The Bitter End

Written by Captains Chris & Alyse Caldwell
Written by Chris & Alyse Caldwell

The Bitter End is a clever name for a Caribbean Bar but to the seasoned mariner it is a functional and valued description for the end of a rope, actually the end of the anchor rode, chain or rope. This defines how the rode is secured to the boat so if all the rode is deployed you do not lose the anchor and rode, a very expensive mistake.

When we board a boat for training we do a stem to stern below deck inspection. Part of that inspection is to confirm that the bitter end is really secured to the boat. More importantly, we verify that the anchor can be cut free by using a knife to release the bitter end.

Often we discover a chain rode which is secured to the boat with a shackle. First of all, if the shackle is rusted closed then it may be impossible to unscrew the shackle in an emergency. Additionally, this method of disconnection requires that you crawl down into the chain locker with tools. Not a timely action when an emergency is at hand. The better method is to use three strand rope to secure the chain to the bitter end and have enough rope to come above the boat deck. This way if you must release the anchor you can untie the rope or cut it.

When your anchor is dragging and you are heading toward rock jetties or a serious shoal and the windlass battery dies, what can you do? If you have ever tried to hand-winch all that chain back up then you know that it is better to separate your boat from your anchor at the bitter end. You can take care of the immediate situation and still retrieve your anchor later.  Just tie a boat fender to the chain to use as a marker buoy and head back to the dock. Either contact a SCUBA Diver to retrieve the abandoned anchor or repair your windlass and go back to your marked location yourself. Worst case scenario you lose an anchor, not the boat. If the chain was shackled into the boat (with a rusty pin) we would never be able to get free.

Check your bitter end!

Captains Chris & Alyse Caldwell are USCG 100 ton Masters and Cruising Coaches who offer Personal Boat Training Online or Onboard your boat anywhere! The Caldwell’s help build your cruising confidence with hands-on training and with their training videos filled with tons of tips for the boater who loves learning.

If you have additional questions for Captain Chris or Captain Alyse, please email them at