How to anchor a boat securely

Every sailor should know how to anchor a boat securely, in order to avoid unnecessary accidents on the water.

Just one example is a claim we processed a few years ago, involving a yacht en route to Adelaide, which wrecked thanks to an anchor that was too small for the boat itself.

When anchored overnight in stormy conditions, the yacht washed onto rocks east of Esperance (in the Southern ocean). Luckily the sailor was okay.

The accident could have been avoided if the yacht’s anchor had simply been bigger. (Head here for the full story.)

Why anchors are a big deal

Okay, you probably already know that anchors hold your boat in place, by digging into the seabed or riverbed below.

They’re vital for safety, because they stop boats from hitting rocks or entering the surf, and they allow us to enjoy a bout of fishing, without drifting away.

How anchors work

When an anchor penetrates the seabed below, it generates suction, which in turn creates resistance. This resistance is caused by the material and debris at the bottom of the bed, plus the material positioned above it.

When the boat pulls at the anchor, it digs deeper into the seabed, which generates even more resistance. This can be problematic on coral or rocky bottoms, as the anchor is unable to dig in. Rather, it snags on precarious protrusions and overhangs.

When choosing an anchor, make sure it is suitable for the kind of bottom you’re likely to encounter on your adventures. Talk to a boating expert at your local store, or check out this article on anchors by Yachting Monthly.

Setting the anchor

Entire books have been written on how to set an anchor, so what we’re about to share with you is a snippet of some of the most important tips we can muster.

Of course, we recommend you do your own research, and learn techniques from a trained sailing coach. (Ask your local sailing club for recommendations, if you’re in the market for a coach!)

But back to setting an anchor:

  1. Ease up and then sneak back – ease the throttle so your boat is pretty much standing still in the spot you’re going to drop the anchor. Let the throttle go, sneak backwards under power, and then pay out the line slowly.
  2. Scope it – the amount of scope used will impact where the boat sits when the anchor sticks. Local knowledge and experience of the bottom are your best guides, but an approximate ratio of 8-to-1 (scope-to-water depth) works well too.
  3. Head the boat up – at a very slow speed, head the boat up into the current or wind, just past where you’d like the boat to stay. This distance should be the same as your approximate scope. Bring the boat to a stop.
  4. Set the anchor – Once the rode or chain is equal to the required scope, it’s time to snub up onto the cleat. Let the stretch out of the line, just to see if you’re holding. A quick reverse can usually assist with setting the hook, but if it happens too soon, the anchor may skate.
  5. Watch – using the hook set, cleat the anchor off securely and then run the rode through the chocks to make sure deck equipment, such as nav lights, aren’t hit by the chain when the vessel swings.
  6. Positioning – use 2 landmarks to line the boat up, or alternatively, use GPS, radar or a depth monitor to confirm positioning. Double check your anchor isn’t dragging.
  7. Different bottoms – your plotter or chart should tell you what to expect on the bottom, but unexpected drops and conditions can occur. Sand, clay, mud and weed (grass) are the most common kinds of bottom, and most all-purpose anchors will work well in these conditions. For rocky bottoms, consider a plow anchor. Danforths are great in mud.
  8. Size is important – as we said early on that anchor size does matter. So, make sure your anchor size matches your boat. For example, an average 32-footer suits a 22-pound Delta or a 25-pound CQR, and would be safe in winds of up to 30-knots. If you’re unsure, check the manufacturers guide and don’t be afraid to go one size up.

For more tips on anchoring safely, watch this YouTube video by Boating Camping Fishing Australia.

Need cover for your vessel?

Talk to us about securing comprehensive marine insurance for your boat, so you have peace of mind when you’re out on the water. We can provide you with an obligation free quote, and ensure you’re covered for the stuff that matters.

Get started now and stay safe out there.


Boat Anchor