AnchoringBy Rob MacLeod, The Informed Boater

The research for this article started over morning coffee. My wife (and sailing partner) Mary and I were talking about our anchoring ‘experiences’, trying to remember all of the times we dragged while at anchor. There are several categories - longest distance, most embarrassing, highest potential danger and ‘that was the other guy - not us’. The longest was at Rodrigues Key in Florida in 2010 where we spent a night on our way to Marathon.

We anchored and waved ‘hello’ to a boat beside us then settled in for an early dinner and rest. At first light we were up and very surprised that our overnight neighbour had already departed. We finished breakfast, cleaned up and just over one nautical mile later came upon that same neighbour - still anchored. We swung close and chatted with them and they too were surprised we had seemed to depart so early.

You know where this story is going. Yes, we dragged over a mile. Fortunately for us, the lee shore was several miles away and we stopped in plenty of time to avoid going aground.

In the April 2015 issue of CY magazine, I wrote the feature article ‘Staying Put: I See Myself Anchored Off...’. All of the information in that article is still valid and it is worth a read, as this will pick up from that article’s content covering location, equipment and techniques.

Also, in this article, we are going to look at bottom quality, effective anchors in each, anchoring techniques and finish off talking about anchor alarms. We are going to cover properly setting an anchor, having the anchor re-set as the result of wind or current change and retrieving an anchor that does not want to be retrieved.

It’s all about the bottom (substrate)

Any coastal boater who has travelled even a few hundred miles will have encountered everything from squishy mud, mud/clay, soft sand, hard sand, weeds, seashell beds and rock - just to name a few. Let’s get to the bottom of it (pun intended).

SeabedFigure 1. Types of Seabed

An anchor holds by digging into the bottom with the exception of a grapnel holding to rock. The deeper the dig, the greater the hold. There are a number of factors that will reduce the holding power; pull on the anchor rode greater than the ability of the substrate to resist the pull, a dynamic pull (wind and/or waves) that causes the anchor to pop up and out of the bottom and later movement of the anchor shank - referred to as yawing.

Anchoring Scope



Figure 2. Calculating Scope







Mirror Finish AnchorFigure 3. Kingston Anchor - Tabs

In setting the anchor, the ‘wisdom of the ages’ (not to be confused with every boater’s opinion) states:
1. Bring the boat to a stop upwind of intended final destination (distance of rode length for desired scope)
2. Lower (not throw) the anchor from the bow
3. When the anchor reaches the bottom, confirm the depth from bow to bottom
4. Slowly move astern until at the desired scope length; for an all chain rode a minimum 5:1 ratio for overnight, for line chain rode a 7:1 ratio
5. Set the anchor at slow or idle speed in reverse, giving the anchor the opportunity to properly dig in
6. Once set, rest for a few minutes to allow the anchor and rode to settle
7. Power set at 50% throttle in reverse
8. If, the boat does not drag, power set at 75 - 80% of boat’s power in reverse to simulate strong winds or current
9. If rode is all chain, or if on a catamaran, attach a bridle or snubber to reduce yawing at anchor (more to follow on this)
10. Allow the boat to rest; clean up and stay onboard for at least 30 to 60 minutes just in case the situation changes
11. Set or adjust anchor alarm (covered later)

Your process may vary, but these are the essential steps to be able to anchor effectively time after time.

The right anchor for the situation

Now let’s break this process down for varying situations. Even weekend cruisers should carry at least 2 different anchors. For years we carried a CQR (plough) and a Fortress Danforth. Between trips from Lake Ontario to the Bahamas (2009 and 2017) we changed from the CQR, (which came with the boat) to a Vulcan (a derivative of the Rocna). Our decision to update and upgrade our anchor was in response to our multiple episodes of plowing the anchorage (pun intended) with the CQR.

The first time we set the Vulcan (20 kg / 55 lb for our 36-foot, 15,000-pound boat) I almost fell off the bow because the anchor set so quickly and solidly.

What is the difference in how the two anchors - the CQR and the Vulcan - set? The CQR is a plow type anchor and does just that; it plows into and through the bottom until it buries deep and comes into contact with relatively solid bottom material. The Vulcan is a spade rudder and like the Bruce (or claw) presents a flatter profile to the bottom, gripping sooner and better.

Figure 4. CQR Anchor

CQR AnchorFigure 5. Fortress Danforth

Fortress DanforthDuring the writing of this article, I had the opportunity to cruise the BVIs on a 2019 Jeanneau 419. The boat was equipped with a Delta anchor and I decided to incorporate into the week, the observation of the three elements of anchoring - the set, holding and re-setting as the boat swung at anchor, and the retreival. The last item, re-setting came to mind after reviewing articles and videos on how well various anchors reset following a 180-degree shift in wind or current. You will see in the image taken from our anchor alarm that this can happen on even a relatively calm night.

We anchored one evening with a nice offshore breeze. There were already three or four boats in this small anchorage, so our first attempt was in about 20 feet of water. Our charter boat had 75 feet of chain and 75 feet of rope. With 5 feet of bow out of the water, the best we could accomplish was a 6:1 scope (150 feet divided by (20+5) or 25 feet). We dragged on our first attempt, so we hauled the anchor in and proceeded to re-set it.

On the second try in 10 feet of water, we were able to set the anchor solidly. The weather called for light winds overnight, but they were to shift briefly from offshore. For that reason, I chose to sleep in the cockpit. Besides, it is so beautiful looking at the star filled sky in the islands when you have escaped a cold Canadian winter. You can see in the photo that the wind did shift and put us in a lee shore situation, but with light winds. I reset the anchor alarm circle on my iPad and slept lightly with the alarm by my ear. I got a good night’s sleep with no alarm going off. (By the way, I have used Anchor! by Marie Jullo on my iPhone and iPad for the past five or six years with complete confidence.)

Anchor Alarm FinalFigure 7. Anchor Alarm

Once the anchor and anchor alarm are both set, we notice our boat tended to sail at anchorage. For a noon anchoring - at a scope of 5:1 - I was able to get some pictures of the anchor’s activity on the bottom.

With the anchor set just outside the top of the image and the boat swinging, or yawing at the bottom of the image, you can see how much the boat moves even in a moderate breeze. Most monohulls will stay within an arch of under 60-degrees. Catamarans have been known to swing through an arch of 100 to 120-degrees.

With sufficient scope to keep the results of the yawing away from the anchor itself, this swinging can be a little uncomfortable but not dangerous. When the wind increases and the rode is pulled taut, the yawing action can cause the shank of the anchor to pivot back and forth, churning up the bottom and releasing the grip the anchor has. The result is the boat starts to drag slowly at first but then can suddenly release if the anchor hits a soft spot or picks up a rock or piece of coral.

As you can see in the photo, chain holds the shank still and keeps the shank down in the bottom, resisting anchor rotation. When the anchor is deeply set, the shank also acts as a vertical fluke to reduce the anchor’s desire to shift. Yawing can be significantly reduced with a riding sail, a kellet or a bridle - effectively increasing the holding ability of the anchor.

Vulcan AnchorFigure 6. Vulcan Anchor

A two-point anchor bridle (shown page XXX on a catamaran) will reduce this yaw significantly and result in a better night’s sleep. The bridle attaches to the chain anchor with an anchor hook.

One way to reduce the movement of the anchor due to yawing is with a riding sail (Figure 10, left panel). Attached to the backstay and tied off to one side of the boat, a riding sail holds the boat to one side. A small reinforced triangle of sailcloth, the riding sail is attached to the backstay with hanks, hoisted with a halyard and tensioned with a downhaul. The sail is controlled with a sheet which can be led to a snatch or turning block and back to a winch for control.

A kellet is a weight added to the rode to lower the angle of the rode (Figure 10, centre panel) - effectively increasing scope. A kellet can be a solid weight, a dive belt, a bucket full of sand or rocks - almost anything that will draw the rode down. By lowering the catenary curve - the slack in the rode, the rode gains shock absorbency and, in conjunction with a bridle, will result in a more gentle and comfortable movement of the boat.

Anchor Yaw FinalFigure 8. Arch of Anchor Yaw

For safety and convenience - and to inform other boaters where your anchor is - many cruisers set out an anchor buoy ( Figure 10, right panel) - a bright coloured floating ball. This is attached to the anchor with a floating line, which keeps the line out of the prop and prevents the line from wrapping around the keel on a windless night.

When other boats arrive at the anchorage, most will see the anchor buoy and avoid it. Should someone not ‘see’ the buoy, it is easier to indicate to that boater where you anchor is and you can ask them to please not anchor on top of it.

Recovering your anchor

So, you have had a restful night. The boat stayed in place and did not roll too much. Breakfast dishes are done, and it is time to get underway.

The process to weigh anchor is similar to the anchoring procedure. With one crew on the bow and one on the wheel, we again use hand signals to communicate between the person on the helm and the foredeck crew. If you are fortunate enough to have a set of headphones to communicate (aka ‘marriage savers’), that will reduce most mis-communication - hopefully.

Catamaran Sketch



Figure 9. 2-Point Bridle

It is important to remember that the crew on the bow is in charge of the movement of the boat until the anchor leaves the bottom and then the person on the helm takes over that responsibility. Here’s why.

The person on the helm cannot see where the anchor is, unless there is an anchor buoy deployed. Even then, as the boat maneuvers forward to recover the anchor, the helmsperson may lose sight of the buoy.

Anchor Hooks




Figure 10. Anchor Hooks

There is another reason to have the person on the foredeck call the manoeuvers and that is the change in legal standing of the boat. When a boat is at anchor, on a mooring, aground or tied to a dock, the boat is not ‘underway’. This legal status means that all other boats must Give Way or go around the anchored boat. As soon as the anchor leaves the bottom, the boat is legally ‘underway’, although it may not be moving, it is underway but not making way. That means the ColRegs that apply to the boat change and the underway boat must Give Way to other anchored boats, and if under power, to boats under sail. (If that is a little confusing, then a refresh in the Rules of the Road is necessary. In addition, the crew on the bow can see any hazards close to the boat and continue to communicate a safe exit path for the boat from the anchorage.


We carry 150 feet of chain on sojourn. I have hauled it up by hand a couple of times. That is not a pleasant task. Remember that a windlass is not intended to hold the boat while at anchor, to pull the boat up to the anchor, or to free a stuck anchor. The boat is to be propelled toward the anchor by shifting in and out of gear. Clear signals of ‘forward’ (with direction), ‘neutral’ and ‘reverse’ are essential to leave an anchorage with grace and decorum.

Anchoring KelletFigure 11. Minimizing Yawing at Anchor

If the anchorage is weedy, mud or clay, then the foredeck crew will also be responsible for cleaning off the chain and anchor. This may involve moving the boat slowly forward while the crew dislodges the aforementioned ‘clingons’ and washes down the deck and anchor locker. Cruisers who anchor regularly will seriously consider adding a deck wash forward to the anchor locker.

Sometimes the anchor gets trapped on a log, rock or other underwater obstruction. If you are in warm, clear water, you may be able to dive down on the anchor and free it. If you deployed an anchor buoy, it will be attached near the crown of the anchor (Figure 10). Simply pulling on the anchor buoy line in the opposite direction to the set of the anchor may allow you to pull the anchor free.

If you do not use an anchor buoy, or the line is not strong enough to dislodge the anchor, there are a few other options available to you. One is to take a heavy line, piece of chain or diving weight belt, place it around the anchor rode and let it slide down until it captures the anchor shank. Then by either repositioning the boat or working from your dinghy, work the weighted loop until it is at the crown of the anchor and then pull the anchor in the opposite direction to how it is set. For a number of years, I carried a SCUBA tank on board for just such situations. Fortunately, I never had to use it.

Some anchors have a channel along the shank intended to allow the rode to be re-located to the forward part (near the crown) of the anchor. There is always a concern that the anchor be ‘tripped’ if the wind or the current shifts 180-degrees. It is important to secure the shackle to prevent this according to the anchor manufacturer’s instructions.


Anchoring is one-part art, one-part science and one-part experience. Every time you approach an anchorage, make sure you and your crew are completely prepared, have a plan, understand who is already in the anchorage and manoeuver in control. Assume you will drag or get stuck and then prepare to handle whatever situation arises. A great anchor down game to play is ‘What if…?’

What if we drag? How far can we move before we get into trouble with another boat? A lee shore?

What if the anchor drags in the night? Should we establish an anchor watch? Should we reduce the circle on the anchor alarm? Should we add a riding sail? A kellet?

And whatever you do, don’t leave the boat until you know the anchor is holding.

I know that is a lot, but it is worth it for safe and enjoyable anchoring.

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