Silly as it may sound, an anchor locker is a window into a boat’s soul. In this one spot you can learn reams about how a boat is built, and how it will hold up over the years. Before you consider buying any boat—be it used or new—make sure to use this window to your fullest advantage.
Sure, there’s the obvious stuff to look for: check it for size, access to the rode (if you can’t get an entire arm and shoulder through the opening you’ll have trouble one day when it tangles,) anchor security, and an anchor rode tie-down. But also take a close look at wiring running through the anchor locker, which is commonly usually for bowlights and/or windlasses, and is often routed along the underside of the deck or along the sides of the locker. Make sure it’s well supported, out of the way, and won’t get tangled in or ripped out by the anchor.
Next, insert your arm (while holding a flashlight, if you have one handy), shoulder and head into the locker, and look aft. From inside of here you can get a good look at the underside of the bowrail stanchion bases, and check to see how many fasteners hold each one. Three is ideal and generally speaking, more is better than fewer. Next look to see if they’re secured with screws or through-bolts, and if they’re backed with backing plates. Through bolts are a step up from screws, and backing plates up the ante even more.
Are you a bit uncomfortable at the moment? You bet. But before extracting yourself, also look at the underside of bowdeck cleats and windlass fittings, if the boat is so equipped. In all cases, aluminum, steel, or phenolic (a super-dense fiberglass) backing plates are best. Polyboard is also good, and wood is a whole lot better than nothing. Light-duty boats will be backed with washers, and el-cheapo boats have screws with nothing backing them up.
While you’re head’s still down there, also take a peek at the hull to deck joint. You’re likely to see screws, but don’t let this scare you off; the joints in most modern boats are chemically bonded with Plexus or a similar adhesive—you should see some of the hardened goop spilling out of the seams—and the screws are there to hold the rubrail in place as much as to secure the joint. Heavy-duty boats, however, will add through-bolts, fiberglass over the joint entirely, and/or will run a backing strip around the joint and bolt through it.
Before you extricate your head from the anchor locker, look for one more detail. Turn around, and look back to check the aft bulkhead. Make sure it meets the deck, and where it does, fiberglass putty or an adhesive/sealant should be evident. You’re looking to make sure the builder attained uniformity in its major parts, including bulkheads, stringers, and hatches. A bulkhead that stops half an inch shy of the deck (or hull) is a dead give-away that some pieces-parts of the boat may not fit into place as well as they should.
Next week we’ll dig even deeper into checking out a boat you might buy. But remember, whether it’s a new build or an ancient old tub, poking your head into that anchor locker will tell you reams about how well the boat was built.