Anchors: History of and Developments in Anchor Technology



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The Inflate-a-Weight is a specially designed anchor that utilizes a chemical reaction to assist in the anchor’s ascent. Connected to the body of the anchor are two balloons similar in design to airbags. One is connected at the top and the other at the bottom. The bottom balloon acts as a backup if the top one fails to activate. Using an infrared remote control, the user can release some water into the balloon. This will react with the trace amount of sodium present in the balloon to produce sodium hydroxide and hydrogen gas. The gas will inflate the balloon and give the anchor the buoyancy necessary for it to rise to the surface. The Inflate-a-Weight is a fast method of hauling in an anchor that could save boaters the electricity they need to power radios, lights, and navigation systems.

Present Technology

The current technology of anchors includes multiple different anchor types used for various purposes, the line it is connected to, and the chain it is connected to. These anchor types include the lightweight anchor, kedge anchor, grapnels anchor, plow anchor, claw anchor, and the mushroom anchor. The lightweight anchor is usually used on smaller boats used for recreational purposes. The kedge anchor is normally used on very large ships because it buries one of its sides and relies mainly on the weight of the ship to help keep it in place. The grapnels anchor is used by small boats such as kayaks and canoes because it has little holding power. The plow anchor tends to be used on cruising boats because it is able to bury itself in most bottom types. The claw anchor works similarly to the plow anchor but it allows 360 degree turns while anchored and is able to right itself easily if it hits the bottom on the wrong side. The mushroom anchor is used mainly for moorings and is best used in soft bottoms because of the suction it is able to create because of it mushroom shape. Additionally, the anchors are attached to the boat via a line and/or chain. The three-strand twist nylon line is the best line to use because of the shock it is able to absorb from the anchoring. It is recommended that the line is mixed with a chain for the anchor. Chain is usually made from galvanized steel and isgood to use for attaching you anchor to the boat because it can handle more weight and wear and tear and the most commonly used type of chain is the proof coil.

Airbags are inflated via a chemical reaction activated in a head-on collision to help protect a person in a crash. They are commonly activated when in a head-on collision the car decelerates at a very fast pace and a ball held in place by a magnet moves forward to activate an electrical circuit to ignite a pellet of sodium azide. Once that happened the airbag inflates in mere milliseconds, approximately 40. After the bag has inflated fully it begins to deflate to cushion the body in time for when the body should make contact with it. For the airbag to produce the gas necessary to inflate it goes through a series of chemical reactions. The reason for multiple reactions is to produce the gas needed and to remove the other harmful substances produced and convert them into harmless substances.

There are many gas producing chemical reactions, but the important ones for this project have reactants in group 1, the alkali metals. Some of the elements located in this group have strong reactions with water. Some of these reactants react with water in a violent explosion and produce gas. Lithium has an intense reaction with water and produces hydrogen gas. Sodium has a fast reaction with water, which can be seen by the small explosion or fire when the reactants are combined, and produces hydrogen gas. Potassium has a rapid exothermic reaction with water and can catch fire during the reaction and it produces hydrogen gas. Rubidium reacts very rapidly and violently with water and produces hydrogen gas. Cesium has an extremely fast and violent reaction with water and produces hydrogen gas.

The current technology of infrared remote controls and sensors includes being used in television remotes. The infrared or IR remote is able to work by using s low frequency light beam that cannot be detected by the human eye but by the television receiver. The IR remotes and their sensors are used by many different electronic devices today including things such as televisions, radios, and movie players.


Anchors have been used for thousands of years. Ancient forms of anchors, rocks, have been found that date to the Bronze Age. A primitive anchor consists of a pair of wood arms under a large rock. It provided the same purpose as modern day anchors, which is to have a sharp point and mass. Ancient anchors relied on the grappling hook until the stock, a bar perpendicular to the arm in order to roll the anchor to pierce the bottom, was introduced and adopted.

Airbags were first used in the early 1950s and were designed by Walter Linderer, a German engineer and later was patented by John W. Hetrick. In 1963, Yasuzaburou Kobori created current airbag technology. In 1968, Allen Breed invented the first automobile crash sensor and airbag safety system. Early airbags had the problem of retaining pressure in the canisters that inflated the bag with compressed air. Sodium azide and its by-product, sodium hydroxide, were commonly used in the 1990s. However its toxicity and reactivity caused it to be phased out.

Infrared, or IR, technologies had started to be used in the early 1980s. The first remote control, called “Lazy Bones” was created by Zenith Electronics Corporation. Eugene McDonald created the first wireless remote, the “Flashmatic”. An IR remote emits a very low frequency beam of light which is then met by the receiver. In the beginning of the 2000s, ninety-nine percent of all television sets and one-hundred of all VCRs and DVD players were equipped with IR remote controls. Most remote controls today use IR technology.


The gas that needed to be used had to be safe and couldn’t be harmful to the environment. Methane and ammonia are harmful to the environment, so they were thrown out as possibilities. The only other ones that would be useful in lifting the anchor were hydrogen and helium, but helium is too expensive to be used on a daily basis. This left hydrogen as the element chosen for the lifting of the anchor. Next it was necessary to find a way to produce the hydrogen through a reaction, but the compounds used couldn’t be harmful to the environment, along with its byproducts. The simplest and cleanest way to produce hydrogen was to use a salt and mix it with water. The only salt that will not create a harmful byproduct and will not explode killing any creatures, was sodium and therefore was chosen for to create the anchor’s needed reaction.

The breakthrough that is necessary for the floating anchor to work is the reaction that must take place inside the anchor under the high pressure of deep ocean waters. The reaction must take place in an area that is completely dry, so as to avoid an early and undesired reaction. The separate chambers where the sodium and water are held must be sealed properly in order to avoid compromising the clean water with contaminates and the risk of the sodium being exposed to water, causing an early reaction, is too great. The only possible way for the reaction to occur is if the sodium is kept dry and safely away from the ocean’s water.

The sodium must be kept in a separate chamber where it can be released into the water of another chamber. The water should be filled before the anchor is dropped but if not, the water can be used if it is fresh water. As this is an unlikely case, due to the fact that the anchor’s main purpose is for deep oceanic waters, the anchor can still be used in freshwater lakes or rivers.

When the sodium is released into the water of another chamber, the reaction will rapidly produce sodium hydroxide and hydrogen gas. The hydrogen gas will fill up the balloon that is attached to the exterior of the anchor and provide the lift necessary for the anchor to rise to the surface at a steady and safe rate.

The release system is connected to an infrared remote control on board the ship. When the anchor needs to be raised, they simply use a remote control to send infrared signals to the anchor, which in turn opens the chamber, and triggers the reaction. The downside is that due to the fact that a high concentration of sodium, if a leak occurs, could destroy the anchor in a small explosion. To avoid a catastrophe, the concentration of sodium must be kept at a low level. This basically means that only about one or two reactions worth of sodium can be kept in the chambers within the anchor. A solution to any failures in the release of the sodium can be fixed with a more manual format. A tube will be run down the chain to the anchor upon installation, so if the reaction in the anchor fails, hydrogen gas can be pumped down the tube into the anchor’s balloon. If there arises a problem with the balloon, there is a second emergency balloon attached to the opposite end of the anchor, which is attached to the tube, that can be filled if the first fails to do so. If all else fails, the anchor can be raised as it is today, slowly and steadily, by a windlass or by hand.

All these things must come together perfectly for this piece of technology to work. If there is one flaw, the whole anchor is compromised and rendered useless for its purpose.

Although this technology has the ability to exist today, it is unlikely due to the fact that every time the anchor is used the chamber containing the chemical would need to be refilled. The only solution to being refilled every time is to have multiple chambers, but this could be a problem due to the fact that if the concentration of the chemical is too high and there is a leak, the possibility of the anchor exploding becomes a reality.

Future Technologies

Future ways of easing the use of the anchor would be to raise it to the surface faster and safer. Our vision includes a way to raise an anchor from the bottom of a body of water to the surface is just this way. This is a safer way to elevate an anchor without a windlass.

We visualize our concept to be put in place by many different people for many different uses. For example, the products of reaction in the airbag can be applied to not only airbags, but inflatable boats or recreation inflation uses. Instead of using one’s breath or an air pump, only activate the sodium and water for a rapid inflation. This technology of producing gas can be used in many places for many different reasons.

The IR signals can be improved and applied to more uses than they currently are. Infrared signals can be used in many different applications, not only in television remotes or triggering reactions in anchors but also sending information by light. However, the strength of infrared signals must be improved in order to reach longer distances or through different materials since it is such a low energy light.

Along with the infrared technology, the other components can be further improved. The strength of the anchor, reliability of the reaction can be improved. Different designs may also prove to be more effective than our own. This leads to development of the Inflate-a-Weight.

Design Process

After the team decided to do our project on an anchor retraction system we brainstormed different ways to make it easier. After picking which one to do we had rejected three different versions of the idea for various reasons. The first idea that was rejected by the group was an anchor that is retracted by a motorized pulley system. The thought was to have the rope/chain attached to the anchor to be wrapped on the pulley so a button could be pushed or a switch flipped and the pulley would start turning lifting the anchor up and out of the water. The idea was rejected because when further research was conducted on the idea, we found that it already exists and is known as a windlass.

Another idea that was rejected was an anchor that is equipped with water jets to propel it upward. The group rejected this idea because of the dangers of the anchor flying up into the boat and damaging it or harming the passengers. If the water jets pushed with too much pressure behind it, it could launch up too much and fly into the boat, causing a hole or other damage possibly resulting in compromising the integrity of the hull and leading to the sinking of the watercraft. The anchor flying up into the boat could also cause serious injury or even death to any passenger riding in the boat. This could be an expensive ordeal because major damage to the boat and medical bills are not usually cheap.

The last idea that was rejected was an anchor that floats up using air pumps. Our group rejected this version of our idea because it is not practical because of all the equipment required that could fail or easily break. Some of the equipment would have to be a tube and the actual air pump. The pump could fail by losing power and cause a problem for retracting the anchor. The tube running down to the inflatable device to make the anchor rise could break and then it would be a pain to fix and get in the way of manually raising the anchor in the case that it breaks. However, this idea led us to think of another way to use something lighter than water to raise the anchor. We came to the conclusion that using a chemical reaction to produce gas in an inflatable attached to the base of the anchor would work better. When discussing it more we knew that a way to activate the chemical reaction was needed and we thought of remotely activating it to make it easier on the user.


The floating anchor technology could have some potentially harmful and unintended consequences. If sea creatures ingest the chemicals at all, the entire rest of the food web is affected by the chemicals as well. The toxins may not be as potent in higher levels of the chain, but it still spreads from organism to organism. For instance, a school of tuna fish might be exposed to the chemicals and later end up being caught and processed for retail.

The rapidly rising anchors could also be a potential hazard for people in boats. If the reaction becomes out of control, then the anchor could fly out of the water and strike the people attempting to raise it. The anchor could also strike the hull of the boat and damage the vessel, perhaps leading to flooding or even sinking, depending on the size of the vessel.

The levels of infrared radiation could gradually increase in the ocean since the anchor uses IR signals to trigger the reaction. This increase would harm the atmosphere more than it does the ocean. The ocean water evaporates, releasing excess heat and infrared energy, which is then absorbed by moist, tropical air. The wind then carries the air to a convergence zone where it falls as precipitation. The heat and IR energy is then released into the atmosphere. Rising IR levels in the atmosphere can contribute to the greenhouse effect.

Another potential problem is the precipitate left over after the reaction takes place and the anchor begins its ascent. If the balloon that provides buoyancy for the anchor burst, then the sodium hydroxide would be released into the ocean. When sodium hydroxide comes into contact with water, it produces a massive amount of heat. The heat generated could damage the anchor or even render it useless. If it is close enough to the boat then it may damage the structure of the boat as well.

Despite the possible problems that could rise to the surface, the Inflate-a-Weight could be quite convenient and cost effective for sailors. The float would be convenient and quick as opposed to the longer amounts of time it usually takes to haul an anchor from the bottom. Windlasses on smaller vessels are usually powered by electricity. If the Inflate-a-Weight anchor were used instead, then more power could be used for radios, navigation systems, or lights.

The quick speed of the Inflate-a-Weight would also be useful for vessels in avoiding collisions. If a ship cannot stop in time to prevent a collision, then the anchored vessel could quickly raise their anchor and move out of the way. Small law enforcement craft and Coast Guard vessels would also find the anchor useful when trying to quickly raise their anchor in order to pursue suspects in boats or on small water craft like jet skis.

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