Anchoring a Boat: Do’s and Don’ts
Anchoring a boat is a basic skill every boater should master, yet many boat owners don’t know how to do it properly. It's not just dropping the anchor and waiting for it to catch: there's a little more to it.
Not knowing how to anchor a boat correctly can create all sorts of problems, including damage to both the boat and the marine environment. With that in mind, here are some do’s and don’ts for anchoring a boat.
Anchoring a Boat: Do’s
DO: Find a Good Spot to Anchor
Easy enough, right? But finding a good spot to anchor a boat isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. A “good spot” means one free of obstacles and crowds, plus having the appropriate depth for anchoring your boat.
A depth finder is a good instrument to gauge how deep the water is of a spot where you want to drop anchor. Water depth numbers give you an idea of how much anchor scope is required. The scope is the ratio of the length of the anchor rode you want to use based on the depth. For example, a scope ratio of 8:1 is 8 feet of scope for 1 foot of water depth. When picking a spot to drop anchor, think about where you want the boat to end up, but also account for a bit of drag before the anchor settles in.
One popular option is the foldable fluke anchor, which is made for small- to medium-sized boats. Fluke anchors are lightweight, and easy to handle and store. They’re great for muddy or sandy bottoms, but not so suitable for rocky surfaces.
For heavier boats, a plow anchor would be more appropriate. This anchor type can hold in most bottom surfaces, but it’s not recommended for smaller boats, as it’s not lightweight nor portable. As with pretty much everything else related to boating equipment, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for which anchor type(s) best suit your boat.
DO: Lower the Anchor Slowly
Once you’ve found a good spot and are in position to drop anchor, do it slowly. Stop the boat, then slowly drop the anchor from the bow side and back the boat away in the down current direction. It’s recommended to allow about seven to 10 times as much anchor line as the water depth (the recommended scope ratio is 7:1). Lower the anchor with enough scope, then tie the rope to a bow cleat and slowly reverse the boat until the anchor settles in place.
DO: Inspect the Anchor Rode
Anchor rode is the connection system between the anchor and the boat, which includes anchor lines and chains to weigh the rode down at the anchor.
Periodically inspect anchor lines to make sure they’re sturdy and free of knots, as well as for fraying and rotting to prevent them from snapping. As for the chain, the correct amount is determined by the depth of the water and the size of the boat. A good rule of thumb is to use at least 2-3 times the depth of the water for the chain length. Make sure you have enough rode that’s free of tangles, and sturdy enough to hold the pull and weight of the anchor.
DO: Carry a Spare Anchor and Lines
If a rope or chain breaks and you lose the anchor, this is where a spare comes in handy. Another reason to carry a spare onboard is because it might be necessary to cut loose a stuck anchor that won’t budge, so make sure you have a replacement handy.
DO: Have a Designated Spotter
Always have a spotter at the bow to help out when dropping anchor. Develop hand signals between you and the spotter in advance so you can coordinate your efforts for dropping the anchor safely.
Anchoring a Boat: Don’ts
DON’T: Ignore the Weather Forecast
This goes for going boating in general, but if the forecast is predicting bad weather conditions, it’s best not to go anywhere. However, if you do go boating and the weather unexpectedly takes a turn for the worst, dropping anchor anywhere with strong winds and waves is probably not the best idea for the safety of your boat and passengers.
DON’T: Anchor in an Overcrowded Area
Avoid anchoring in any spots overcrowded with boats. Even if you’re going to a sandbar party where many other boats will be anchored nearby, you still want to keep a safe distance between boats. Overcrowded spots make it harder for other boats to get around the area, which increases the chances for collisions. As mentioned in the Do’s section, find a good spot with plenty of room to anchor.
DON’T: Drop Anchor from the Stern
Never anchor off the stern of a boat, as the pull of the anchor rode can drag the boat down and swamp it. Keep in mind that the stern of the boat has added weight from the motor and other equipment, so weighing it down even further with an anchor pull is a disaster waiting to happen.
DON’T: Anchor In or Near Shallow Water
Anchoring at too shallow a depth puts your boat at risk of running aground. Use a depth finder, and pick an area with at least 2-3 times the depth of your boat.
DON’T: Throw the Anchor Overboard
Several things can go wrong if you toss the anchor overboard. For starters, if you fumble the throw, the anchor can hit and damage your boat. And if the anchor falls on your foot, you can severely injure it. As mentioned before, slowly and carefully lower the anchor into the water. Doing so buys you enough time to untangle yourself if an arm or a leg gets caught up in the anchor rode, which can drag you overboard.
DON’T: Allow the Anchor to Drag
Make sure the anchor isn’t dragging on the bottom, because if the wind, current or tide changes, the boat can swing over the anchor and then you’ll need to reset it. A properly secured anchor won’t drag once it’s in a fixed position. The anchor rode needs to be straight and taut, and if it’s not, you may need to raise the anchor and reposition it to keep it from dragging.
Retrieving the Anchor
To retrieve your boat’s anchor, slowly move the boat toward the anchor while pulling in the rode (this is where an anchor winch comes in handy). The anchor should pull free once the boat is directly over it. If the anchor is stuck, try turning the boat to change the direction of the pull on the rope. And if that doesn’t work, don’t overstress the motor trying to free the anchor. Cut the anchor loose if it won’t budge after several attempts.