Anchoring Techniques at Sea

Sailing

If you want to learn to sail like a pro, you will need to be able to use your sailboat anchor smooth and easy. Matter of fact, cruising sailboat folks report that they spend over 80% of their time at anchor.

That’s because they sail to the destination and then spend time ashore to shop, sight-see, travel, and mingle among the local folks. Follow these five sailing tips to make sure you can set your anchor deep into the seabed under engine power–wherever in the world you choose to cruise!

Think slow, smooth, and easy. Put those three actions into play anytime you want to lower and set your sailing anchor. Realize that this will be one of the few times you have to do something “blind”. As soon as you lower your anchor below the water surface, you will no longer have it in sight.

So, you will need to slow the pace of this sailing skill to make sure that the anchor and anchor rode (rope or chain) make it to the bottom without knots, twists, or snarls. And that once your anchor rests upon the bottom it will align itself to dig deep beneath the seabed and set safe and secure. Follow these five steps to anchor your small sailboat under engine power. And remember–slow, smooth, and easy!

1. Point Into the Elements and Drift

Align your bow so that you are pointed into the stronger of the two elements–wind or current. Stop all momentum (forward motion). Lower your anchor until it hangs straight up and down (called “short stay”), but has not yet touched the bottom. Allow the boat to drift aft with the elements or place your engine in astern propulsion at the slowest speed possible. Lower the anchor just enough so that it makes contact with the seabed. You will know this happens when the anchor rode (line or chain) becomes slack. Go to the next step.

2. Lower Anchor Rode Equal to Two-Times Water Depth.

Continue to drift or motor aster at the slowest speed possible. Veer (let out) about two times the water depth in anchor rode. Your anchor flukes should dig into the seabed and “take a bite”.

3. Snub the Rode to Get Your Anchor to “Take a Bite”.

Tug on a rope anchor rode a few times to get the anchor to set and hold. Set the anchor windlass brake to get the anchor to set and hold if you use all-chain anchor rode. Go to the next step.

4. Veer the Remainder of Your Anchor Scope.

Veer the rest of your calculated anchor scope. Use a scope of 7 feet of rope rode for each foot of water depth (7:1 scope) with rope or rope and chain anchor rode. Use at least 5 feet of chain rode for each foot of water depth (5:1 scope) with all-chain anchor rode.

There will be circumstances where this amount of scope will not be possible (i.e. crowded boat anchorages). Use the most scope possible to avoid the possibility of dragging anchor (the anchor pulls out of the sea bed). Cleat off your anchor rode or set the windlass brake (all-chain rode). Go to the next step.

5. Check That Your Anchor Holds.

Place the back of a hand or bottom of your foot on top of the anchor rode. Vibration means you are dragging. Veer (let out) more scope and test again. Continue this sequence until you no longer feel vibration. If necessary, weigh anchor (pull it out and bring it aboard) and move to a better spot or a different anchorage.

When you are satisfied that your anchor has set deep into the seabed, check your position with drag bearings. Drag bearings are used as a fast way to tell you if you start to drag anchor.

Choose an object off the port of starboard beam. This could be a pier, corner of a house or roof, building, tower, or a prominent tree, hill, or mountain peak. Take a bearing to the object with a hand-bearing compass. Record the bearing and object description in your boat log. Share this information with your sailing crew or partner so that all hands aboard are involved in sailing safety.

Check the bearing three to four times the first hour at anchor, and then at least once an hour afterwards. If the bearing changes by more than a degree or two, you are dragging. Veer scope or move to a more secure spot.

If the wind or current shift, so will your boat heading. When that happens, choose a different object off the port or starboard beam. Make a new entry in the boat log and pass the information along to your crew.

Learn to sail with confidence when you know the sailing skills you need for safe anchoring under power. Practice these sailing tips for peace-of-mind when you lower your sailboat anchor–wherever in the world you choose to cruise!

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