Q&A For Anchoring

Written by Chuck Baier
Written by Chuck Baier

What type of anchor should I use?

Try and choose the best anchor for the bottom conditions in which you will find yourself anchoring most often. Bottom type, such as sand, mud or grass will determine which anchor works best. A new generation type anchor will be a good choice for varying conditions. A Danforth style works best in sand and mud, but does not reset well in reversing currents or sudden wind changes. In a rocky bottom, a grapnel style might be the best solution. Grassy bottoms should be avoided if possible to avoid damaging sea grass, and most anchors don’t hold well in grass. But if you must, the new style anchors or Danforth style might be best. Rock or coral with a light layer of sand will make it difficult to get a good anchor set. In very soft mud, the anchor may need to be allowed to settle for a period of time before attempting to set it by backing down.

How do I choose a good anchorage?

Consider protection from wind and seas. Make note of wind direction and speed, state of tide and how the current is flowing. These all affect how the boat will lay on the anchor. Scout where you plan to drop the hook. Take note of other boats in the anchorage and look for a spot near boats like yours. Powerboats, affected more by wind, will swing differently than sailboats, which are more likely to be affected by current. If wind and current are opposed, stop the boat and see how it will sit in those conditions. Consider the swinging room of your boat once the proper rode amount is deployed and determine whether you might swing where you shouldn’t.

What’s the best way to be sure my anchor is set properly?

Once you’ve chosen your spot, drop the anchor. Come to a full stop and lower the anchor until it hits bottom. Our preferred scope in most conditions is 7 to 1. Fall back in neutral and pay out the anchor rode as you go. Don’t allow rode to pile on top of and foul the anchor. Calculate the scope based on the depth of the water plus the distance from the anchor roller to the water. If the depth is 10 feet and the bow roller is 5 feet off the water, calculate scope based on 15 feet. Once the desired scope is paid out, shift the boat into reverse at idle. Watch the anchor line as it gets tight and lay your hand on it. If it feels like it’s skipping across the bottom, it’s not yet set. The anchor could be fouled or you may not have out enough scope. If the motion of the boat stops in reverse idle, it’s time to increase RPM’s slightly until about half throttle. Line up objects on shore and if the position of the objects do not change, the anchor is set. Be sure the objects are abeam of the boat and not forward or aft.

Do I need to have chain as part of my anchor rode and if so, how much?

The rode is almost as important as the anchor itself. To keep the anchor from dragging or breaking out it’s important to keep the pull on the anchor as straight along the bottom as possible. Any upward pull can result in breaking the anchor out. The more chain used the better. Use either all chain or a combination of chain and line. For anchoring in rock or coral, all chain is best, since line can easily chafe through quickly. A chain and line combination is the most common, but a sufficient amount of chain is essential for success. Use a length of chain equal to the length of the boat or longer. We carry 100 feet of chain plus 150 feet of line. Sizing the anchor, chain and line for the size and displacement of the boat is also important.

How can I tell if I have out enough anchor rode?

To know how much anchor rode is out you can paint lines on the rode, but if you anchor a lot, the paint is gone in short order. Instead, you could use 1-inch strips of nylon webbing, sewn through the links in the chain or the twist in the lines, every 25 feet (1 at 25, 2 at 50 and so on). Short pieces of small line can even be used instead of the webbing. These will pass through an electric windlass without jamming and you can tell how much is out, even in the dark. You can also mark the rode with plastic wire ties, but these can break going through the windlass. There are mechanical devices that will measure the chain and rode as it pays out. These are not the best solution since they are prone to failure given their location and exposure to salt water, sand and mud.

What are some good safety practices while anchoring?

Any boating activities should be approached with care and anchoring is no exception. If the boat is equipped with an electric windlass, extreme care should be taken to keep hands, fingers and even hair clear when raising or lower the anchor. Pay attention to and anchor rode lying on deck so it does not get tangled in hands or feet. Wearing gloves whenever raising or lowering the anchor is a good idea, but make sure the gloves themselves don’t get tangled in anything. Devise a good form of communications between the person on the foredeck and the person at the helm. Pre-arranged hand signals or two-way hands-free radios are two good alternatives. Be aware of nearby shallows and rocks so if the boat swings with wind or current, you don’t make contact. Know what weather conditions to expect during the time you will be at anchor. Don’t anchor too close to other boats. Practice anchoring as much as possible in calm conditions.

Chuck Baier has been an active boater and cruiser for 50 years and has been a certified marine service technician for over 30 years. Chuck is a freelance writer and has written for every major boating publication over the past 18 years and is currently the publisher and owner of Beach House Publications, which produces ‘The Great Book Of Anchorage’ series. Chuck also provides Navigation Notices for MarinaLife. 

If you have additional questions for Chuck Baier, please email him chuck@marinalife.com.