Safe Anchoring - Sail Magazine

Safe Anchoring

Even in the most idyllic of anchorages, the wind can come up in the middle of the night and cause trouble. At times like this we always have an action plan to follow if our anchor begins to drag. Experience has convinced me that when something goes wrong while a boat is at anchor, trouble is caused not by the conditions, but by how the crew responds to those conditions. Having
Author:
Publish date:
anchor_route_escape

Even in the most idyllic of anchorages, the wind can come up in the middle of the night and cause trouble. At times like this we always have an action plan to follow if our anchor begins to drag. Experience has convinced me that when something goes wrong while a boat is at anchor, trouble is caused not by the conditions, but by how the crew responds to those conditions. Having a good, workable exit plan in place before you need it is the best way to prevent surprises.

Before you anchor

If you do some homework before arriving at an anchorage, the chances are better that your anchor will stay put after you’ve set it properly. I study the charts and cruising guides well before we arrive and decide on the best place to anchor. We choose a fall-back location in the same area in case the spot we want is taken. If there’s no room at all—this can happen when an anchorage is very popular—it’s a good idea to leave yourself enough time to power or sail to another safe anchorage while there’s still light.

When you’ve got your spot picked out, first visualize what might happen if the boat rotated 180 degrees. Would it hit any obstacles, sandbars, reefs, rocks, or buoys? Where would the boats around you be relative to your boat? Once the anchor is dropped and we’ve backed down and set it properly, we sit down and plot an escape route.

We write down the current GPS position along with the courses and relevant navigational details we would need during our escape. I tape one copy to the chart table and another to the steering pedestal. I think it’s a good idea to discuss the plan with the crew so they know what might happen in an emergency.

I take at least three visual bearings on fixed objects ashore. Ideally, these objects should be visible night and day and should be far enough away that bearings on them will remain more or less constant even if the boat should swing a bit. A church steeple, radio-tower light, or even a distinctive tree towering above the rest will work well, although nearly any landmark will do if it gives you an immediate and reliable reference point (see illustration). I’ll write down the names and bearings of these objects to eliminate the possibility of confusion.

Role play

Once we have formulated our plan, we talk over other ‘what if’ scenarios and think about how our plan might relate to them. Again, we write down the plan and the options. If a plan is only in the skipper’s head, and something happens to incapacitate the skipper, there is no plan.

I’ll close with a story from an idyllic anchorage. Two boats came into the anchorage in Panama’s San Blas Islands just as the sun was going down. We were in the small inner anchorage, which is protected by a sandbar, but low-light conditions prevented the two boats from crossing the bar into the inner anchorage. That night the wind shifted and the two boats started to drag. Both nearly dragged onto the reef astern of them before they managed to escape. It’s true that nothing compares to being able to anchor in paradise. But if you are lucky enough to be there, you must also be prepared to handle the unexpected.

If you’re dragging...

written_exit_plan

1. If the anchor starts to drag, start the engine, turn on the instruments and autopilot, and turn into the wind.

Visually check the courses to open water and compare them with the exit courses that you prepared after anchoring and taped to the steering pedestal.

2. Remain calm. Once I watched a dragging boat drive onto a reef simply because the helmsman panicked and lost his orientation.

3. Turn onto the safe heading if possible, but do not increase speed or alter course until you’re sure of your present position.

4. Visually identify as many things around you as you can. Continuously check your bearings and avoid all known hazards.

5. Once you know your position you can begin to implement your exit plan. If the plan calls for you to leave the anchorage, do so only if it is safe. If it’s not safe, you may have to consider powering around in a circle until daylight.

Anchoring/Mooring

  • After you drop the anchor, back down and make sure it is properly set. If it isn’t, repeat the process.
  • Be sure the anchor is not hooked on something like a tire or tree branch; both could let go if the wind comes up. The best way to do this is by diving on your anchor and inspecting it.
  • Inspect your anchor rodes frequently. Check each link in chain for cracks, deformation and rust. Check a nylon rode for chafe. If there is any doubt about any section, replace it.
  • If you’re on a mooring, be sure it’s strong enough to hold your boat and make sure there’s plenty of chafing gear on the mooring pennant.

Related

ElanGT5-a

Boat Review: Elan GT5

Aboard many modern yachts, it can be hard to remember exactly what boat you’re on until your eye happens to light upon a logo. However, this is most definitely not the case with the Elan GT5, a performance cruiser with a look all its own and style to burn.Design & ...read more

01-Lead-P1060210

Handheld VHF Radios

For many sailors, cell phones have become their primary means of both ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship communication. Even the Coast Guard will often ask for a cell number after it receives a distress call. None of this, however, makes a VHF radio any less important—and this goes ...read more

Seascape24

Boat Review: Seascape 24

Since its inception in 2008, Slovenian builder Seascape, founded by a pair of Mini Transat sailors, has focused solely on creating boats that are both simple and loads of fun to sail. With their 18-footer and then a 27-footer they succeeded in putting out a pair of trailerable ...read more

01-Trash-Tiki_in-partnership-with-Subtch-Sports_starting

The Adventurers Aboard Trash-Tiki

If you were in Gotland, a popular island vacation destination off the coast of Sweden, on the morning of July 3, your holiday might have been interrupted by a startling sight: a tiny island of trash approaching shore with people aboard. It was, in fact, a sailboat made from ...read more

atlantic-cup-trailer

2018 Atlantic Cup Video Mini-Series

Atlantic Cup 2018: TrailerThis past spring, SAIL magazine was on-hand to document the 2018 Atlantic Cup, a two-week-long Class 40 regatta spanning the U.S. East Coast and one of the toughest events in all of North America. The preview above will give you a taste of the four-video ...read more

hardangerfjord

Cruising: Holland to Norway

In 2015, we cruised to Norway’s Lofoten Islands on our Nordic 40, Juanona, which we’d sailed transatlantic from Maine to England. Our 2016 plan was to cruise through the Netherlands to the Kiel Canal, sail into the Baltic as far as Stockholm, then cruise the western coast of ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comThe Watch-keeper’s Nightmare The commercial watchkeeper’s most awkward decisions come with a vessel converging from abaft the starboard beam showing a red light. If he’s more than 2 points, or around 22 ...read more

cosair760R

Boat Review: Corsair 760R

We’d only been out on Miami’s Biscayne Bay aboard the Corsair 760R a few minutes when Corsair Marine marketing manager Shane Grover and I began bemoaning the fact neither of us had a GPS with us to determine our boatspeed. Moments later, though, we both came to the same ...read more