Culture and heritage

Maritime heritage


Anchored in time

Ships' anchors are one of the most recognised symbols of maritime activity. Anchors have been used for thousands of years in many forms and in many countries. On shipwreck sites, an anchor can provide clues to the location of the main portion of the shipwreck and about the type of ship on which it was being carried. The following information is related to anchors commonly found in New South Wales and that are from nineteenth century sea-going ships.


Stocked anchors were stowed on deck. To do this they were first 'fished', that is, raised to the 'cat-head' or 'cat-davit'. The anchor could then be placed horizontally on deck with the 'stock', vertical against the ship's side.

The shank of a stockless anchor was normally stowed within a hawse-pipe (or tube) set into the bow of a ship.

The largest anchor in a ship's compliment was the 'sheet' or 'best bower'. It was mainly used in an emergency if other anchors failed or dragged. Two slightly smaller 'bower' anchors were also carried, one on the port (left) bow and one on the starboard (right) bow. Bower anchors were used regularly and their anchor cables were permanently attached. A sea-going ship normally carried a stream anchor as a spare. Stream anchors were about two thirds the weight of the bower and sheet anchors. A kedge anchor was even smaller. This could be placed in one of the ship's boats, dropped into water some distance away and used to 'warp' (ie, haul) a vessel from a berth, or to drag a stranded vessel back off a sand bar or beach.

FIGURES NOT ON ORIGINAL SITE Figure 1. The principal parts of an anchor. (The example is a wooden stocked admiralty pattern anchor.)
a-bthe 'shank' - stem to which the arms are attached;
b-cthe 'square' - square section at the end of the shank where the stock and ring or shackle are attached;
d-ean 'arm' - one of two on most anchors. Some anchors used for permanent moorings have only one arm or the second arm may be bent flat against the shank to protect the vessel floating above;
f-ga 'fluke' - end section of an arm. It digs into the seabed and holds against the pull of the vessel. The 'palm' is the flat surface of a fluke;
h-ithe 'bill' or 'pee' or 'point' - that part of the arm that protrudes beyond the fluke;
i-kthe 'blade' - that part of the arm to which the fluke is attached;
m-nthe 'crown' - mid-section of the outer curve of the arms;
dthe 'throat' - the apex of an angle between each arm and the shank;
othe 'ring' or 'shackle - on early anchors, the anchor rope was attached to a 'ring'. On later anchors, the ring was replaced by a u-shaped 'shackle' for the attachment of chain cable.
qthe 'stock' - a cross-bar fitted at the upper end of the shank and set at right angles to the arms so that the anchor cannot lie flat. This helps the flukes to dig in when pulled by the anchor rope or chain cable.

Anchors come in various sizes. Some eighteenth and nineteenth century anchors were 5.6 metres (18.6 feet) in length. During the nineteenth century there were improvements in iron technology, increases in the size of ships and changes in ship design from sail to steam and from wood to iron. The old style anchors were no longer adequate. They were prone to break off a fluke or even an arm when being 'weighed' (ie lifted from the sea bed). The stock, being at right angles to the shank also took up precious deck space when stowed and they were very heavy. Innovations were therefore aimed at increasing strength and holding power while reducing size.

By the 1850s a variety of anchors were available. The Royal Navy still tended to use the labour intensive Admiralty anchors because the Navy had no shortage of crew. Stockless anchors developed throughout the second half of the century. One of the major developments in understanding anchors was the realisation that the fluke area combined with an appropriate length of chain cable was more important than the weight of the anchor itself.

Old Style Admiralty Long Shank Anchors

These were used throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century. Anchors of other European nations were very similar to the Admiralty long-shank design.

Hawkins' Stockless Anchor

In 1821, Hawkins proposed the first stockless anchor to improve the ease of stowage. By drawing the shank directly into a hawse-pipe, a considerable amount of labour was saved in comparison to 'catting' and fishing'. Hawkins' design was slightly flawed and was not used extensively. Much later, with several improvements, it became the basis of the numerous modern stockless anchors.

The Porter Anchor

This anchor appeared in 1838. It had good holding qualities, was relatively light and became popular with merchant ships. The arms rotated at the end of the shank. A horn, welded onto the outer surface of each arm, forced the arms to rotate and the upper arm to 'close' against the shank. To assist with 'fishing' the anchor, a 'fish buckle' was placed near the lower end of the shank. A line attached to this buckle helped to release the anchor from the sea bed.

Lt Roger's Small Palm Anchor

Lt Roger's first proposal to prevent anchors from losing their flukes was the 'pickaxe' anchor of 1831. This had no flukes at all! It was not a success and he patented the small palm anchor in 1832. This was commonly used until the turn of the century. As the anchor developed, the small palms, gradually increased in size. Eventually their surface area was similar to that of Admiralty anchors but broader and shorter. Arms and shanks of small palm anchors are square in section, the palms are on the outer side of the arms and there is no 'bill'.

Admiralty Anchor

This design was developed in 1841 and became a favourite anchor, particularly on naval ships, although the old style Admiralty anchor was still used for many years. In comparison with its predecessor, the anchor was constructed with higher quality iron, an oval shank and curved arms.

The Trotman Anchor

This anchor became available in 1852. It was based on the Porter anchor and also proved to be popular on merchant ships. On the Trotman anchor, the horn and palm are the same piece of metal and this is welded onto the blade of each arm.

Anchor Stocks

These came in various forms. In general, wooden stocks were used on wooden ships. Iron stocks had the advantage of being less cumbersome and were used extensively on both wooden and iron ships.

Pictorial references

NOTE: There are no images on the original page.

Todd, J & Whall, W.B., 1919., Practical Seamanship For Use in the Merchant Service. 7th Edition. London.
* Untitled bow view with anchors being deployed. Plate #43, p.49.

Drawn by Claflin, D
* "Fishing the Anchor"
* "Ground Tackle Used on a General Cargo Ship"

* Individual anchor line drawings by David Nutley, adapted from:
Cotsell, G, 1856., A Treatise on Ships' Anchors. London.


  • Cotsell, G, 1856., A Treatise on Ships' Anchors. London.
  • Todd, J & Whall, W.B., 1919., Practical Seamanship For Use in the Merchant Service. 7th Edition. London.
  • Evans, V, & Nutley, D, 1991., "Hooked on Anchors". Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology. vol 15(2). pp. 41-4.
  • Evans, V, 1993., "Anchors and Cables". Model Shipwright. No. 85. pp. 62-9.
Page last updated: 31 August 2012