The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Choosing a Spot


It always amazes me how often you see boats motor into an anchorage, choose a spot, seemingly at random, and then immediately drop the anchor with no more ado. And it’s not really surprising how often the same boats go through the whole anchoring process again because they ended up too close to the shore or another boat.

Over the years Phyllis and I have developed a method of anchoring that means that we just about (no one is perfect) always anchor so that we don’t have to move and so that we can sleep soundly without worrying about a nasty crunch from swinging into shallow water or another boat.

Login to continue reading (scroll down)

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Thanks John for the tip on using the radar for anchoring, we will give it a try. Like you we always make a circle or two of the area we are going to anchor in, inspecting depth and any other thing that may indicate a not suitable anchoring place. We do use our chart plotter at the helm and its track lines once we to mark our circle. I’ve even used a way point to mark where we will drop anchor in crowded anchorages and make a circle back to that spot. That gives me more time to figure out that we are in the right spot. Also if I’m alone when anchoring I can check the number of feet from the way point I have out and make adjustments. Chart plotters are good for that.
Like many, crowded anchorages are the most nerving but after you get used to it not so bad. I might say that it is interesting watching boats from different countries anchor, all do it a bit differently. We ask when possible the crews of the boats around how much rhode they have out and I check for chain or rope anchor rhode on boats near by, also observe what type of boat before dropping the hook. Cats swing differently than a full keel boat. It will be interesting to see how the Boreal behaves at anchor, will we keep the centerboard down or up, a new experience for us.
Luckily we have never dragged but in Pogo Pogo harbor we had to set 3 times on bed rock. On the second go around I pulled up from the bottom a large plastic garbage bag, a pair of jeans and a pair of old welding chaps. Nice clean harbor that one is.

Jacques Landry

More thanks from me for this tip John. I was contemplating buying a radar in the next few months, and that will be one more use for it!

I am in the Windward Island at the moment, and the problem is rarely a tight anchoring spot due to the natural environment, but a tight fit due to crowded bays, more so in Martinique. Anchorage are always on the west side of the island, with winds mostly form the east. I normally try to find an “opening” in the crowd and move between two anchored boats, then drop the anchor at their level and motor back to 1:7, setting the anchor properly, and then bring back some chain to get a 1:5 scope as it is what everyone here uses. Normally I end up at an acceptable distance from the others, and never had a problem, even if wind shifts to some extent, as everyone seems to move in harmony. There is very little tide, winds are N-E to S-E and we anchor in 15-20 feet of water. If the weather is not that good, I anchor a little further out with 1:7 to 1:10, where it is not as comfortable but having more room and a lot more scope makes it feel safer. If the anchor was to drag at night, I would end up in the Caribbean ocean somewhere between Martinique and central America, hopefully awake before I hit land, thousands of miles away!

However I do understand that this approach might not be a proper way where there is an important tide, or where the prevailing winds might blow you ashore. But what if you don’t have a radar or GPS plotter ? Can this be an acceptable approach in some other places ?


Our process is remarkably similar, but we only sleep well when we are the only boat in the anchorage. The technique, or lack thereof, employed by many folks we’ve seen is mostly drop (or toss) and let the insurance company sort it out.

The most egregious was the boat that came in at sunset and picked up our anchor buoy (25 cm soft poly ball) and tied off to it. When the boat had settled, the person in the cockpit complained loudly, with several short words, about how closely we had anchored to a mooring. When I explained, he wanted to know if he could just move in the morning.

Bill Balme

Had an interesting experience last week with our trip line… Travelling along with another boat, we anchored fairly close together, but sensibly apart. An afternoon squall came through and I watched as our buoy floated between our friend’s boat and their dingy as they fishtailed during the high winds. If the rudder had caught our buoy, they’d have tripped our anchor and off we’d go!
Once the squall passed we upped anchor and redepolyed – without the buoy!
No more anchor buoys for me! Would love to hear your alternative!

richard s.

after hundreds of anchoring events i have decided that anchoring is like lightning…never really sure what it’s going to do…can observe all the precautions and still be surprised…my most recent surprise this past spring in pelican bay nicely sheltered anchorage just inside boca grande on fl’s gulf coast south of tampa bay…wind forecast up to 25 knots overnight…no problem with my oversized danforth and plenty of scope in the lee of a nearby shoreline…winds at least up to forecast with higher gusts, but held firm in the bottom mud-sand mix…as designed the more strain on the anchor the deeper it penetrated…when i brought it in the next morning the shank was bent 90 degrees and i have the photo to prove it…this is an 18 lb danforth with the shank probably 3/8″ thick solid steel…beyond me how this could happen without the anchor breaking out first or the 5/8″ nylon rode breaking…the force required to make a bend like that must be huge…another time all seemed to be well until i noticed a bit of a drift…upon bringing up the anchor it had with it an old wire fish trap obviously preventing the anchor from doing its work…other similar experiences, but i believe these make my point…being on the hook can (will) lead to surprises despite best efforts to prevent…richard in tampa bay (m/v cavu’s skipper, formerly s/v sidra’s skipper)

David V

Hi there John…
We like to add a little extra insurance by amending your recipe for anchouring to read… “the water depth @ HIGH TIDE”… esp. in The Whitsundays and North West coast of OZ.
Hehehe… fancy mistaking an anchor buoy for a mooring ball ! But we’ve seen many such foibles in the Charter Industry.
Cheers from DV

Tom Keffer

I use a similar technique, but rather than use my radar, I use a golf rangefinder. Like this. . It has the advantage of being up in the cockpit and works well even with non-metallic targets.

Scott Kuhner

Eileen Quin has the perfect description of trying to anchor in her song, “the Anchoring Dance” . Kitty and I love her songs about the cruising life.


Agree with you John and David V about knowing the state of the tide when you anchor. Not much of a problem here in the Chesapeake Bay, where the average tidal range is <2 feet. But where the tidal range is 10 feet or more, the depth at low tide is (say) 10 feet, and the shore or other hazard is nearby, estimating the proper rode can get tricky and is impossible without knowing the tidal state.
And there is such a thing as too much rode. I once anchored in about 10 feet of water here in the Chesapeake several 100 feet away from the nearest boat. The crew and I went below while a little afternoon thunderstorm blew through. We we reemerged on deck after the storm, the boat that had been several 100 feet away now was within 15 feet. The skipper said that is anchor had not dragged, but that he had out 200 feet of anchor chain in our 10 foot anchorage. I upped anchor and moved.

Erik Snel

We just came back from a nice trip to the English Channel including the Channel Islands. Especially in that area, taking tide into account is crucial. We anchored in a nice lee shore off Sark, where the tide changes at least 6/7 meters at neap tides and over 10 at spring tides. We came in at dusk at high tide. Therefore we anchored in 15 meters, with enough space around us (which was not that easy as we were the 20th boat in that particular bay). We used 1:5, so quite a lot of rode. At low tide we had drifted quit near some other boats with -apperently- a lot less rode. Luckily we did not hit any of them.
Your tip with the radar we are going to follow up, sounds like a good approach. Up till now we more or less estimate on the chart plotter in cooperation with the depth meter. But especially in remote places the charts may not be as accurate and would not be enough.



I agree that it is hard to tell distances in most anchorages without some physical exploration on your own. Radar is a nice supplement to your eye and chartplotter that will guide you to find an open spot. But I suggest that dropping off the stern of an already anchored boat is a good idea as well when going into a populated anchorage. If they have been there for a while, it is one of the only places in an anchorage you can be sure their gear is not and the most likely to keep you clear if you drop back from there. I hate it when folks drop any where ahead of my beam—within a normal scope range of me—they seem surprised when our boats nearly collide an hour or two later. Or the folks who scowl when I drop my anchor a similar distance off their stern—they do not seem to understand the physics here. Picking a spot needs to anticipate the future movement of other boats as well.


I appreciate the description – but I have an anchoring question. Boat is perched in it’s cradle, so I’m satisfying my sailing OCD by going back and reading some of the online books on the site.
To be clear, my current usage is overnighting at local anchorages, typically with nice weather forcasts. Boat 5.5 ft draft.
How do you manage anchoring when the depth is dropping off?
We anchor around some of the islands in Mahone Bay – setting up in the lee of the island for protection. The challenge is that the depth is dropping faster than the 4:1 or 5:1 ratio — if I put out 100ft of rode for 20 ft of depth then I am on shore if the wind flips during the night. But if I go deeper to 30ft of water I now need another 40-50 ft of rode, but I’ve only moved 15ft further from shore – so now I’m even more at risk if the wind flips (example is Saddle Island)
Maybe the simple answer is that these are not functional anchorages? Or I guess if we could drop an anchor deep and back towards shore to tie off a shore fast?

Eric Klem

Hi Mark,

You are right that this can be tricky. Some people would say that these are not functional anchorages while others are willing to try. Here are my thoughts.

While charts give a good idea of depths, I find that taking a few passes through a tricky anchorage often allows me to find a good, relatively shallow and relatively flat spot. Google Earth and comparable viewers can also be really helpful for this. For example, the chart for Mason Island in Mahone Bay shows it to be quite deep in the cove on the east side but you can actually anchor in a very reasonable spot if you take the time to find it. Since we anchor under sail whenever possible, I try to get ranges or set the cursor on the GPS when we are over the spot that I like and then come back again and actually drop the hook.

Anchor type is really important here. Many anchors don’t work well on less than 4:1 or even 5:1 scope. On the other hand, a few anchors work quite well at very low scope. I have spent a lot of nights on a genuine Bruce at scopes in the 2:1 range when in deep spots. If you have all chain, the one time that the catenary really starts to count is in really deep anchorages so you can get away with short scope when it is deep. Our current Mantus is the only other anchor that I have used that comes close to the Bruce for short scope. The other new generation anchors that I have used are all excellent anchors but my experimentation at short scope has not given reliable results. Keep in mind that your anchor on a downslope effectively has even worse scope. I try to only anchor on a downslope when there is nothing of consequence behind it.

Finally, you could employ the technique that is often used in the pacific northwest of shore tying. It is not at all uncommon there to drop anchor in 100′ of water with the anchor being less than 200′ from shore so that by the time you take the boat length into account, there is no way to hang by a single hook. By tying to the shore, you ensure that the anchor stays on the upslope. This technique is far from perfect and is only viable in very sheltered areas with low likelihood of crosswinds as the loads go up enormously in a crosswind. If you are really brave, you can try to set the boat up at something like a 45 degree angle to the shore which allows you to anchor on a really steep shoreline but I would not recommend this.



Thanks for the additional insight. I think I’ve found that little flat spot at Mason Island as well.
I need to get more comfortable with my new anchor – I got a Rocna. Shorter scope may be doable with clear weather forecasts – I’ll need to play with it.
I don’t have enough spare line in the boat right now – but thats likely another addition to give options and also as a rode for a secondary anchor.

Marc Dacey

There are other components of ground tackle, such as bridles and waterline snubbers, that tend to aid and abet the stickiness of a good anchor well set. I don’t know of an anchor, “new” or “old” design, that doesnt benefit from good anchoring technique, including laying out adequate scope for the conditions and bottom.


Thanks for the idea. I had read that article in my tours through the site – but didn’t think of that as a solution.
I need a backup anchor/kedge anyway so I’m going to get a Danforth and some appropriate line. I should be able to drop my main anchor in deeper water to make sure I stay off shore if the wind shifts, and the smaller Danforth in the shallows to tuck me in close to the island protection from the primary wind and waves.
If the smaller anchor fails (Danforth claims it should hold for over 20k blow) then the larger and deeper set Rocna can can flip and act as back up.
What do you know…. I need to buy more gear!


Dick Stevenson

Hi Marc,
I agree with John about the wisdom of water line attachments and bridles. Sometimes, maybe most times, it is better to keep it simple. And especially when it comes to a nighttime fire drill, simple in anchoring technique will be greatly appreciated.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Denis Foster

Hello John,

when you determine your circle of avoidance, do you also add the length of the snubber (3 to 10 m) to your scope?