the hunting BUT the bow eye is not designed for a side load.  However, I have attached an emergency third pennant to it as a backup to the two deck pennants.)

  7. Store the sails on the forward berth, keep your forward water tank full, keep lots of water in the head and sleep on the forward berth.  Keeping the bow down as much as possible helps to minimize hunting.

  8. Use a heavy duty riding sail on the back stay.

AT ANCHOR - If I have to anchor in rough weather, onset of white caps, I like to set 2 anchors 400 apart with equal scope.  While this eliminates the majority of the hunting, allowing you to get some rest, you also have to be vigilant of winds shifts.  Any shift greater than 200 and you will have to consider resetting one of the anchors.  Not a pleasant task at night!

  • When I anchor I always tie the boom and rudder off to amidships, ready to deploy.  The rudder blade is tilted up but can be dropped with a tweak of the locking line.  The center board is always raised but can always be deployed with a tweak of the locking line. 

  • If the hull is within 200 of the mooring line, then the strain is minimal. 

  • If the hull is more than 200 off the mooring line, then the strain is higher.  The further off, the higher the strain. 

  • If the hull is at 900 or more to the mooring line, you are dragging anchor.  Time to reset the anchor. 


HOW LONG WILL A MOORING LAST? - The consensus by many sailors on Wabamun Lake is that a sail boat mooring will last a person's life time.  This is probably true of the mooring weight but the same cannot be said of the mooring chain.  In 2004 an old mooring chain broke at Poole Sail Club.  For a while we didn't know what the cause was but when the broken mooring chain was compared to several broken dock chains at Sunshine Bay Yacht Club I noticed similarities.  The surprising thing about all the chains was that the failure was in the same short section on all chains.  This was the 1 meter of chain that rose up from the bottom muck.  In all the chains the links above and below the failed section were in excellent condition.  But just to add confusion, some PSC moorings have lasted longer than others, so this failure rate is not totally predictable.  You have to keep an open mind.  These similar failures started me wondering about the source of the problem.  In the final outcome it is hoped that if a person can understand the factors then we should be able to guestimate the state of a chain and form an inspection and replacement schedule to prevent breakage. 

CORROSION - The metal corrosion that occurs in a prairie lake has to do with the chemical cocktail in the Littoral zone at the lake bottom.  This is the zone that extends from shore out to the depths of where vegetation growth ends, which is the same zone in which we install our moorings.  In most northern prairie lakes the Littoral zone has a bottom consistency of sand, mud, decaying vegetation ("loon shit") and in the case of Wabamun lake, coal dust.  The water in this zone is also warm and contains the majority of the oxygen; two other components required for corrosion.  This chemical cocktail produces a mild sulphuric acid that will corrode a steel mooring chain laying in the vegetation.  Hence the rational of why the 1M of chain that leaves the bottom corrodes, leaving the rest in pristine condition.  But the answer is not as simple as this. 

So why do some moorings last longer than others?  This question can be answered by the factors that contribute to the rate of combustion or rot of vegetation; water temperature and oxygen content.  Just slightly deeper than the Littoral zone is the thermo cline.  If you SCUBA dive you can actually float on this denser cold water, it is that pronounced.  It is significantly colder that you can feel if you dip your toes into it.  The water below the thermo cline is usually very clean with good visibility.  The important factor about this boundary layer of cold water is that it has less oxygen and a lower temperature that make for poor combustion.  If a mooring is below the thermo cline, the steel remains virtually pristine and might actually outlast most boat owners.  Steel in shallow warm water is usually immersed in mud and will stay relatively pristine due to the absence of oxygen.  In addition, this steel cannot abrade because it does not rub against anything.  In fact, I have pulled my mooring chain up out of the mud and it literally "rips" out of the bottom to reveal pristine metal.  This almost make one consider not installing the drum, but I won't go that far! 

The pictures below are from a mooring that was below the thermo cline.  The chain is 20 years old.  Note the excellent condition of the links below the ball.  However, at about 12' down the corrosion starts abruptly.  This right at the bend to the lake bottom into the Littoral zone.  Unfortunately the rest of the chain is still on the lake bottom so I cannot show it to you.  I've pulled up pristine chain on other moorings.  The corrosion does not occur where the chain is buried in the mud.  A recent field of thought is to use a length of Dyneema line in the chain at the turn up from the bottom.  The loops at the ends would have to be equipped with metal eyes.


While a lot of corrosion is at play, some abrasion can't be ruled out.  There can be little doubt that a chain rolling over a sandy bottom will experience abrasion.  Consider it as slow motion grinding.  If you have ever seen how quickly wet sand paper can remove material, you will understand the nature of this problem.  But if the problem were just abrasion then the sides of the links would be worn smooth, which they aren't.  It's only the ends of the links that are worn!  Very perplexing.  Without doing an in-depth chemical analysis of the processes or wishing to spend ten years underwater to observe the motion, we are left to conclude that both factors affect the chain but at varying degrees, based on local conditions.  Regardless of which factors affect your mooring chain, the damage almost always occurs where the horizontal chain meets the vertical rise; just where the acid and sand are located. 

SOLUTION - To repair your chain just lift the damaged section to the surface, cut it out, and insert a new section using two repair links.   Since we now know what to look for and where to find it, inspect your chain annually to avoid a sudden and catastrophic failure during a storm. 


CONCLUSION - This mooring design should keep your boat secured so you and everyone else can sleep peacefully at night.  It would be sheer hell to hear about the trip that your boat made "slipping" through the anchorage, bouncing from one boat to another, unattended. There is no guarantee in this design and I do not assume liability for damage to your boat.  If you have a heavier boat, simply scale up the dimensions to match the requirements of your boat.  To date almost everyone at PSC has converted to it with complete success and peace of mind.  If you intend to use this design please send me an email as I've been told that many people around the world have copied it and I'm curious to know where this design is used.  I'd be interested in hearing about any improvements you have made.  Good luck with your mooring and I hope this design works well for you.  

Bob P.  Schimmel
S.V.  Panache

NOTE - The rules and regulations stated in this Tech Tip apply to Canadian waters.  You should comply to the regulations in your local waters.

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