How to anchor a boat safely and securely

boat at anchor

How to Anchor a Boat

A sailor must be comfortable with how to anchor a boat safely and securely. Not only does it enable you to extend your cruising range, but it is also essential for safety. If you lose the wind or your engine, you need to be able to stop your boat from moving toward danger.

This is our basic introduction to the key skills you need. For hands-on, practical training courses such as the Rubicon 3 Coastal Passage Making Course will really develop your skills.

  1. Choose a suitable seafloor. It needs to be sand, mud or clay if the anchor is to hold for any period of time
  2. Chose suitable protection. You want to avoid a lee shore, so aim for the wind to be blowing you away from land
  3. Calculate FUD. ‘F’ is the maximum fall (or rise) of the tide from when you plan to anchor. ‘U’ is how much water you want to be left under your boat. ‘D’ is your boat’s draught.
  4. FUD gives you the depth of water you need to anchor in. You can literally drive around until you find it.
  5. Make sure you have 4-5 times the maximum depth in the anchor rode.
  6. When you have found your spot, lower the anchor (free drop is best) and gradually motor backwards as you lay out the full scope.
  7. Once the anchor sets, leave the engine gently in astern for 30 seconds to check it is holding firm
  8. Switch the engine off and attach a snubber, so the boat will not snatch against the chain.
  9. Pick some transits that you can easily see to check you are not drifting.

Check your anchor is set

Once you have finished anchoring, you need to check it is not dragging. This can be very hard to tell at times, especially if the boat is moving around with the wind and tide. The best tip is to put your hand on the rode just past the bow roller and see if you can feel any vibrations or clunks. This is a sure sign of dragging and unless it sets soon you will need to lift your anchor and reset it. You should also continue to monitor your transits.

Your final job will be to set an anchor drag alarm. Not everyone uses these and they can give you a false sense of security so think of them as a backup only. Your GPS unit will usually have one of these, as do most modern boating apps on a smartphone. Remember you will move around through the night, especially in tidal waters, so if there’s room, set it to wake you up if the boat moves more than twice the length of the rode

Recovering your anchor

Once it’s time to set sail again, you will want one person up by the bow, using the windlass control. This is the small motor that hauls up your anchor. However, you do not want it to work so hard, so using clear arm movements, the bowman should indicate to the helm which way the chain is lying. Using short bursts of power and rudder, the helm wants to manoeuvre the boat so that the anchor chain is nearly vertical. This minimises the strain on the windlass. In strong winds or tide, this will be key as you can damage the motor.

When the chain is vertical, the bowman needs to bring it up and keep checking that the chain is going down the hawser into the anchor locker. It is easy for it to get snarled up and suddenly you can have a nasty blockage to deal with.

Once the anchor is off the floor, make sure to let the helm know that the boat is free and they have control, but make sure they keep the boat nice and slow until you have recovered the anchor. If the rode is coming up dirty, try to wash it off as it comes up or you can make a real mess of the boat. The anchor itself can be slowly dragged through the water just before it surfaces to clean off any mud or weeds. Once it is up on deck, make sure to lock off the windlass and put the securing pin through the anchor so that it cannot fall off by accident. You are de anchored and ready for another great day on the water!

Remember, anchoring can be dangerous and you have to make sure fingers and clothing do not get trapped or serious injury can occur.

To get top quality training in anchoring and all other areas of seamanship, Rubicon 3 is Europe’s leading adventure sailing school and focuses on teaching real-world skills whilst having a great adventure.

You will find the following articles useful.

  • How to choose the right anchor
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