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How To Be Sure Your Anchor Is Set

By doina — last modified May 26, 2005 11:58 AM

Published: 2005-05-26 11:58:55
Topics: Cruising Information

My wife, Sandra, and I have sailed around the US and Latin America for several years and cruised Mexico for 12 months in our 46' Lidgard Ketch and had great luck with a fairly simple method.

Our primary anchor is a 60 lb. CQR on 250' of ½ inch chain. Back up anchors are a 35 lb. Bruce, a 35 lb. CQR and a 20 lb. Danforth High Tensile. All the later anchors are used on nylon rodes with about 50 feet of chain.

Our method is as follows:

  1. Find a spot that looks good and circle around to make sure that there are no obstructions in the swinging area and the head up wind or, if there is significant current, up current to the drop point.
  2. Drop the anchor and start paying out chain in slow reverse until there is at least 5 to 1 scope; any less scope with a CQR is a waste of time. If there is insufficient swinging room for 5 to 1 set the anchor and then take in some chain if necessary. If the boat gets out of shape while backing put the engine in neutral and let the wind or current straighten it out or back and fill into position and continue backing.
  3. If the anchor seems to set in slow reverse line up a sight on shore or other boats and increase power slowly to set the anchor. Here is the key point: I increase power until I am confident that the anchor will hold in up to 35 knots. For our boat with a 21" MaxProp that is about 1500RPM. If in doubt add more power and wait longer, now is the time to BE SURE, not later when you are lying in your bunk.
  4. Attach a ¾" nylon snubber with a chain hook. To keep the hook from falling off I drilled a hole in the bill of the hook and put a piece of nylon parachute cord through it that I tie the hook on with. In deeper Pacific Waters I use a 20-foot snubber. In the Caribbean and Atlantic I use 12 feet and let out enough extra chain to make a loop that hangs down to just above the bottom.
  5. Dive over the side and check to make sure that the anchor is well set and not just hooked on a rock or piece of coral. Sandra, my wife, knows that I do this just to avoid tidying up after the sail but I just can't wait to get in the water. Whatever the reason, we both sleep better knowing that the anchor is perfectly set.
  6. If the anchor isn't set right, start over. I have had to try up to five times in difficult situations. Without a good electric windlass I would have settled for a poorly set anchor out of sheer exhaustion.
  7. Set the GPS Anchor Watch function and Wind Alarm for 30 knots. Later if the wind starts to howl you can relax until the wind alarm sounds and then it is time to do an anchor check and possibly an anchor watch.
  8. Turn on the radar and make a sketch of the anchorage in the logbook noting any other boats and the escape route in case you have to get out in the middle of the night. If you do have to move in the middle of the night you will have seen what things look like on the radar screen and it will be set to the right range, etc. Leave the VHF on if there are other boats in the area. On one occasion we had to make use of this sketch for leaving an anchorage in the middle of the night for a medical emergency but we have never had to reset our anchor or leave an anchorage because the hook was not set.

There are two situations when my CQR won't set. In very soft mud the anchor won't go deep enough to get a firm bite so I switch to the Bruce that will go to hell to get hooked up. The other situation is in loose rocks like we ran into at Isla Partida, when this happens; I just go find another spot. Occasionally in a weedy bottom I have had Sandra put the engine in slow reverse while I shoved the anchor into the bottom by hand. In very deep water I add 300 feet of nylon to the 250 feet of chain.

To avoid yelling directions, my wife and I use the following hand signals that have worked great over the years. They can be given while facing forward into the wind, over a loud engine, while watching the range on shore, or while in the water over the anchor:

Forward - One Finger (no, not the middle one, it really interferes with communication) Neutral - Two Fingers

Reverse - Three Fingers

Hand in Circular Motion - More RPM

Hand Palm Down - Less RPM

Hand Across Throat - Kill the Engine, (and break out the wine)

Dave Wilson