Lines: Analytic catenary

The analytic catenary representation is primarily designed to facilitate quasi-dynamic mooring analysis in OrcaFlex, in which the mooring line loads are calculated from analytic catenary equations. This may be a reasonable approximation in cases where the inertia and bend stiffness of the mooring lines can be neglected, and where damping (also neglected by the catenary equations) can instead be represented by vessel other damping.

The analytic catenary representation works by solving a set of simple equations to calculate the force applied by the top end of the line to whatever object it is connected to. These equations consider the line as a single continuous object; no discretisation into constituent nodes is required. The analytic catenary representation does not account for dynamic effects: for a given set of input parameters, the equations predict a purely static configuration of the line. The bottom end of the line is referred to as the anchor, and the top end as the fairlead.

At the start of the statics calculation, OrcaFlex will compute a series of analytic catenary solutions for each line that uses this representation. Each solution in the series corresponds to a particular horizontal and vertical separation between the anchor and the fairlead. The anchor is kept fixed, so each solution is determined fully by the position of the top end of the line. These top end positions collectively form a two dimensional solution grid of points in the vertical plane containing the anchor and the fairlead. During a simulation the top end of each line may move through its solution grid as the object to which it is connected moves, as illustrated in the figure below. The force that the top end applies to this object is calculated by interpolation in this grid, based on the instantaneous position of the fairlead.

Figure: A typical two dimensional grid of analytic catenary solutions
Note: The vertical plane containing the solution grid is defined by the instantaneous position of the fairlead, meaning that the orientation of this plane can change as the simulation progresses.

The line analytic catenary data define the points within the solution grid: each combination of horizontal tension and fairlead vertical offset corresponds to a different solution of the analytic catenary equations. The fairlead positions for these solutions are, collectively, the solution grid. We could equally well, and more directly, define the horizontal separation between the anchor and the fairlead, but instead we choose to specify the horizontal tension for a number of reasons:

Sometimes, no solution to the equations can be found for a particular grid point. In this case OrcaFlex will report a warning and proceed using only the successfully-calculated solutions. However, a minimum requirement is that there is at least one valid solution at each fairlead vertical offset: without this, the statics calculation will terminate with an error message. Often this simply means that an unrealistic fairlead offset value has been specified.

Visualising solutions

As well as the data itself, the analytic catenary page of the line data form also has a View curves button that displays the solutions graphically.

Figure: Analytic catenary characteristics

The analytic catenary characteristics window displays curves of horizontal restoring force and fairlead declination against the horizontal offset of the fairlead from the anchor. Curves are presented for any line that uses the analytic catenary representation. Once a line is specified, curves are available for each relevant fairlead vertical offset.

The horizontal restoring forces displayed in the graphs do not necessarily correspond to those that define the solution grid on the line data form. The reason for the discrepancy is that the graphs display the horizontal tension at the fairlead, whereas the solution grid is defined by the horizontal tension at the arc length just prior to the line's final touchdown, closest to the anchor. These tensions can differ if there are additional seabed touchdown points between these two arc lengths.


During the calculation, OrcaFlex uses the solution grid to apply a force at the fairlead. To do this, it needs to know the anchor position, $\vec{x}_\textrm{b}$, and the fairlead position, $\vec{x}_\textrm{t}$. From these, it can compute the horizontal separation, $x = \sqrt{|\vec{x}_\textrm{t} - \vec{x}_\textrm{b}|^2 - z^2}$ and the vertical separation, $z = (\vec{x}_\textrm{t} - \vec{x}_\textrm{b}) \cdot \hat{\vec{z}}$, where $\hat{\vec{z}}$ is a unit vector pointing vertically upwards. $(x, z)$ are the coordinates of the fairlead relative to the anchor in their common vertical plane.

Each solution in the grid can be labelled by its planar coordinates, $(x_i, y_i)$, for some index $i$. Let $f$ denote some property of an analytic catenary, such as the force at the fairlead. Then $f(x_i, z_i)$ gives the value of $f$ associated with solution $i$. During an OrcaFlex calculation, we wish to compute $f(x, z)$ for arbitrary values of $x$ and $z$. In general, however, the fairlead will not lie at a grid point. We therefore adopt the following procedure:

This interpolation/extrapolation scheme is used to compute both the horizontal, $F_h(x, z)$, and vertical, $F_v(x, z)$, components of the force applied at the fairlead. These are converted to a force vector, $\vec{F}$, applied in the plane of the solution: $\vec{F} = F_h \, \hat{\vec{h}} + F_v \,\hat{\vec{z}}$, where $\hat{\vec{h}}$ is a horizontal unit vector pointing from $\vec{x}_b$ to $\vec{x}_t$.

dummy link for benefit of anchor linked from external source

Scope and limitations

The analytic catenary representation will not be suitable for some lines. In this section, we present in broad terms the circumstances in which the analytic catenary will provide a good representation of the line, and those when it will not.

The analytic catenary representation accounts for the following aspects of the line:

Notes: The buoyancy of the line is calculated assuming a constant water density at all points in the water. If there is any horizontal density variation, the constant density used is taken at the origin of the horizontal density variation factor. If there is any vertical density variation, the value at the mean water level is used.
The analytic catenary solver assumes a constant axial stiffness value. If the axial stiffness is variable, then the value corresponding to zero axial strain will be used in the analytic catenary calculation.

Important aspects not accounted for by the analytic catenary representation include

As described above, the analytic catenary representation works essentially in terms of static solutions. Forces are derived during the dynamic simulation by interpolating into the solution grid with the instantaneous position of the fairlead. This method is particularly appropriate to applications modelling mooring lines, which have very little bend stiffness or inertia compared to the vessel they are attached to. The absence of drag/damping, however, can result in motions that are much larger than would otherwise be predicted; to account for this, an equivalent amount of damping must be added to the moored object. In the case of a vessel, this can be achieved using the low frequency vessel other damping data.

Flat seabeds are fully accounted for, including those with non-zero slope. In solving the analytic catenary equations, the seabed is represented as a single line, $z = m x + c$, in the plane of the solution (i.e. the vertical plane containing the anchor and fairlead), where $m$ and $c$ are constants. $c$ is minus the height of the anchor above the seabed; $m$ is the effective slope of the seabed. The slope can be set explicitly on the line data form or, by setting the data to '~', inferred from the positions of the line ends when the model is in reset state.

Note: Seabeds which are not flat are also allowed, but an approximation is necessary in this case if the seabed slope data has been set to '~': OrcaFlex assumes an 'effective' flat seabed that is the tangent plane to the seabed at the point directly beneath the anchor.

Seabed friction is also accounted for. Although the model used is slightly different to that used by the finite element representation, it is similar to models used by other analytic catenary software packages.

The analytic catenary solver itself has known limitations, which are presented on the theory page.


A reduced set of results is available for analytic catenary lines.