Know how: Expanding your Anchoring Repertoire

Anchoring, Baltic-style. Note the bow ladders for easy shore access

Anchoring, Baltic-style. Note the bow ladders for easy shore access

We all have our preferred choice of techniques for deploying and setting anchors, and if it works for you, that is the right choice. At the same time, though, it never hurts to be open to new ideas.

We are fortunate to have a choice of many, very good modern anchors that suit most requirements in terms of holding power and budget. I do not think that any anchor is perfect nor suitable for all seabeds, and anchors can be lost, so my recommendation is to carry at least two. In addition, however many you carry, each anchor should be sufficient to serve as the primary. At least for long-distance cruisers, rodes today will tend to be all chain, but as long as the seabed is not abrasive then mixed rode—chain plus nylon— can also be used successfully.

The last place we want to anchor is in a crowded anchorage, and we certainly do not want to anchor close to shore or rocks.

So, what should we do when there is not enough room to deploy your rode at a scope of 5:1, or greater, when the anchorage is too small and rocks are close by? Sailors in the Pacific Northwest, Baltic, Mediterranean and even the Caribbean, which all have many anchorages where rocks abound and swinging room is limited, have developed various methods of coping with confined anchorages. In fact, those unattractive rocks can be used to advantage by getting as close to them as possible and then minimizing the movement of the yacht. The “Med Moor,” in which the bow anchor is dropped while the yacht is reversing toward a dock, is practiced in most parts of the Mediterranean. Farther north or south, in higher latitudes, tying to shore gives total security.

Such anchoring/MOORING is best practiced in areas with minimal tidal ranges: securing a boat to shore can be a tricky operation with strong currents or crosswinds. It is also worth pointing out that if severe winds are expected, then anchoring out is a much better option than being tied to a rock or pier (or alongside other vessels that may not be well secured). Sometimes anchoring out is not an option, in which case long— really long—shore lines are a safe option.

 A typically pro-looking stern anchor setup (left); Not so pro, but just as effective (middle); Webbing stern anchor rodes are common (right)

 A typically pro-looking stern anchor setup (left); Not so pro, but just as effective (middle); Webbing stern anchor rodes are common (right)


The common Med Moor involves backing toward a pier, dropping the bow anchor as the yacht approaches the shore, tying off to the wharf and then taking up on the anchor rode to hold the stern clear. The technique has many advantages and could be usefully exported to many places. Tying off to a pier is frowned on by those who prefer to anchor out, but foot access to the shore has obvious advantages after a night out—and the Mediterranean is as much about joining the local culture as it is about the sailing.

In the Baltic, the locals like to deploy a stern anchor and moor “bow in” to a rocky shoreline. An advantage to setting a stern anchor is that if you anchor with the bow into the wind the cockpit is sheltered, and the more secure mooring is at the bow. Another advantage of the Baltic moor is that if you try anchoring stern-to you need to be careful not to damage your rudder, but when mooring bow-to you need only worry about how much your keel draws. The practice is so widespread that in many locations steel rings have been set into the rocks for bow lines, with carefully painted circles round them so you can see them from a distance.

The Baltic moor has resulted in the development of “auxiliary” stern anchors and appropriate equipment. These are not unique to the Baltic and the equipment can be seen anywhere in the world, but the Swedes, Finns, Norwegians and other Baltic sailors have developed the system into a fine art. I discussed the practice with sailors in the Baltic, and they were surprised that I found their technique unusual. For them, stern anchoring is ubiquitous and unremarkable. Indeed, I have seen a number of Scandinavian yachts well equipped for stern anchoring—with no bow anchor at all.

The Baltic technique is very simple—choose, know or learn about the anchorage (check from a dinghy), approach bow in, drop the stern anchor at the appropriate distance from the shore, determined by depth and scope, and then use a dinghy to deploy bow lines. After that, tension the bow lines and stern rode to secure the yacht, something that at times can be done so close to shore that it’s possible to step ashore from the bow.

Though this is not a technique that lends itself to the solo sailor—it ideally requires two people: one to tend and manage the yacht, the other to deploy and secure the shore lines—it’s not impossible. If there are other yachts nearby, it would also be very unusual if a neighbor did not appear to help with the bow lines.

One advantage of the Baltic stern anchor technique over the Med Moor is that the approach is made “forward”—in the direction boats are designed to go—which requires less boathandling skill than reversing in. Another advantage is that the cockpit is away from prying eyes. With the Med Moor, you’ll be the center of attention for any and all dockside promenaders.

The Yacht Week is in town, Med-moored in this Greek harbor

The Yacht Week is in town, Med-moored in this Greek harbor


Part of the efficiency of the technique is good preparation, and the Balts have some simple gear to make the whole endeavor problem-free. The practice lends itself to anywhere you might need to anchor in tight places, so you will also see the gear (you cannot miss it when it’s installed) on a number of long-distance cruising yachts.

In its basic form, the stern anchor is housed on the transom. Often, the rode is made from nylon webbing on a large reel, sometimes with a very short chain or no chain at all. Others use conventional nylon cordage, three-strand or braided, housed in a container on the transom (a stainless steel mesh basket works well) and extended with short lengths of chain. On some boats, owners have converted transom lockers to house the rode.

Some sailors secure their anchors to the transom or stern rail with cordage or simple brackets. However, many larger yachts have their anchors housed on dedicated folding (or retracting) stern rollers, such that the anchor can be “folded” away when at sea. These dedicated stern rollers look to be custom modifications of conventional bow rollers or completely personalized designs to fit specific yachts.

The stern anchors used are typically a slightly smaller version of the bow anchor. New-generation anchors appear to have missed the Baltic, and CQRs, Deltas and Bruces dominate. Finally, the idea that rodes need chain is simply not accepted.

Sometimes the technique allows the yacht to be moored very close to shore, other times distances can be daunting and most owners will carry one or more 200ft lines. In the event you find yourself letting out lots of line, you should buoy and mark it so that anyone who might motor round your yacht does not foul his prop. (We use fluorescent yellow painted polystyrene buoys and cheap stick LED lights bought from our local fishing tackle store.)

Carrying a 200ft line might sound daunting, but 1/4in Dyneema will be more than strong enough and takes up little room. We tie our shorelines to short lengths of chain and short rope strops (lengths of off-cut cordage with eyes spliced into each end), looped around rocks or trees.

Securing your yacht in a web of cordage and rode is a fine idea so long as it is unlikely to suffer strong beam winds, which means you should try to anchor close enough to shelter to negate any strong winds. If there is only limited shelter it is likely that conventional anchoring might be a safer option, with sea room to escape, should conditions deteriorate further. Nor will securing your boat with shorelines work so easily in areas with large tidal ranges.

A combination of anchor and shore lines keeps this boat snug in the Beagle Channel

A combination of anchor and shore lines keeps this boat snug in the Beagle Channel


In high latitudes it is common to take lines ashore, often up to four of them, so huge lengths of cordage are standard equipment. During a visit to Tierra del Fuego and the Beagle Channel, I noted that storage of shorelines was a lesson in ingenuity—they were kept in deck-based net bags (like spinnaker turtles), converted laundry baskets, neat transom-mounted reels, untidy heaps and neat coils in big sail/kit bags. Spare anchors were stored at the ready.

Anchors are difficult items to stow, other than on a bow roller. Unless you specify otherwise when buying a new yacht it is likely you will only have a single bow roller, and will have to deploy a second anchor by hand. Frankly, any anchor over 45lb (plus chain) is difficult to deploy by hand from a moving deck and can be a nightmare from a dinghy.

Fortunately, there are a number of aluminum anchors to suit various types of bottom and personal preferences. Fortress (fluke), Spade (concave) and Excel (convex) all make lightweight anchors that can be taken apart for storage and are much easier to deploy. Weight for the rode can also be saved if you use high-tensile chain, meaning you can save 3/4lb/ft on chain weight (and I think it is possible to save 1.5lb/ft).

We store our second rode, 45ft of 1/4in Armorgalv coated G80 and 140ft of 3-strand 1/2in nylon, in a milk crate. The nylon is neatly coiled round the interior of the crate and the chain fills the void in the center. If we think we might need to deploy a second anchor we locate the milk crate and anchor on one of our cat’s bows, connected and ready. At least one of your armory of “spare” anchors should be ready for immediate deployment. A common option is simply to lash an anchor somewhere handy. Stern anchor rollers are common, as are anchor brackets, usually fitted somewhere on the transom or stern rail.


We often deploy a second anchor in a “V” from a dinghy. In gale force and stronger winds, and in exposed anchorages, the use of a single anchor (no matter how reliable) exposes the yacht—and thus the anchor—to veering, and the anchor is constantly tensioned first from one side, then the other. The second anchor does not double your “hold.” It merely reduces the veering that is a contributory cause of dragging. The “V” technique also ensures that as you veer, each anchor, in turn, is primarily loaded in one direction only—the set direction.

Our deployment is very simple. My wife, Josephine and I load anchor and chain into the dinghy. The nylon part of the rode remains in its milk crate on the boat’s bow, and I secure the anchor to the outside of the dinghy transom with a slip knot. Josephine then feeds the nylon rode out as I row to our desired location for the anchor. Once we have deployed the desired length of rode—usually all of the nylon and some chain—I drop the anchor by simply releasing the slip knot. Once back on the mother ship, we set the anchor by simply tensioning the rode, and secure it.

The choice of second anchor depends on the seabed. If it’s mud, one of the anchors will be the Fortress. In sand virtually all modern anchors work, so it really does not matter, although again, a Fortress is superb. In weed and anchorages with rocks and/or cobbles, then both the Spade and Excel work well.

Using high tensile chain, you can drop a chain size (from 1/2in to 3/8in, 3/8in to 5/16in) to make dinghy deployment easier (though hand-deploying any length of 3/8in chain is a big call). Armorgalv-coated G80, which lets you drop to 1/4in chain, is another option.

A bow anchor kept handy “just in case” (top left); Another way of stowing a second anchor (top right); A laundry basket for the shore lines (bottom left); This stern anchor hangs on a Mantus bracket (bottom right)

A bow anchor kept handy “just in case” (top left); Another way of stowing a second anchor (top right); A laundry basket for the shore lines (bottom left); This stern anchor hangs on a Mantus bracket (bottom right)


The idea that anchoring means merely dropping an anchor and retiring for a cocktail needs a rethink. Many of the techniques used in other parts of the world could be usefully adapted to your own home waters. Med mooring would open up wharfs to more yachts. Tying to shore would free up space in tight anchorages for more boats. Carrying shore lines would open up secure mooring locations that are currently inaccessible. Don’t be hidebound by restricted thinking. 


Boaters University: Anchors and Anchoring


Ultra Quickline

The Ultra Quickline tape reel comes in a number of different sizes and can be supplied with Dyneema tape, for shorelines, or polyester, for anchoring.


Windline makes a range of bow rollers, including cantilever rollers suitable for stern mounting. They also market an anchor holder specifically designed to retain a Fortress anchor.


Mantus manufactures a universal bracket that will retain most anchor designs on the transom of a yacht.

Jonathan Neeves has been researching everything to do with anchoring for many years

January 2018



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