Yachting Monthly experts share the problems they have most often faced when anchoring, and how they troubleshoot their way out
The basics of anchoring are one of the first things that cruisers learn.
Indeed most of us are happiest on the hook in a quiet bay somewhere, escaping the hustle and bustle (and fees) of a night in a marina.
No matter how many hours we have spent at sea, a peaceful night’s sleep at anchor is reliant on the knowledge that we are safe and secure.
As with almost all aspects of sailing, knowing how to anchor is all well and good, but there are no hard and fast rules that work for all situations.
We’ve all experienced problems at anchor, be that struggling to find decent holding on a less than ideal seabed, or trying to limit swinging in a busy anchorage.
Often a secure anchorage is the result of applying your years of experience and knowledge to ensure you stay safe and secure, no matter what situation you may find yourself in.
With this in mind, we picked the brains of some of Yachting Monthly’s experienced contributors to find out what they have learned from a few of the trickier situations they have found themselves in.
1. How to ensure you have suitable kit for anchoring
Selecting the right tackle and equipment for your own cruising is largely subjective. What is key, however, is ensuring it is always in a good state of repair.
See what the chart says about the seabed. Is it suitable for your anchor?
Mud is good for most anchor types, but those with a large surface area will be more reliable.
Silt will be suitable for most anchor types.
Clay can be hard to set in but once set, holding is good for most anchors.
An anchor with a sharp tip will set more readily here.
Sand provides variable holding, which depends on sand hardness but an anchor with a large surface area is preferable.
Typically, beds made up of gravel and rock are weak and unsuitable for anchoring.
Check the condition of your anchor and cable.
Is the bitter end lashed to the boat?
Never attach it with a shackle.
Instead, use a lashing or thin rope that you can cut quickly with a knife if you need to lose the anchor and cable in a hurry.
I always cruise with two anchors on board to make sure I can set two lines if needed.
Is your cable entirely chain, or is it a rope and chain combination?
In a combination, I would always have 10m of chain between the anchor and the warp.
You are going to trust your boat and your life to the anchor and the cable, so always check the recommended weight of anchor and gauge of chain or warp for your tonnage of boat.
Err on the side of caution.
2. Caught out by wind and tide changes
Proper anchoring is all about anticipation of changing variables.
You may have a secure holding now, and have plenty of space to play with, but what happens if the wind changes, a popular spot gets crowded or the tide turns?
The key to successful anchoring, no matter what the prevailing conditions or how good the anchorage, is to consider tide or wind changes before dropping anchor, and make sure you have enough swinging room.
If there is a great deal of wind, then haul up and reset.
If I expect a windshift that would leave us on a lee shore, we move.
If there is no other option, I’ll make sure I’m clear of the short and set alarms for overnight.
If no one else is around then you may want to stern-kedge, and take lines ashore if appropriate.
However, we have proved many times that our anchor resets efficiently after quite significant windshifts, although this does come after many hours on the hook.
If I’ve got the space and time then a Bahamian moor is typically the most useful method of anchoring where I know there is going to be a high likelihood of swinging.
3. Dealing with a dragging anchor
Dragging the anchor is probably the biggest concern when on the hook, especially if you value a good night’s sleep or plan on leaving your boat at any point.
Dragging an anchor is typically the result of improper setting and, as with much of our cruising, prevention is better than cure.
If winds are strong we may rig two snubbers.
We’ve had a moment in the past where another boat went past us with no-one on board, obviously dragging.
I’ve managed to board the boat.
The first thing I did was to haul up the anchor, as when they are dragging they will pick up all sorts of stuff from the bottom that will stop it setting again.
So I’d say that is the key.
Make sure you raise it quickly, clear it and then you can get it reset.
Only ever turn off the engine and log the position once you’re happy.
If one of us is slightly unsure about how we’ve ended up, then we pick up and re-drop, no matter how much of a hassle it may seem.
Picking a good transit with the shore from a fixed spot is the best way to ensure you are not moving.
Provided there is no significant wind or tide change while you wait, you can leave the cockpit and return occasionally for a check until you are sure you are secure.
4. Keeping track of your boat ashore
Stepping ashore, whether to find a local pub, enjoy the beach or simply explore the surroundings, can be stressful if you are not 100% sure of your holding.
How do you maintain peace of mind, particularly when out of visual contact?
Having a good object sighting or transit on your boat from a repeatable spot ashore can offer reassurance, leaving you safe in the knowledge that your boat is not moving.
It’s also worth noting that you are rarely alone in more popular anchorages, and I have often asked those around us to keep an eye out for our boat if we are going to be out of sight of it for a bit.
Remember to return the favour if asked.
If you are anchoring in a spot with good mobile coverage, there are apps out there that will allow you to leave a device onboard (an iPad or similar) and take a linked device (your phone).
The display on your phone can mirror that of the device left onboard, and will let you know about swing and can sound the alarm if the anchor begins to drag.
5. Dealing with rolling
A rolling boat can ruin your night, making for a tired and unhappy crew in the morning.
So how do you dampen the effects of the wind and sea on your boat?
Train waves normally generate rhythmic rolling – the most annoying kind.
Each wave imparts a small roll impulse and the boat’s oscillation increases as energy accumulates.
How much anchor chain?
When it comes to putting out anchor chain, most of us follow a basic ratio rule of thumb, but we…
How to anchor under sail
Can you set and weigh anchor under sail, without turning the ignition key? Tom Cunliffe demonstrates a handy cruising skill
Tested: the new style Ultra Anchor
Anchor design is always evolving and Ultra Marine claims its new design is the best yet. Theo Stocker tested the…
Is your anchor chain up the job?
It’s all well and good having a solid anchor, but having ground tackle that is going to keep you secure…
8 uses for a kedge anchor
Is your kedge anchor lying forgotten in its locker? Vyv Cox outlines 8 ways you can put it to good
More tips on using an anchor
Duncan Wells passes on even more tips on using an anchor to help with boat handling, how to drop ground…
This is most likely to happen if the wave period – the interval between successive wave crests – coincides with the natural roll period of the boat.
Selecting an anchorage where this type of wave can be avoided is your best bet – whether that be finding natural protection or selecting a spot that will improve as the tide turns.
Every now and then, we find ourselves at anchor with an unpleasant rolling action and with few options to find a better spot.
We can use a kedge anchor to hold a yacht end-on to waves or swell.
The main drawback is that this prevents the vessel from swinging.
If the anchorage is crowded and adjacent craft are lying with single anchors, they may swing into her.
A spring on the cable is another way of changing a boat’s alignment, but there are several limitations.
Any current interferes with the balance of forces and if there is a lull in the wind the weight of the anchor chain will cause it to sag, pulling the bow towards the anchor.
This technique is likely to be most effective when anchored on warp or moored to a buoy, and in a steady wind.
Some cruising yachts rig roll-damping equipment, which is intended to reduce the amplitude of rolling and break the rhythm.
One time-honoured method is a steadying sail set as high as possible, to exert the maximum restraining leverage as the mast oscillates.
In the picture above, the weight of a stable dinghy is used to inhibit roll.
Submerged roll dampers are less likely to cause trouble in strong winds.
One of the simplest designs is a triangular ‘ flopper stopper’, a board weighted at its apex and suspended by a three-part bridle.
The boom is swung out, restrained by a fore guy, and the board suspended from its end, underwater.
On the boom’s downward roll the flopper stopper sinks quickly, then the bridle lines snatch taut and the board resists the upward roll.
The snatch is not instantaneous because the apex has to be lifted through the ‘snatch distance’ before all three lines come taut.
6. What to do if your chosen spot is busy?
If you are late into an already busy anchorage, then you will need to pick your spot with care.
With all the room in the world, you have a great deal more leeway, but how do you make sure you will not cause others any problems or cause for concern?
Feeding out the correct scope and ensuring the anchor is well set and dug in are easy enough.
But the real difficulty lies in knowing exactly where to place the hook in order to end up with the final happy positioning of your yacht in relation to every other one in the anchorage.
You need to really know how your boat moves in wind and tide, and then add that to what you can deduce about each of the surrounding boats and whether they’re lying taut or idle on their chains.
For example, I prefer to not anchor next to a catamaran, or a long-keeled boat as I know they will dance in the current very differently from us.
Likewise, read the immediate topography of the land and water, anticipating which directions you may get wind gusts or strong currents from, if there are forecasted shifts in the weather and if any of that will affect the other vessels contrarily in relation to you.
Above all, you need to be totally satisfied about the depth you’re in and what changes the tide may make to where your boat sits.
You have to make the best guess as to what depths the other boats may be sat in, how generous they’re likely to be with the scope of chain or rode they lay out and be aware if there are additional stern anchors set.
The difference between where you drop and where you’ll eventually sit, either when lazing on the chain or pulling back on it, is a calculation that takes precision and practice.
In crowded places, always make sure you use a buoy to mark your anchor and always mark a stern anchor.
Dinghies and water taxis will avoid the bow but not always the stern.
Always use an anchor light.
We’ve arrived at night in anchorages and nearly collided with unlit boats.
Solar garden lamps on the bow and stern are a good idea in addition to the mast anchor light.
7. Getting your boat off the ground
Though most of us use our anchor principally for a stop in a bay or near the shore, it does have other uses.
Kedging off – be it for a grounding or to hold your boat off a post or pontoon – is just one such use.
Anchoring is not only a skill for a peaceful night’s sleep in a quiet spot.
The technique of ‘kedging off ’ gives the spare anchor, the kedge anchor, its name.
There are two main uses.
If you’re lying alongside a harbour wall with a degree of swell giving the fenders a workout, you can pull yourself off the wall a few feet to make things a lot more comfortable.
If you have run aground on a sandbank, you can dinghy out an anchor to a point in deeper water.
Pulling against this, you should be able to winch yourself off.
To do this correctly, you should run a bridle from bow to stern and in the middle of it, or elsewhere if you want to be pulled in a diagonal direction, attach a carabiner.
Thread the bridle through the carabiner lanyard to make sure it stays where we want it, then tie a knot.
Flake the cable for the kedge anchor into a bucket and dinghy this out and drop it a suitable distance off.
Bring the end back to the boat, thread it through the gate of the carabiner and then up to a winch on the boat.
You should then be able to winch yourself away from the dock – or hopefully off your grounding spot.
Enjoyed reading Anchoring: 7 common problems solved?
A subscription to Yachting Monthly magazine costs around 40% less than the cover price.
Print and digital editions are available through Magazines Direct – where you can also find the latest deals.
YM is packed with information to help you get the most from your time on the water.
- Take your seamanship to the next level with tips, advice and skills from our experts
- Impartial in-depth reviews of the latest yachts and equipment
- Cruising guides to help you reach those dream destinations
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.