James Stevens answers your questions of seamanship - this month, would you know what to do if you had to leave an anchorage quickly to retrieve your dinghy?


Adrian and Margaret, who 
are retired, own Zephyr, 
a Westerly Storm 33 and are anchored off the Belon River in Brittany waiting for the tide to rise to cross the bar.

There is about half a knot of tidal stream and a 15 knot offshore breeze.

Adrian inflates and launches the dinghy. He ties the painter to the pushpit rail with a clove hitch and carefully lowers and secures the outboard motor on the transom ready for their trip ashore then steps back on board Zephyr.

The kettle is on and they are just settling down to afternoon tea when Margaret notices the dinghy has floated away.

How did that happen? There’s no time for discussion; it’s up with the anchor to 
go and retrieve it.

A bowline

Use a cleat to tie off the dinghy with plenty of turns. If yo have to use a knot, a bowline is by far the safest. Credit: Graham Snook

Margaret starts the engine while Adrian goes forward and presses the button to 
start the electric windlass. Nothing happens, there is clearly an electrical fault.

Adrian checks the trip switch, which is still on. It’s clearly a fault which will take some time to fix.

Adrian and Margaret are good sailors but are not as strong as they used to be so hauling the chain up by hand is going to 
be slow work.

The windlass can 
be wound manually with a winch handle but nearly all of their 40m of anchor chain is 
out so that’s also going to be slow and the dinghy is disappearing quickly.

There are no other boats nearby. 
What should they do? Is it worth putting 
a VHF call out?


Putting a call out on the 
VHF is not likely to result in 
a quick response. It’s not a distress or urgency situation, so a much better plan is to use Zephyr to retrieve the dinghy, despite their problems with the anchor windlass.

James Stevens

James Stevens, author of the Yachtmaster Handbook, spent 10 of his 23 years at the RYA as Training Manager and Yachtmaster Chief Examiner

The fastest way to leave is to buoy the anchor chain and retrieve it later, hopefully with the dinghy in tow.

Yacht anchor chains should be secured 
at the bitter end with a rope in the anchor locker to allow a quick release with a knife.

Adrian should attach a large fender to the chain – it needs to be buoyant enough to support the weight.

He can then cut the rope in the anchor locker and allow the chain to run out, leaving the anchor on the bottom 
as they motor off in pursuit of the dinghy.

A clove hitch is a handy knot for securing a rope to a pole or spar, but on a stainless steel pulpit with a snatching load from a dinghy it can pull undone.

It is safer to use 
a bowline (the clue’s in the name) or tie a round turn and two half hitches.

Alternatively use an aft cleat with plenty of turns.