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Anchors Aweigh–Tips for Secure Anchoring

Knowing how to anchor a boat is one of those essential skills that every captain should master.  Even if your boating expeditions start and end at a marina slip, there can be situations that call for dropping the anchor.  Maybe you want to stop for a while at a pleasant spot just offshore and have a picnic lunch. Or there may come a day when your engine quits unexpectedly, and you need to secure your boat’s position before it drifts into rocks or another boat.

The steps required to bring a boat to anchor are fairly simple. But there’s a knack to it, and that can be learned only by doing it a few times. 

The first step is to know the different kinds of anchors. Most smaller boats use the Danforth or fluke anchors. Usually made of galvanized metal and weighing up to 200 pounds, these anchors are designed to drop to the bottom and have the twin flukes dig into the surface material on the bottom. 

Larger and heavier boats may require the heavier plow or Delta anchors. When dropped, these anchors fall on their sides, and when pulled, the plow shank digs into the bottom surface. The plow shape enables these anchors to re-set if the wind or tidal conditions change.

To anchor a boat, you first need to know the depth of the water. Consult a chart or look at your electronic depth gauge.  Once you have this number, you can determine how much “rode” or length of rope you need to play out before setting the anchor.  The usual ratio is 7:1.  If your depth is 10 feet, that means you need to play out 70 feet of line. This is important: if you don’t play out enough rode, the pull of the boat in the wind and tide may well drag the anchor across the bottom.

But a good captain will also consider the wind direction and speed, as well as the tidal flow in the area.  Boats without power are just big sails and the wind will push them downwind, just as tides will try to carry a powerless boat in one direction or another.

So if it’s a very windy day or the tides are running hard, a captain knows he will need extra rode to compensate.

To drop anchor, turn the boat so it’s heading directly into the wind and proceed slowly to the point where you want to drop the anchor.  Cut the engine, let the anchor down slowly until it hits the bottom and then, as the boat backs off the wind, play out the rode line until the proper amount of rode has been reached.

Tie off the anchor line to a bow cleat, wait a minute or two and check to see if the anchor has “bitten” or burrowed down into the bottom sand or grass. That should be all there is to it. But you will want to check to make sure the anchor is holding (and not sliding or dragging across the bottom without digging in). You can site on shore landmarks or, better, use your GPS system to check your boat’s position.

When it’s time to depart, reverse the process. Turn on the engines and slowly approach the drop point, pulling in the line as you go.  Remember…slow is the key here. Once you’re over the drop spot (the line will go vertical), give a pull on the line to disengage the anchor from the bottom. You may have to turn the boat in a circle to get the anchor shanks to release, or tie the line back to the cleat and let the up and down motion of the bow pull it free. 

But once the anchor is free of the bottom, you can continue to haul the line aboard. If you have an electric windlass on the bow, this will be easy. If you don’t, you’ll need a brawny lad to haul the anchor back on board and get it stowed in its locker. 

Once you’ve anchored your boat once or twice, you’ll get a feel for how it works, and you’ll have mastered another important nautical skill. If you need anymore advice, feel free to reach out to Oyster Harbors Marine!

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