Anchoring Technique


Very often, we see charterers showing up at an anchorage, and then the "anchoring show" begins. While the sight of the husband/wife/children/friends screaming at each other provides great entertainment, it usually ends up in poor anchoring and in a potentially dangerous situation for the charterer and its neighbors, including you! The situation is sometimes so bad that serious boaters simply move to another spot just because they do not want to be near a bareboat charterer. So we felt a quick refresher would be in order. We are not going to get into great technicality here. Just some basic stuff that many charterers seem to ignore completely.

One word before we start: the keys to good anchoring are: preparation and slow maneuvering. And if you miss, no shame: just go around and restart the maneuver. And if you do that, do not let the anchor dangle off your bow while circling.

Setting Anchor

Try to arrive at your anchorage relatively early, with enough light to locate potential reefs and other hazards. Besides, if you get somewhere too late, and for some reason you cannot anchor (no room left for example), you need to have extra time to go somewhere else before nightfall.

Arrange a set of simple hand signals with the crew who will be at the bow to operate the anchor. Therefore, no need to scream and become frustrated. Also, at this point, we assume all your sails are dropped. If not, it's really time to do it now. The crew manipulating the anchor and windlass should wear gloves and deck shoes as a minimum protection.

Always anchor under power only. At this stage, all sails should be furled tight.

Once you are on the premises, take a tour of the anchorage at very slow speed to:

  • Get a sense of where you would like to be for the night.
  • Spot the sandy areas where your holding will be best. If possible avoid grassy areas where it is very difficult to set up anchor. 
  • Beware of noisy spots due to a band at the beach bar for example. Your cruising guide will usually tell you that.
  • Avoid rolly spots if possible.
  • Check the depths. Recommended lengths: if you only have chain, your scope ratio is at least 5 to 1 (ex.: if depth is 20 ft + aft from roller to the water, let 125 ft. of chain out. More in strong winds.) If you have chain and rope, your ratio is 7 to 1. Note: it is not the depth where the boat lays, which can be much greater or less than where the anchor is. 
  • Shorten the dinghy painter all the way, to avoid the painter entanglement in the propeller. This does happen!
  • The anchor and the chain should be clear, and the anchor ready to be dropped, slightly disengaged from the bow rollers.

Once you have spotted your favorite place:

  • Make sure you will have enough room to swing without hitting any other boat.
  •  If you are far from any other boat, approach facing the wind at very slow speed ("no-knot", as my son says) and simply drop your anchor where you want it set.
  • If you're anchoring among other boats, drop your anchor off the beam (or the stern) of another boat. That way, assuming all boats are doing this, the anchoring configuration is of staggered boats, therefore ensuring no boat will hit another when swinging. 
  • Now stop the boat completely.

At this point, the anchor crew should let about 2/3 of the desired length out. Now just let boat sit and settle for a few minutes. Then with the anchor man still at the bow, start backing up the boat gently to lay down the rest of the chain desired length. Let the boat settle again. Then put the engine in idle reverse position. The bow crew rests one foot lightly on the chain between the windlass and the bow roller. This accomplishes 2 things:
 a) You're making sure the chain does not "jump", which would mean the anchor is not set. If this is the case, you will feel the chain literally jumping under your foot. Let more chain out and redo #5, until the chain remains taut under your foot when backing up.
b) If the anchor is set, backing up the boat really "digs" the anchor deeper. Complete the digging process by gradually revving up the engine in reverse for about 30 sec. Visually check that the boat does not drag. When the anchor is set, you can cut off your engine.

 If the anchor is NOT set, restart the maneuver until you're satisfied. You are not done yet!!

Take you snorkel mask and fins and go swim over the anchor to visually check it is properly dug in the sand. This is very important. We all have seen countless people arrive at an anchorage, drop the hook with a few feet of chain or rope, and..that's it. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

Once you feel comfortable with everything you've done, take the final step and set up a snubber line. Your boat should have one provided by the charter company. That is really important. Click to see the setup diagram. (Note: This diagram shows a double snubber, but your boat probably has a single one, which is perfectly OK.)

Lastly, for the next hour, and then periodically after that, visually check that the boat is not dragging by taking precise bearings ashore and verify you are not moving.

If it is extremely windy or you are expecting squalls or a storm during the night: personally, I wake up every 1 to 2 hours to check on my anchor and the neighbors' position. Not everyone is willing to do that, but it is just good seamanship. Now if the weather is really bad, set an anchor watch for the night by rotating your crew. Rare, but it can happen.

That's it. It sounds a little complicated, but it really is not. The whole thing above (providing you do not have to reset the anchor) takes 20 minutes, and is simply a matter of being methodical and calm. Anchoring is a very important technique to master for the safe enjoyment of your charter. Do not neglect it: poor anchoring can transform a great vacation into embarrassing situations at best, and an accident at worst.

A final word: Most situations you are likely to encounter while chartering can be handled with a single anchor. The 2-anchor set up is more complicated, can be a pain if you have to leave quickly, and, again, is rarely justified, providing you are properly applying the above technique.

Anchoring a catamaran

  • Because a cat offers less resistance to the water than a monohull, it takes more time to slow down than a monohull. So make sure the boat has completely stopped.
  • Keep the boat straight into the wind, using the engines at idle speed. Do not let the boat go sideways.
  • As soon as the anchor is set, back the boat straight with both engines.
  • You need to set the snubber with the bridle that is all cats are equipped with. Keep the boat into the wind as you're doing this.
  • If you choose to use a mooring ball, you imperatively need to set up a bridle. Do not cleat the ball line only on one hull.

The Dreaded Dragging Situations

  • If one of your neighbors drag. During the day, immediately call the attention of the other boat crew. Prepare fenders to avoid damage to you boat. If there is nobody on board the dragging boat (they are drinking at the beach bar) I personally have come on board the boat and reset the anchor. You might not be prepared to do that, in which case, you might have to move your own boat.

    During the night, if you are sound asleep, you might become aware of it only when you hear the other boat hit yours. Wake up your crew and get on deck immediately. Start your engine and keep it idling. Try to wake up the crew of the other boat (yell, flash your lights, etc.). Prepare fenders and do as in the day procedure.

  • If your boat is dragging. During the day, not a major problem. Start your engine and keep it idling. Try to pay out more chain or rope. Wait a few minutes to see if the anchor resets itself. If not, you will have to re-anchor.

    During the night, if you are sound asleep, you might become aware of it only when you hear other people screaming and flashing lights at your boat.. Wake up your crew and get on deck immediately. Start your engine and keep it idling. Try to pay out more chain or rope. Wait a few minutes to see if the anchor resets itself. If not, you will have to re-anchor. Turn your depth sounder on and try to find another spot to anchor. If you have to do that, turn off all the lights on the boat to get the best night vision possible. Move to another place at extremely slow speed.

Weighing Anchor

  • Start you engine. Most charter boats require the engine on to operate the windlass. Have someone at the helm looking at you and your hand signals at all times.

  • Grab the windlass remote control and stand on the most forward point at the bow. Observe which direction the chain is lying in. If the windlass does not operate with enough torque, ask the helmsman to rev up the engine.

  • Using hand signals, instruct the helmsman to move the boat forward very slowly in the direction of the chain. Make sure you have the helmsman stop the motion before you overshoot the anchor.

  • Start cranking the chain up while it is slack. When you get to the snubber line, stop cranking and simply remove it. Then resume cranking. When the chain is taut again, instruct the helmsman to move the boat forward again. The whole idea here is to avoid using the windlass to move the boat forward, as this causes unnecessary strain on the windlass shaft and on the chain roller.
  • At one point you will find the boat straight above the anchor. Finish cranking the chain up all the way until it settles on the roller.

  • Signal the helmsman that the boat is free and get back to the cockpit to help with the main sail (if it is already raised.) You're done.