Everyone should by now be familiar with all the USCG equipment required to be on you boat before leaving the dock but is it time to rethink that list and add something? What about an anchor? An anchor is not required to be onboard but every vessel should have one. Even if you are not planning to stop and anchor for lunch, a swim or to fish, you should have an anchor rigged and ready in case of an emergency. Rigged and ready doesn’t mean that it is in a locker or under a seat with a case of soda on top of it. You should be ready to deploy an anchor in a minute or less. I have witnessed many small boats end up on jetties or run aground when they lost power and had no way of controlling the progress of the boat.
The first step in anchoring is to select the proper anchor. In spite of claims to the contrary, there is no single anchor design that is best in all conditions. On most pleasure boats, the three anchors you will find most are the fluke or danforth type, the plow and the mushroom anchor.
Mushroom anchors do not have the holding power of a fluke or plow anchor and should only be used on small, lighter weight boats. A local marine supply store can help you select the proper anchor for your boat and for the waters in which you will be boating.
Anchors also must have something to attach them to the boat. This is called the anchor rode and may consist of line, chain or a combination of both. The whole system of gear including anchor, rode, shackles etc. is called ground tackle.
The amount of rode that you have out (scope) when at anchor depends generally on water depth and weather conditions. The deeper the water and the more severe the weather, the more rode you will put out. For recreational boaters, at a minimum you should have out five to eight times (5 to 1 scope for day anchoring and 6 to 8 to 1 for overnight) the depth of the water plus the distance from the water to where the anchor will attach to the bow. For example, if you measure water depth and it shows four feet and it is three feet from the top of the water to your bow cleat, you would multiply seven feet by six to eight to get the amount of rode to put out.
Below is a list of steps to anchoring but I should point out first that before you anchor in an emergency make sure you look all around you and make sure there is not a large barge or other vessel bearing down on you.
- Select an area that offers maximum shelter from wind, current, boat traffic etc.
- Pick a spot with swinging room in all directions. Should the wind change, your boat will swing bow to the wind or current, whichever is stronger.
- Determine depth and bottom conditions and calculate the amount of rode you will put out.
- If other boats are anchored in the area you select, ask the boat adjacent to the spot you select what scope they have out so that you can anchor in such a manner that you will not bump into the neighboring vessel.
- Anchor with the same method used by nearby boats. If they are anchored bow and stern, you should too. If they are anchored with a single anchor from the bow, do not anchor bow and stern.
- Never anchor from the stern alone, this could cause the boat to swamp or capsize.
- Rig the anchor and rode. Check shackles to make sure they are secured with wire tied to prevent the screw shaft from opening.
- Lay out the amount of rode you will need on deck in such a manner that it will follow the anchor into the water smoothly without tangling.
- Cleat off the anchor line at the point you want it to stop. (Don’t forget or you’ll be diving for your anchor.)
- Stop your boat and lower your anchor until it lies on the bottom. This should be done up-wind or up-current from the spot you have selected. Slowly start to motor back, letting out the anchor rode. Backing down slowly will assure that the chain will not foul the anchor and prevent it from digging into the bottom.
- When all the anchor line has been let out, back down on the anchor with engine in idle reverse to help set the anchor. (Be careful not to get the anchor line caught in your prop.)
- While reversing on a set anchor, keep a hand on the anchor line. A dragging anchor will telegraph itself as it bumps along the bottom. An anchor that is set will not shake the line.
- When the anchor is firmly set, look around for reference points in relation to the boat. You can sight over your compass to get the bearing of two different fixed points (house, rock, tower, etc. ) Over the next hour or so, make sure those reference points are in the same place. If not you’re probably dragging anchor.
- Begin anchor watch. Everyone should check occasionally to make sure you’re not drifting.
- Retrieve the anchor by pulling or powering forward slowly until the anchor rode hangs vertically at the bow.
- Cleat the line as the boat moves slowly past the vertical. This will use the weight of the boat to free the anchor and protect you from being dragged over the bow.
- Once free, raise the anchor to the waterline.
- Clean if necessary and let the rode dry before stowing away.