Unless you are far offshore, at some point or another you are going to need to park your boat. This may be because you want to or because you need to. In either case you have three choices. You can go to a dock, which lacks many of the plus points of being away from land. You can pick up a mooring, which often has a number of challenges and unknowns associated with it. Or you can drop a hook (common term for anchor), which just happens to be our preferred choice.
Just like knowing how to stop your car before you start is perhaps the most important part of driving, anchoring is perhaps the most important skill you can and should acquire in boating. Anchoring a boat can be a lovely dance in a harbour or a painful and often embarrassing display of Homo sapiens’ inability to plan or communicate.
Most anchorages consist of one of three types of bottoms: mud, sand, or rock, with mud being quite predominant. The cruising guides and harbour charts will indicate where the best anchorages are and what the bottom composition is likely to be, so there’s not much guesswork. Just bear in mind that how the cruising guides rate an anchorage may have more to do with the anchor they used, than how good or bad the holding actually is.
Usually an anchorage will be in the prevailing lee of an island or shore. The best anchorage for any particular night depends on the weather conditions predicted. Listen to the weather report for your area on your VHF first. Then choose your spot for maximum protection from the wind and the waves to keep your family snug and comfortable all night long. If is going to be hot, then you may want to pick a spot where you will be able to scoop in some breezy relief. Shelter and holding are not the only things that may determine where you wish to anchor. Reasonable access to shore side activities can be also be important factors.
Anchoring is a spectator sport. It is a fact that as soon as a new boat enters a harbour, binoculars come out scanning the new arrivals and keeping a close eye on their technique. So it pays to be prepared. Here is a method that works best for us when setting the anchor.*
1. Choose a location that will be best suited for predicted overnight conditions (e.g., in the lee of a high shore). Prepare your anchor and rode on deck. If you like being prepared for eventualities, add a trip line (a line equal to maximum expected depth attached to the crown of the anchor with a buoy to the surface).
2. Check the tide to see where it is now, and how it is likely to affect the depth relative to your draft as well as to the amount of scope you will need.
3. Drive in a circle around the perimeter of what you expect your swing to be to make sure there aren’t any obstructions, boats that could swing close, or variables in depth that weren’t charted. Your boat will swing, sometimes in a 360° circle.
4. Point into the wind and head for the centre of your circle.
5. Stop the boat, and let the anchor drop slowly to the bottom.
6. When the anchor reaches the bottom, start reversing slowly (or let the boat drift backwards) and slowly let out some more rode. This achieves two results: the anchor will land on the bottom in the correct orientation, and the rode is cleanly stretched out from it.
7. When you have let out 3 times as much rode as the water is deep, the tug on the line repeatedly to set the anchor. If you are using a windlass, gently apply the brake. You should feel the anchor catch securely.
8. Let out the some more rode and secure it on a sturdy cleat.
9. Reverse your boat slowly to make sure the anchor is securely buried. Applying too much power will simply pull the anchor out. This is best done with one person at the bow and one at the helm of the boat. While the helmsman reverses, the other person carefully places a hand on the rode that is stretching away from the boat. If the boat drags, the vibration is easily felt. At the same time the helmsperson should take a sight on a near and distant point to see if the boat is moving. If it drags, pull up the anchor and start again in slightly different spot or with a different anchor. (Remember a different anchor may work better on a given bottom).
10. Now you can let out the remaining rode. Use adequate scope. We use at least a 5:1 ratio of rode to depth.
11. If you have a rope rode, attach a chafe protector where the line passes through the chock (and anywhere it may come in contact with something else). If you have an all chain rode, add a snubber to absorb the shock loads with a chafe protector.
12. In light air, or if you are at a location with changing currents, it is advisable to weigh down your (rope) rode. This will help prevent wrapping it around your keel if you have a modern fin-keeled sailboat. We use a 4-pound lead weight, which we tie to the rode about 15-20 feet from the bow of the boat. If we then drift over the anchor, our rode is usually safely lying on the bottom.
13. If you have an anchor alarm on your GPS, set it so it will keep watch for you overnight. You’ll sleep much better! Just always remember electronics are not fool-proof. It always pays to stay vigilant. It is always a good idea to go topsides during the night to check things out; the weather may have changed, or someone else’s anchor may be dragging. But even if nothing has changed, you will also see how beautiful it is out there at night!
*Every boat, every bottom, every anchor, every condition, every situation is different, so what works best with our gear for us may not be best for you. Please be sure to consult your equipment manufacturers for their specific recommendations.
Story By Alex & Daria Blackwell
Alex and Daria Blackwell are the authors of “Happy Hooking – The Art of Anchoring.” It covers every aspect of anchors and anchoring in a fun and easy to read format with lots of photos and illustrations. It is available from good chandleries, Amazon & CoastalBoating.net