Anchoring and Mooring
Lowering and Raising the Anchor
Lowering the anchor
When the command is given to lower the anchor, it should be done hand over hand, so that the chain runs out smoothly. This is to prevent a pile of chain landing on top of the anchor, causing is to be fouled.
A common practice is to reverse gently away from the anchor so that the chain is laid out on the sea bed, in many cases this will happen naturally with the action of the wind and tide.
Security of the anchor
Once anchored, checks should be made that the anchor is not dragging. This can be done by:
- Reversing gently against the anchor to bed it in.
- Checking transits ashore for movement.
- If you plan to anchor overnight, take some bearings of lights that can be checked again in the dark to ensure you are not dragging.
Signs that the anchor may be dragging are:
- The shore transit is not steady (remember to allow for the boat swinging).
- The anchor cable is not taut.
- The noise of the anchor chain "grumbling" as it drags on the bottom.
- Large changes in depth (use the anchor alarm function on the echo sounder, allow for tidal rise and fall).
- The GPS anchor alarm activates (allow for any "wobble" in position caused by the errors in the system).
- If there is no tide, and the boat sits broadside on to the wind.
The anchor ball should be raised in the forepart of the vessel, and if it will be dark, the all round white anchor light illuminated.
The anchor light may be on the top of the mast or just above deck level. The advantage of a masthead light is that it is easily seen from a distance. The advantage of a lower light is that it illuminates the deck for ease of moving around but more importantly, it enables other vessels to see your vessel when they are close (most people will not be looking up in the air at an anchor light 40 to 50 feet above their head when motoring in to confined anchorage). A light displayed on the foredeck can be an electrical on a cable that is plugged in to a socket on the deck or if power consumption is an issue, it could be an old style paraffin lamp. In either case, I recommend displaying it slightly to one side of the mast so that it is not obscurred by the mast to any vessels approaching from astern.
When anchoring in areas that are likely to be busy at night, like near a fishing harbour I have been known to sleep on deck with a big torch to illluminate the yacht if another vessel looks to be getiting close.
Raising the anchor
Instead of struggling to pull the anchor chain in, the engine should be used to do the hard work. The person bringing in the chain should only be lifting the weight of chain, not pulling the boat up to the anchor.
To this end, it is best if one of the crew is used to point the direction the chain is lying in. The skill in this is to anticipate where the boat needs to turn to next rather than waiting until it is pointing directly along the chain. If you wait until the boat is pointing along the chain, you will often overshoot and the person hauling the chain in will have to lock the chain off on a cleat to prevent the wight of the boat puling all the chainback out again.
The helm should be using short bursts of power to keep the boat on course, not continuous power.
On some boats, it may be necessary to have someone stationed below to help pull the chain down the hawse pipe and to spread the chain out in the locker to prevent jams.
If the bottom is muddy, a bucket and brush should be available to clean the anchor before the mud gets on to the deck and sails. If the anchor is very muddy when it is near the surface, you could leave it just below the water and reverse the boat for a while to clear as much mud and sand before bringing it on deck.
If the anchor chain becomes very tight it may be because the anchor is very well dug in. In this case, fasten the chain off and wait for the boat to pull it clear of the bottom or in a severe case, gently motor forwards over the anchor. This will reverse the anchor and release it from the bottom.
If you plan to anchor overnight you should prepare a plan for departing the anchorage in the dark if conditions change and it is no longer safe to remain in the anchorage. Experienced skippers will leave the boat in a condition that it can be quickly got under sail if necessary, so the mainsail cover is left off and the headsail still attached to the forestay.
If there are hazards close to the anchorage, some pre-prepared leading lines that can be identified in the dark will make life much easier and should ensure the boat can get out in to clear water if necessary.
Care for the environment
Environmental damage caused by yachts and dive boats to sensitive areas is becoming an important issue. The attraction of many of the places we visit in yachts is the natural environment, one of the sights that impressed me the most in the Caribbean was snorkelling from the side of the boat at The Baths in Virgin Gorda. If you get the chance to go there, it will feel like you are swimming in a perfectly clear fish tank, the fish life is virtually tame and there are hundreds of different species that pretty much ignore a swimmer.
There are many places like this that are becoming more accessible and popular, if we do not take care of them now they will quickly be damaged by careless anchoring and disposal of yacht's wastes.
The best organised places are banning anchoring and installing mooring systems that minimise the damage to the surrounding reefs, if you sail in an area where this is the system, make sure you use the buoys that have been provided.
Sailtrain.co.uk is free to use, but if you feel you would like to contribute to the running and development costs you can donate via Paypal: