Learning how to anchor is an essential part of any boater’s repertoire.
Whether you’ve picked a spot for fishing, swimming or an overnight stay, not only is knowing how to anchor important for leisurely boating, it’s also a critical piece of safety gear. If the engine fails or there is a problem with your boat, a well-set anchor keeps your boat safe and secure and prevents it from drifting into any potential hazards or shoreline where it could become damaged.
When you’re heading out on the water you might not be expecting to anchor, but these handy tips cover the basics to keep you in line and ready to set and retrieve your anchor in almost any circumstance.
Picking the right anchor
Having the right anchor for the right type of seafloor makes a huge difference in the success and longevity of your anchoring position.
Most small to medium-sized leisure boats will be suitable for a danforth or fluke anchor, as they are easy to stow and fold away. The flukes on these types of anchors are built to sink into sand and hard-muddy bottoms. However, they are less effective on grassy or softer muddy floors.
A plough or claw anchor are others that while don’t fold down, are suitable for a bigger range of seafloors. A plough anchor is bulkier than the danforth, and is effective in light grass with just that little bit more strength to hold into rocky and soft bottoms. The claw anchor is similar but has a broader scoop on the base that holds well in soft and deep muddy bottoms.
Other types include the grapnel anchor – shaped like a grappling hook it is used when anchoring to a structure like rocks or timber on the bottom, rather than directly into the sea floor. Similarly, the tips of a reef anchor are bent around to form a half-loop for grabbing onto things like coral and rocks, which can also be straightened to release the anchor from the snag.
There is also the mushroom anchor which, due to its minimal holding power, is mainly suitable for use in small aluminum fishing boats or dinghies that have the ability to anchor in extremely soft and muddy conditions.
Perfect anchoring technique:
1. Find your perfect anchoring spot then get the bow of your boat pointing into the wind.
2. Read your depth gauge to determine the water depth of where you’re anchoring. This is needed to calculate your scope – the distance from the bow of the boat to the bottom of the ocean floor – and therefore how much chain / rope is required to anchor. Common scope ratios include 3:1 if there is no wind, 4:1 if there is wind around, 5:1 if conditions are bad or if you’re planning on staying onboard overnight. More scope means less vertical strain on the anchor, which decreases the chances of unsetting the anchor and drifting.
3. Lower your boat’s anchor into the water and view your chain counter to set the desired scope. If you don’t have a chain counter some guesswork will be required and it may be easier to watch the chain go out from the bow, to estimate how much you’re letting out.
4. Let the wind and current push you back so it lays out the chain and rope clearly, or slowly put the boat in reverse if there is no wind or current. Once the chain has been laid, use your reverse gear to dig your anchor into the sea bed.
5. Once the anchor is set, pick 2 or 3 land markers to ensure you’re not drifting. You want to make sure that the anchor is set and not dragging on the bottom. You can also use position keeping software on your chartplotter to keep your mind at ease.
6. Engage the winch safety device to take the pressure of the boat’s weight, off of the clutch plate. If your winch does not have this feature, you can alternatively use a rope to take the tension from the chain and secure it at the bow cleats.
How to retrieve your anchor:
To retrieve the anchor, slowly motor toward the anchor while pulling in the chain. When you are directly over the anchor it should pull free. If it’s stuck, try slowly turning the boat in a large circle to change the direction of tension on the rope.
Another method is to pull up the chain until the boat is directly over the anchor, and then use a line to hook the chain tension around a cleat. Pull the line tight when the bow of your boat dips into the bottom of a wave and when the next wave lifts the boat – it may pull the anchor free.
What do I do if my anchor is stuck?
You can use the natural movement of the boat on the waves to free a stuck anchor and try the methods outlined above, a few times. Drive upstream over the line to pull the anchor in the opposite direction, being careful not to get it stuck in any motors or pumps. But if you’ve tried it all and you’re still unable to retrieve it, sometimes it’s best to cut the line and get a new anchor. A sunken boat is much more expensive to retrieve than a new anchor!
The best way to ensure you’re able to anchor successfully is to learn the process at the hands of an expert. At Boat Wise Sydney, boat training sessions are tailored to the specific needs of our clients and their skill levels. With experience in a variety of vessels and anchors, our boating professionals have a strong focus on both safety and technique so that you too can feel confident at the helm of your vessel, and get the most out of your time on the water.