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What is a Grapnel?

By Erica Stratton
Updated May 23, 2024
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A grapnel is a kind of many-pronged anchor. It's primarily used with smaller ships. Its lightweight and multi-pronged design has allowed it to be adapted for several other uses as well. The word "grapnel" is thought to have its origin in the French word "grapin," or "hook." It can have the alternative spelling of "grapple," or "grappling hook."

The anchor can have as few as three or as many as six prongs called "flukes." These flukes curve backward, somewhat like the half-open ribs of an umbrella, and can have sharp tips. By contrast, other styles of anchors are simply round weights or have only two large, flat flukes.

Due to its multiple flukes, a grapnel doesn't need to be carefully aimed when tossed in the water, but will be in the right position to hook onto almost anything. It works best around rocks or reefs, since the sharp prongs won't be able to gain a foothold in mud or silt.

The grapnel's light weight makes it a type of temporary anchor. In order for a ship to be so firmly anchored that it can stay moored even in storms, a much heavier anchor that can stand more than twice the weight of the ship will need to be used. One of the drawbacks of using a grapnel anchor is that sometimes it can get hooked so firmly into something that it is difficult to remove.

This type of anchor is normally used with smaller boats, such as fishing boats. It can also be used to dredge the bottom of a river for objects or to retrieve things floating by the side of a boat. During the early days of naval warfare, grapnels would be flung into the rigging of rival ships in order to facilitate boarding.

Some modern grapnels are made so that their prongs fold up. They can be locked in place at different angles for different conditions. They can also be folded shut for easy storage on the boat when not in use. Some modern grapnels avoid having sharp edges on their prongs in order to avoid possible accidents.

The basic design has also been used on a small scale for other tools which have nothing to do with ships. Miniature grappling hooks, when launched with special rifles, can be dragged by their attached ropes through areas to set off land mines. Several comic book heroes have also made grappling hooks part of their arsenal.

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Discussion Comments
By Emilski — On Nov 28, 2011

@cardsfan27 - That is an interesting point to make that I have never thought of.

Even though the grapnel anchor may be more effective that the two pronged anchor you do run a greater risk of losing it as opposed to a two pronged anchor.

With the grapnel anchor being more effective and sticking to things that just means there are more sides that you have to try to wiggle out of whatever it is stuck to. With a two pronged anchor you simply only have two sides to work with and unless something weird happened you only have one side that will be stuck.

I find it interesting that due to this fact there are not more two pronged anchors out there that can at least give the consumer a choice. I know that it will not matter too much for a small boat but if someone were to own a yacht or a large boat like that they may want to have a choice in the matter concerning what type of anchor they would buy.

By cardsfan27 — On Nov 27, 2011

I have to say that I still think that the two pronged anchor is an effective type of anchor to use.

Now for smaller boats it may not be the best anchor to use, but for medium sized boats or large vessels I still think that the two pronged anchor is effective and maybe for so that the grapnel anchor.

One problem that occurs with the Grapnel anchor is that since there are more prongs it could get stuck to more things. The point of an anchor is to stick to things to weigh a ship down, but the problem that emerges with a grapnel is that it could get stuck and lost for good, due to the inability of someone to get it loose.

This is why I believe that although the two pronged anchor is not as effective it is definitely easier to pull back up and you have minimal risk of losing your anchor.

By TreeMan — On Nov 26, 2011

@Izzy78 - I completely agree with you. I have always wanted to have the stereotypical two pronged anchor that you see major ships use. However, these are incredibly difficult to find and to me about the only places you can find them anymore is in naval scrap yards.

I have wanted one of these massive anchors for years to put on my lawn for decoration, but they are declining in popularity due to the effectiveness of the multiple pronged grapnel anchor.

It is very difficult to find the two pronged anchor nowadays and most of the ones that are available usually get bought out by museums and seafood restaurants. I saw one at a Red Lobster not to long ago and I asked about it and they told me they bought it from a naval ship, because they switched out anchors for a grapnel.

By Izzy78 — On Nov 26, 2011

When I went out to buy supplies for my new boat I wanted to find the usual two pronged anchor for boats. The only reason I wanted this type of anchor was for aesthetic reasons, in that it looked like an anchor and I thought it would be neat to have.

I go to various stores and I cannot find an anchor that looks like this and the guy at the counter for I believe the fourth store I went to told be that those types of anchors are only used for large ships and are even dying in popularity, due to the effectiveness of the grapnel anchor.

My search for the two pronged anchor failed and I eventually had to be satisfied with the quality that the multiple pronged grapnel anchor gives.

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