The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

How To Use An Anchor Trip Line

First off, we use a trip line less than 1% of the time and only in places that we think may have junk on the bottom, such as commercial harbours. And in over 40 years of anchoring we have never had an anchor saved by a trip line and we have never lost an anchor.

We have got an anchor fouled, probably half a dozen times but have managed, on every occasion but one, to get clear by shortening up the rode, engaging the chain brake to unload the windlass, and then pulling with the engine from various directions until we pulled the anchor clear. (You need strong gear for this game as the loads can be prodigious.)

On the one occasion that did not work, we got clear by lifting whatever we were snagged on a bit off the bottom, using our massively powerful Ideal Windlass, and then letting the chain run, which popped the anchor out from under whatever it was.

One other point. Your risk of getting your anchor fouled on an obstruction goes way down if you use one of the new design anchors like a SPADE or a Rocna in comparison to an older design like a CQR. The reason is that the former set in their own length, but the latter usually drag for at least 20-feet before setting, thereby increasing the chances of finding something to hang up on.

For the occasional time that we do use a trip line, this is how we do it:

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Craig Smith

A buoyed retrieval line has been of assistance in rocky bottoms in Antarctica. In any event it’s easy to find anecdotes of folk losing anchors all over the world – submerged logs and other debris in lake beds seem to be a particular culprit when it comes to anchor eating.

We rig the line on the pulpit to run out with the anchor. Throw it all in at once before the anchor and you increase the risk of fouling. With a bit of practice it can be set-up to essentially deploy itself.

There is a buoy available which contains an integrated self-retrieving line, which retracts/deploys on a spring to keep the length that of the depth. A bit overly complex perhaps but we’re sure it works well. You can run the line through the buoy and suspend a weight on the working end, to achieve a similar effect, with the downside of extra line floating about looking to get twisted.

Other retrieval systems are either unnecessarily complicated and unreliable or compromise the security of the anchor. Systems which depend on being lowered down the chain are not practical in surge. It’s hard to beat a simple line from the surface to the anchor – KISS.

Colin Speedie

We hardly ever use a trip line – perhaps once or twice a season, and only when we are convinced that there is likelihood that we may foul the anchor, either (as you suggest) in commercial harbours, or where the pilot book suggests that there is a problem. Why? Well on one occasion we had our pick up buoy and anchor lifted (despite being clearly labelled, and us shouting at the miscreant), and we rescued another boat in the same circumstances where the offending boat simply threw the lot back in, and the unattended boat dragged as a result. And then there are the other cases where we’ve seen the lines foul props etc.

Despite this, we’ve usually been able to retrieve an anchor via determined hauling from a different direction – not always easy, and hard on the gear and nerves, but it has worked for us. On the one occasion when we had to try something extra, a loop of chain attached to a line and lowered down the (shortened) cable over the anchor shank and then pulled from the dinghy finally did the trick.

We carry two trip lines, one of 10m and one of 20m, and use the one closest to the depth we’re in. We’ve also (on rare occasions) simply rolling hitched the trip line (long enough to reach the deck at high water) down the cable rather than use a surface buoy, in areas where there’s lots of traffic, or in anchorages affected by tide or shifting winds.

I’d agree that the latest generation of anchors that set very quickly suffer less – I certainly had far more snarl-ups with CQRs in the past, and the logic of the longer distance required to set increasing the likelihood of picking something up seems inescapable.

But there does seem to be one immutable rule – if one boat comes into an anchorage and anchors with a trip line set, then everybody else starts digging in the locker to get theirs out, and before you know it there’s a floating garden of trip buoys – another reason to choose lonely anchorages!

Matt Marsh

Sunset Chaser‘s anchor is a slotted shank Danforth clone, so the rode itself serves as a trip line if you jiggle it around a bit. The downside, of course, is that this anchor rarely sets on the first try (I once gave up after four attempts) and tends to drag if the wind shifts (so the boat can’t be left unattended at anchor- not really a problem, since she’s small enough to beach or trailer). I’d much rather have a Rocna!

I’ve had anchors snag on other boats, but never felt the need for a trip line. Bouncing it around in different directions has, for me, always been successful at getting rid of a log or rock, and (thankfully) I have yet to snag a cable or pipeline.

Bob Tetrault

Hi John, rarely do we use a trip line on Sea Return so my experience is short. I agree that the chances of a successful retrieval are much better with my Rocnas. To date I see no evidence that either has ever resisted setting immediately. We have never lost an anchor but I have had to dive on several occasions to dislodge either the chain or anchor. Most common foul: chain swept under something when the current changes direction or the catenary dips under a coral head and I guess wrong on the direction of wrap. If I anticipate the need for a pre-rigged trip line I use your method but fully expect it to be fouled when needed. One time my son left a fishing line rigged overnight, a nurse shark managed to whip the fishing and trip lines together around the prop shaft on a settled night outside Provinciales. Today I’m more inclined to shorten to the limit and send a messenger down the rode rigged with a heavy chain bite through a bell shackle sized to dry on my 7/16″ rode. The need to mark where your anchor lay is certainly less with my Rocna 55, less scope combined with confidence it will stay put has me rethinking the need for a pre-rigged trip.

David Nutt

I had to dive on our anchor in Kupang, West Timor in 20m of water with 1 m visibility. Using both feet I was able to dislodge a massive chain from the flukes of our Bruce anchor. Having already lifted our anchor chain I did not have to worry about re-engaging the old chain. I think that would have been a great place to have a trip line. We used them on rare occasions all the way around the world and on our trip to Greenland last summer but I have yet to have to resort to the trip to retrieve the anchor. Our methods basically mirror those of John and Phyllis.

Evan Selbiger

There is a product on the market called “anchor saver” and I agree it probably only should be used when you are in an area where you might get an anchor stuck and not all the time. It does work. And I think everyone would agree, that this is the point of the product.

Hans Jakob Valderhaug

Over the years we have had our anchor seriously stuck on three occasions: A CQR at Lyngør on the Norwegian SE coast, a Bruce in Vesterålen in northern Norway and more recently our Spade at Lindisfarne on the English E coast. Neither of these were commercial harbours (ok ok, I know that some of my ancestors would disagree on Lindisfarne). The CQR was stuck under an uncharted waterpipe and a local diver saved the day. On the last two occasions lines and blocks back to our genoa winches combined with brute force and foul language solved the problem. Given that it was a decade between each of these events I reckon we will stick to our KISS principle and keep on without a trip line – now with backing from your experienced readers. We are however considering getting a windlass…

David Head

In 52 years of anchoring I have found that a very large shackle sent down the anchor rode does the trick. I haul the rode tight by motoring ahead whilst retrieving the chain with the electric windlass. Once tight the heavy shackle travels down the chain easily. By dropping a substantial amount of chain, the retrieval line attached to the shackle usually breaks the anchor free at the 1st try. If not try again! BTW: I often use a HD fisherman style anchor on rough ground and always set a retrieval line to the crown. If any anchor is going to foul these are the most likely, but that may be due to the ground on which they are best deployed. Fisherman anchors still have a place on cruising boats but stowage is the ever present curse, and nothing but a large one will do.

Dick Stevenson

Dear John and everyone,
I dislike anchor buoys and trip lines and use them infrequently. However, some bottoms are likely to be messy and the Thames River at Gravesend was reported to be one of them. So we used an anchor buoy. We were up well before dawn to continue the trip upstream with fair tide when we saw ourselves adrift and being carried into the maw of 2 moored barges. We felt no change in motion for the likely 4-5 minutes we had been bobbing about untethered. We had likely caught the anchor buoy in our prop and pulled out the anchor. There was no wind and the current was still building and, although there was a substantial fire drill and cosmetic scrapes, we were fortunate to sustain no significant damage.
I am looking for the collective wisdom to receive feedback on my plans for the next time a trip line is called for.
I plan a substantial line from the crown of the anchor to the surface. There I will tie on a long retrieval line (say 3/16 polyester yacht braid). I will deploy trip line and chain in tandem. I anticipate that in the event of a trip line being necessary that I will be able to use the trip line for its function. Even if it gets a bit tangled, I suspect it will be able to be untangled and usable as a trip line with a bit of effort. And my guess is it will not get too tangled.
1. No buoy to snag rudder or prop.
2. No buoy for others to pick up inadvertently thinking it is a free mooring.
3. No buoy for other vessels to pick up in their prop/rudder.
4. In crowded anchorages, you are a better neighbour as using an anchor buoy essentially takes up 2 anchoring spaces.
Potential problems:
1. Might get tangled and take time to sort out.
2. Might take a different pathway from bow to anchor than the chain and get into trouble.
a. Seems unlikely if kept a similar length to the rode.
For the infrequent occasions that a trip line is wished for I plan on the above. I would love the collective wisdom to punch holes in my plans, contribute, makes changes, etc.
Thanks, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Stein Varjord

Hi all.
I’m a new member og AAC, but have sailed a lot for about 40 years. I have never lost an anchor, but have used a trip line with a buoy a few times in very crowded natural harbours in southern Norway, in case I might catch somebody else’s gear. On one of those occasions, decades ago, a boat picked up that tiny and clearly marked buoy. When 5 slightly animated guys roaring very loudly at them, they just looked at us as we were the misbehaving party, which was of course partly understandable. 🙂

However, we were a bachelor party and had been doing paintball in the forest that day. Thus, we had tools to enhance our message. When three of us started shooting paintballs at the culprits boat, he at least understood that it was not a good mooring, even though I’m not sure he understood the actual reason it wasn’t. Especially the jerks facial expression is still a funny memory. All the more since this was a fairly large quite new motorboat and we were all fanatic about sailing.

I do of course not recommend this type of solution, but it worked that time and if nothing else, might be entertaining for others too.


Cruising in Maine often means anchoring in rocky areas, or places that have foul bottoms. I find using a trip line gives me peace of mind knowing I will recover easily should the anchor get snagged on an old cable.

However, instead of using a buoy at the surface, I use two small lobster pot floats about three and six feet above my anchor to hold my trip line from snagging something. I then lead my trip line longer than the depth back to my chain anchor rode, and clip it to my rode. I pay out the trip line at the same time my anchor rode goes out, avoiding fouling the trip line.

The advantage is that I have a trip line that allows me to pull the anchor up should it be fouled, no surface buoy for someone else to tamper with, and simplicity in deploying / retrieving the trip line along with my anchor rode.

Marc Dacey

That is an excellent idea we will adapt. Thanks: I have never heard of it.


Truth be told, I haven’t had to use the trip line, though I have anchored in some spots that have been flagged as being fouled. I do like the piece of mind it provides as I have seen another boat hook an old underwater cable causing great problems

I do pay out the trip line quickly, as I have it laid out on the side deck, and it goes out as quickly as my anchor rode goes out. The anchor rode maintains the “drag” on the anchor so I have not had issues with the trip line backing the anchor out. The trip line is about twenty feet longer than the depth, and once it has been deployed and clipped to the anchor chain, there is little to cause it to pull on the anchor.

Boyd Goldie

I have never used a trip line. I have freed up my Rocna that was caught under a (uncharted) cable by lowering a trip hook to catch the hoop of the anchor. This was in shallow water with crystal clear view.
I now have an Anchor Rescue permanently attached. I have yet to use it in anger, but I feel better knowing that its there

Kevin McNeill

When I first joined the Navy, 50+ years ago, we used to buoy the anchor everytime. the bouy line was led in through the bullseye and attached to the anchor, the bouy and line was attached to the stanchion bases with small stuff which would break and allow the line to be payed out sequentially as the anchor went down. I cannot recall ever using the buoy line to retrive the anchor but it did let you knwo exactly where your anchor lay.

Peter Carrie

In 40 years of sailing, I’ve not used a trip line, but I’ve had to dive on anchors twice in order to retrieve them. The first time, circa 1980, our 100 lb fisherman was severely fouled. After motoring around for the better part of an hour and cranking the windlass so tight that the bow of our 42’ ketch was down about 6”, I dug out an old scuba tank and dove in 60’ of Cold Lake Ontario water with terrible visibility.

I followed the chain down into the almost dark water, discovered that we had hauled a dead tree, with large limbs intact, up to a near-vertical position off the bottom. The chain was wrapped around several limbs, exacerbated by out attempts to free it. I surfaced and got my handsaw, returning to saw off several limbs (of the tree – I wasn’t self-amputating!)… lost the saw, retrieved the anchor. And didn’t run out of air.

Years later, I hooked a cable with a CQR. Fortunately it was in 15’ of water and I was able to see the problem (at night with an underwater flashlight, free-diving). Lost the flashlight, retrieved the anchor!

I still wouldn’t use a tripline without losing sleep, but I sure like the look of the Anchor Rescue as an alternative!

This is a great site, thanks for all the wisdom!

Peter Sweitzer

Like to see if this idea makes any sense as I have not yet tried it myself. Using 5 – 6 ft of dyneema (it floats) with an eye spliced at both ends. One end attached to anchor with a shackle, the other end allowed to float above the anchor. The shorter line will remain deep enough to be out of the way of props and won’t tangle on anything. It still means having to dive down to tie off a dock line or such. A small float could even be added to the upper eye splice to aid in finding it.