Dropping the pick

Christopher Murman | VOLUME 22, ISSUE 3

Things to consider when you want to stay in one spot for a while.

There is a lot more to anchoring than just throwing the ‘pick’ over the side and paying out some chain and rope. While this casual approach might work in ideal situations, throw a few variables into the mix, like weather and tide, and things become a bit more complicated. Knowing how to deploy anchors in a variety of conditions could save you a lot of aggravation and possibly save your boat – and even your life.


This is surely the most important part of the whole process. If the position is not suitable, then the whole anchoring process is doomed to failure or will, at the very least, be the source of much frustration.

When entering a bay with a view to anchoring for an extended period of time, consider the following before determining the optimum anchoring position:

• Is there shelter from the currently prevailing winds? What is the likelihood of strong local gusts being funnelled into the area by local geography, such as hills and valleys?

• The forecast weather for the area.

• The type of seabed (bottom). The first place to look for this information is on the chart, then observe the shape and structure of the bay. If there is a sandy beach and the water is reasonably clear, it is reasonable to assume that the bottom is sand. If the bay is skirted by mud banks or the head of the bay has a large mud bank, the bottom is likely to be mud. You can easily determine which it is by dropping your anchor temporarily and then retrieving it.

• Look for a position that provides plenty of swinging room, with no danger of hitting anything or anyone else.

• Check the depth sounder for the water depth under the keel, keeping in mind the state and range of the tide. Some places require considerable care as the tidal range can be large.

• Decide on the scope of the rode that is appropriate for all of these variables.

• Consider the need for an exit strategy.

After taking time to circle the bay several times to make all the appropriate observations, you can then select the desired anchoring position. Remember, even if you have an audience, there is no shame in taking your time. Anchoring hastily and starting the party could prove costly and endanger your craft and all aboard.


Anchoring with a power vessel or yacht under power is probably the easiest option. After selecting the desired anchoring position, move up-wind approximately the same distance as the selected scope. Drop the anchor and very slowly go astern, while paying out the rode. After paying out most of the rode, tie it off and run the engine(s) slowly in reverse until the rode pulls taut. During this process, carefully position yourself so that you can feel the rode (see A dragging anchor – how does it feel? elsewhere in this article). After the anchor has begun to dig in, put the engine in neutral and pay out the rest of the rode to achieve the final scope. Tie the rode off and again put the engine in reverse (gently at first) and let the rode pull tight. Once you are satisfied that the anchor has dug in sufficiently, give it one last, gentle pull under power, being careful not to use too much throttle.


Not many people anchor under sail these days, which is a pity as it is a useful skill to master and keep honed. There are two methods; the first by luffing and other with sail set.


After choosing the desired anchoring position, sail into the wind very slowly (pinching a little) past this desired anchoring position, about the same distance as the desired scope. Put the yacht in irons and drop the anchor. As the yacht drifts back (with the sails flogging), pay out all of the desired rode. Tie it off securely and let the weight and inertia of the boat set the anchor. It is important to let the yacht settle and check that the anchor has, in fact, set by feeling the rode.


This method requires a lot more practice and should not be attempted in a strong breeze; however it does have the advantage of ensuring that the anchor is well set.

After deciding where to anchor, sail up-wind to a point a little greater than the desired length of the scope, then turn and sail off the wind slowly. Drop the anchor and release the rode. When the yacht has reached the desired position, tie off the rode and allow the anchor to set. When the anchor starts to dig in, the yacht will turn fairly quickly (depending on the shape of the hull and keel), so be prepared. Again, it is important to let the yacht settle and check that the anchor has set.


About half an hour after setting the anchor, check all is well by feeling the rode. If the anchor shows any signs of dragging, pay out more rode or weigh anchor and start the process over again.

It is also good practice to periodically check the anchor to ensure all is well, especially during the night and particularly if conditions are less than ideal.


Many people use their craft’s anchor winch to pull the boat up to the anchor before hauling it aboard. This practice is definitely not recommended as it imparts heavy loads on the anchor winch and can cause mechanical damage, especially in strong winds or current.

A better approach is to slowly motor or sail up to the anchor as the winch hauls the rode aboard. When the anchor has broken out, put the engine in neutral and haul the remainder of the rode aboard. Always secure the anchor with a line after it is snugly in the bow roller to take the load off the winch.

Many people also leave the anchor rode attached to the anchor winch gypsy while at anchor. Again, this puts large loads on the winch bearings and gears and only serves to shorten the lifespan of this expensive piece of equipment. It is better to secure the rode off to the bollard, instead of relying on the winch to take the load directly while anchored.

If manually retrieving the rode and anchor, always be sure to lay the rope and chain directly into the anchor well or bin and avoid letting it lie on the deck as limbs can easily become entangled, with obviously potentially unpleasant results.


Retrieving a fouled anchor need not be a trial. The best method is to slowly motor up to the anchor as the rode is being winched aboard. Just before the chain becomes tight, put the engine in neutral. Switch the winch off when it has retrieved all of the available rode and tie it off to the bollard. Then it’s a matter of simply waiting until the inertia and pitching motion of the vessel pull the anchor out of the seabed. Sometimes this may require a wait of several minutes, so be patient. If the anchor refuses to budge, release a small amount of rode and very slowly motor forward, pulling the rode in the opposite direction until the anchor breaks free.

When an anchor buoy (see Anchor marker buoy) has been deployed, very slowly motor up to the buoy. Have a crew person grab it and pull the line aboard until it’s tight. Then simply pull the anchor free as above. For safety’s sake – and especially on larger craft – the skipper and crew person should be able to communicate effectively via hand signals or verbally to ensure that their actions are coordinated.


The following technique will give greater security if anchoring in a location where there are very strong tidal flows and large changes in the tidal direction or there’s an expectation that there will be a rapid change in the wind direction. This technique is sometimes called the Bahamian Moor (see Figure 1). Additionally, there are actually two methods of deploying the two anchors; one the Running Moor and the other the Standing Moor.

Running Moor: Motor down-wind (or tide, whichever is the stronger) of the desired anchoring position and drop the first anchor. Release the rode while slowly motoring to the position where you want to lay the up-wind anchor and then drop the second anchor. Now let the vessel drift back to the desired anchoring position, while paying out rode to the second anchor and hauling in rode on the first anchor. This technique is called the Running Moor because it is done with the vessel underway.

Standing Moor: Motor up-wind of the desired anchoring position and drop the first anchor. Release rode until the vessel has drifted an equal distance down-wind as you had motored up-wind of the desired anchoring position. Drop the second anchor and slowly motor to the desired anchoring position whilst paying out rode to the second anchor and hauling in rode on the first anchor. This technique is called the Standing Moor because it is done with the vessel drifting.

The Running Moor is usually quicker as the vessel is under power. It also provides better control of the anchor positioning.


Sometimes a good fishing spot will be in a location with strong winds or current, for example around an isolated rock. These conditions tend to make the boat swing excessively with the danger of tangling the fishing gear. A second anchor from the stern will inhibit this yawing.

After setting the first anchor and allowing it to set, the second anchor is deployed. Using a flying anchor is an easy way of achieving this. The anchor is designed to ‘fly’ through the water away from the boat before reaching the bottom. It can then be set and tied off. Because this anchor is solely to prevent yawing, it is not subject to large loads, hence it does not need to be set as solidly as the main anchor.



This small, but vital piece of equipment is essential to good anchoring. A snubber should be placed in the anchor rode just forward of the bow roller (see Figure 2) so that it can absorb the shock loads imparted into the rode by the vessel as it pitches and yaws. Snubbers also absorb the sound from the anchor chain, thus ensuring a good night’s sleep. It’s easy to make a snubber, but they are so cheap that it’s hardly worth the effort.

Anchor strop

It’s a good idea to make a strop from heavy nylon rope (fitted with one or more snubbers) that has a loop at one end (to go around the bollard) and a chain hook on the other end. After the anchor has been set, the hook on the strop is engaged into the chain and the rode is released until the strop is taking the entire load. This method also serves to take the load off the anchor winch. Anchor weights

Anchor weights are a good idea as they improve the holding power of the anchor as well as reducing the vessel’s pitching and yawing. After the anchor has been set, attach a loop around the rode and lower the weight down the rode (see Figure 3). It should be close to the seabed, but never rest on it. There are several products that utilise this idea, but it is very easy to make your own. The weight should be as heavy as is practical to manage.

A dragging anchor – how does it feel?

Carefully place yourself to one side of the anchor rode and take a firm grip of the line ahead of the bow roller with one hand (make sure you’re using the spare hand to hang on firmly!) and you’ll immediately begin to get a feel for what is happening at the anchor. An anchor that is dragging will jerk and pull the rode in your hand and you may even be able to hear the anchor as it drags over the seabed, especially if the bottom is very rough. When the anchor is set, the line will feel very firm and won’t move.

When doing this, always ensure that no part of your body (paying particular attention to fingers, hands and feet) is likely to get caught in the rode or winch. Be aware also of your clothing in this respect. And never try to feel the rode when paying out or hauling in rode by using the winch.

Anchor marker buoy

Not many people use these, but I believe they are a good idea for several reasons:

• The position of the anchor is easily seen.

• They mark the position of your anchor so that others will not try to anchor on top of it.

• The anchor buoy is attached to a trip line, thus making retrieval of a fouled anchor much easier.

The anchor buoy should be bright orange to make it highly visible. I recently saw a boat run over a buoy. When questioned, the offending skipper said that he didn’t see it.

Anchor lifting buoy

This system is often used by small boats that need to move several times during the day (eg: when following fish, such as whiting and snapper). The buoy is attached to the anchor rode (with a specially designed clip on a short strop) after the anchor has been set. When it is time to retrieve the anchor, simply motor past the anchor until the buoy has raised it to the surface, then haul the rode, anchor and lifting buoy aboard.

Exit strategy

When staying in a bay overnight, it is always a good idea to have an exit strategy in mind, in case weather changes or other considerations mean that you have to leave in a hurry. Here’s how to make good your escape:

• Once the vessel has settled at anchor, take a bearing of a clear path out of the bay, ensuring the path is well clear of other vessels and inside any navigation channels or other objects. It is also prudent to check the bearing just before sunset to ensure that another boat has not obstructed your path.

• Note the bearing down in the vessel’s log.

• Take a bearing of several prominent land marks and also note them in the log. These can also be used to check if the boat is dragging the anchor. Some people also use the GPS for this purpose. Some GPS units come with a range of special features to facilitate this, such as an anchor alarm.

It is particularly important to have a well thought-out exit strategy in situations that are inherently hazardous, such as when anchoring inside a reef, near an atoll or rocks. If the weather changes quickly, there is often little time for guess work.

Ultimately, anchoring is all about maintaining your position in relation to your surroundings. It’s also very much about safety and security for your companions and your vessel. If you’re new to the game, remember, practice makes perfect. And even if you’re an old hand, it doesn’t hurt to refresh your techniques – you never know, you might learn something new along the way.

How to-Safety