Whether you’re stopping for a swim in a secluded cove, or cooking up lunch with the crew, knowing how to safely and securely anchor your vessel is an essential skill of boating.  Though all watercraft are different, there are some general principles to abide by when tackling this important task.  Below is a guide to dropping anchor.

Get to Know Your Anchor

Locate the anchor you’ll be using and identify its parts.

  • On most cruising boats, the anchor will be stowed in an anchor well, beneath the foredeck, or at the bow of the boat.
  • Heavier boats may have a Danforth or plow anchor, while smaller boats can use a simpler, mushroom design.
  • Identify the anchor rode, the line that connects the anchor to the boat. It could be made of chain, rope, nylon or a combination.
  • The anchor, rode, and shackles are called ground tackle.

Choose Anchorage

Pick a spot that’s protected from the wind and waves by land or offshore reefs.

  • The area should be sheltered from boat traffic.
  • It should provide enough space between your boat and others. Wind and current will cause boats to swing once anchored.

Prepare Your Anchor

Allow plenty of time to prep the anchor before reaching your intended stopping point.

  • Check the water depth. This will tell you how much rode you’ll need to let out.
  • Add the distance from the bow of the boat and the top of the water to the depth to determine how far your bow is from the seabed. Multiplying the total by 5 will tell you how much rode you’ll need for calm conditions during the day. If the weather is harsher, or you plan on anchoring overnight, multiply it by 7 to 10.  This is called the scope ratio.
  • Take the anchor out of its storage place and rig it to the rode. If it’s already attached, make sure the shackles are secure.
  • Flake the necessary amount of line onto the deck so it will run freely. If the anchor is on a bow roller or windlass, make sure it won’t get caught.
  • Cleat the anchor line where you want it to stop.

Get in Position

Once in the bay or cove, note how other boats are anchored and follow suit.

  • Slowly steer your boat upwind or upcurrent. You should be about equidistant from your closest neighbors and your target anchored location.

Lower Your Anchor

  • If there are at least three people aboard, station a person midship to communicate between the helmsman and the bow man.  Use hand signals:Stop your boat and lower the anchor quickly, either hand over hand or with a windlass, until you feel it reach the bottom.
    • Back up: Face palm aft, motion towards stern.
    • Go forward: Face palm forward, motion forward.
    • Slow down: Face palm down, move arm up and down.
    • Speed up: Face palm up, move arm up and down.
    • Stop: Extend arm with hand made into a fist.
  • Put the boat’s engine in slow reverse.  Let out the anchor line while the boat backs away.
  • Once it’s fully deployed, the boat should come to a halt, securely setting the anchor.  Throttle up in reverse — called backing down — on the anchor to assure it’s set. If the anchor line shows a V-shaped wake while backing down, the anchor is dragging. Let out more scope until it digs in.
  • Make sure the anchor isn’t dragging.  Check reference points on land and keep track of your bearings.

Things to Remember when Anchoring

Remember these concepts to help with setting your anchor.

  • Keep enough distance between your boat and others. You should usually be at least two scope lengths apart.
  • Let out enough rode.  A common mistake boaters make is to let out too little.
  • Make sure you prepare your ground tackle in advance for a smooth anchoring.