Drop Anchor, don’t drag anchor

Drop anchor, drag anchor, weigh anchor, repeat… what is the trick?

Watching the uninitiated dropping an anchor is an entertaining pastime, especially when you’re at anchor yourself and kicking back with a cold one.  

It’s pretty funny seeing one boat after another pull up in what appears to be the only ideal anchorage left in the bay and drop their anchor only to have it drag across the top of a very large rock. The amusing part is that they usually don’t notice until they’re nearly on the beach, and then it’s panic stations.  

Or the guy with a great big anchor (probably because his smaller one wouldn’t hold) and no chain. When he finally heaves the thing overboard, he let’s out just enough rope to let it reach the bottom and then hangs on it like it’s a mooring. You can almost imagine the anchor, sitting upright on the sea floor.


Photo courtesy of Morguefile

What about the guy who seems to think that the wind never changes direction, or that the direction you approach your anchorage is the reciprocal of the direction you will hang – as if wind plays no part at all.

All these things make seasoned boaties feel pretty smug but dropping the pick is not as mysterious a ritual as it first appears. Here are three things that will get you swinging in the breeze sooner and safer.

Use your sounder

The depth sounder tells you depth, right? Yes, but it will also tell you what type of sea bottom you are dealing with. Even the oldest sounders will give you a good idea if you know what to look for. Double echoes usually mean rock, an indistinct bottom can be weeds; either one can be hard to dig in to. In addition, your depth tells you how much anchor rode you will need to let out. As a general rule of thumb, in calm weather, the length of your anchor line will need to be about five times your depth. If the weather turns foul you may have to let that much out again – something to bear in mind when considering your ‘swing circle’.

Chain, how much if any

Anchors are designed to pull horizontally; they plough into the sea floor. If they lift up, they come out – simple. That’s why you need a decent length of anchor rode and that’s why you need chain. Sure, if you’re using a grapple anchor in a small vessel it might be a waste of time. On the other hand, if you have a lighter barge with a mooring block permanently winched up on the bow you probably don’t need to worry about it either. But for the rest of us, a length of chain about the length of your vessel is recommended to keep that anchor flat. For heavier vessels, dispense with the rope completely and go for all chain.

Take a couple of quick bearings

After you have approached your anchoring spot from downwind, ‘dropped the pick’, fallen back and dug it in; just before you relax, take a couple of quick transits. If you don’t know what a transit is, follow the link. It doesn’t have to be an exercise in coastal navigation, just a bit of a look around.

A final word on transits; if you take them while sitting in your favourite seat (the one next to the icebox?), you won’t even have to get up to check that you haven’t dragged anchor.

Happy boating.

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