We like to anchor, whether overnight or just for an afternoon. We prefer anchoring to docking at a marina because it provides privacy and excellent scenery as the boat slowly rotates around with the wind or current. If you venture very far north of the border, anchoring is required as marinas become rare. To get to shore, we use the dinghy or kayaks.
People choose not to anchor for various reasons. Some boaters don’t carry a dinghy or have a way to get to shore. Others may be anxious about the anchor breaking free and running aground or drifting into another boat. Some simply do not know how to anchor.
By following some basic anchoring guidelines and with a little practice, anyone can learn to safely anchor and sleep well at night.
Ground tackle includes the anchor and rode. The rode can be chain or a combination of chain and rope. Anchor manufacturers provide charts for selecting the right sized anchor for the weight and length of boat. And there are several different types of anchors. We have a 73 pound Rocna and 300′ of chain.
There are also various sizes and types of chains from which to choose, some offering greater strength than others. Our chain is 3/8″ BBB galvanized and the 300′ weighs 495 pounds. Besides having a good anchor set, the weight of the chain helps to keep you secure. The anchor is fastened to the chain with an integrated shackle/swivel (Mantus brand) that keeps the chain from twisting as the boat swings about. It also helps right the anchor as it is retrieved over the anchor roller and stored.
To raise and lower the anchor we have an electric windlass with controls at the helm, flybridge, and with foot pedals on the bow of the boat. A wash down system, either fresh water or salt water, is necessary in the Pacific NW to rinse the mud and other debris off the chain and anchor as it is retrieved.
Protection, depth, tides, and currents
We look for anchorages with protection from the wind and wakes, which will make you miserable with waves and constant motion. Based on the weather forecast, we select a location that will shelter us from the wind overnight. We also try to avoid areas where other boats’ and especially ferries’ wakes would cause us to roll. Depth and tides go together because overnight you will typically experience a high tide and a low tide. Both can ruin your night. Here in the Pacific NW, tidal ranges can reach 15 feet. Unless you consider the effect of the tide, you may end up aground or adrift.
Fiddler has a 5′ draft, so obviously if the depth at low tide is less than that, we are aground. If we anchored in 18′ at high tide and failed to consider the 15′ tidal change, we would be in trouble at low tide. Conversely, anchoring in 18′ at low tide and failing to account for the depth nearly doubling at high tide could result in your anchor not holding because of an inadequate scope. Finally, we consider currents when selecting a location to anchor. Strong currents put a strain on ground tackle and can be uncomfortable.
The scope is defined as the length of rode divided by the sum of the current depth, additional depth to high tide, and distance from the water’s surface to the bow of the boat. Depending on expected wind and current, the scope ranges from 3:1 to 7:1. So if anchored in 18′ with remaining distance to high tide of 4′ and the distance from water to bow of 8′, for a total of 30′, a minimum 3:1 scope would dictate putting out 90′ of chain. For optimal holding in adverse conditions, we would use a 7:1 scope, or 210′. I have painted several chain links a different color (orange, yellow, green, orange, yellow) every 50′ in order to know how much is out.
Setting the anchor
After determining the location and scope, we position the boat into the wind or current and bring it to a stop. We drop the anchor to the bottom and as the wind carries us backward, we let out the necessary chain/scope. If there is not enough wind to carry us back, we slowly use reverse. When it is all laid out, it is usually obvious when the anchor catches and sets because the boat stops and the chain tightens. We put a bridle on the chain to take the stress off the windlass and we are done.
When following these rules, the anchor has always held. And we sleep well at night.
Retrieving the anchor
Always start the engines before retrieving the anchor. Using the windlass, bring the bridle up to the roller and take it off. Now it’s important to position the boat so that the strain is off the chain and windlass by motoring slowly toward the anchor. A second person at the helm is helpful for this. As the boat moves toward the anchor, retrieve the chain and wash it free of mud and debris. When the chain is vertical over the anchor, a little nudge forward or a pull by the windlass usually releases the anchor. Bring the anchor to the boat and secure it.
Then on to the next anchorage!