Members' Online Book: Anchoring Made Easy—Technique, Chapter 1 of 11

20 Tips To Get Anchored and Stay Anchored


You can have the best anchors and associated gear available, but if you don’t use that gear properly you won’t get anchored and stay anchored. In this post we carry on from Part 1 with some tips for techniques to help make you a happy anchorer.


  1. When picking an anchorage remember that wind, within reason, won’t hurt you but waves, and particularly swell, will.
  2. Really small anchorages feel snug but larger ones are often safer since, if you do drag, you will have more time to react before you hit the beach.
  3. Don’t just plunk your anchor down any-old-where, think about it and measure.
  4. Be very wary of anchoring near steeply sloping hills or mountains, particularly in the high latitudes, since they can cause truly frightening gusting. An anchorage surrounded by high ground may feel snug but often one surrounded by low ground is safer.
  5. Trees are your friend. Nothing cuts wind like trees.
  6. If you have good anchoring gear and know how to use it, you will generally be safer anchored than on a mooring.
  7. If you follow these rules, the biggest danger to you while anchored is another boat dragging down on you, therefore it is often better to anchor away from the crowd, even if it means being more exposed.
  8. When backing down after dropping, do not place any load on the rode until you have at least four to one scope out. (This is why you need a clutch and brake on your windlass.)
  9. If you plan to sleep, always anchor as if it’s going to blow like blazes.
  10. Always set your anchor with the engine and don’t be timid on the throttle. If it drags, even slowly with a lot of engine power, reset it, or go somewhere else. Don’t be lazy, one day you will regret it.
  11. Three to one scope is an absolute minimum, after setting, and five to one is a lot better.
  12. If you have a decent anchor, seven to one scope is all you will ever need. Letting out more will just make your boat sail around more and result in higher loads on the system. Laying out too much scope is also inconsiderate, as it leaves less room for others.
  13. It is almost always better to anchor on one anchor, rather than two or more.
  14. Anchoring bow and stern is generally a bad idea because the loads imposed by the boat’s inability to swing head to wind can be as much as 15 times higher.
  15. If you need to restrict the swing circle, use two anchors off the bow, here’s how to do it right.
  16. If your boat sails a lot at anchor, set a small steadying sail aft; messing with multiple anchors is almost never the answer.
  17. If it is going to blow over gale force, remove your roller furling headsail(s), you will be glad you did.
  18. Don’t use a trip line, unless there is a really, really good reason to do so, and then do it right.
  19. Be sceptical about what you read about anchoring on forums since much of the commentary is based on very little real world experience and it is difficult to tell who knows what they are writing about and who is simply parroting “forum wisdom”. Also, forum pundits love to make things more complicated, particularly around anchoring, than they really are.
  20. Do read the comments to the anchoring posts on this site, there is a lot of wisdom there from a lot of people with a lot of miles under their belts.

Well, there you have it. There are many other things to learn about anchoring securely, but if you follow these simple rules, read the linked chapters, practice a bit, and have the gear detailed in part 1, you won’t go far wrong.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

28 comments … add one
  • Deb Jan 7, 2014, 11:38 am

    Sound advice. Thanks and Happy New Year

  • Peter Passano Jan 7, 2014, 11:43 am

    You might fill in your anchoring post with advise on how to best anchor in high latitude areas that have very heavy kelp…and don’t just limit it to say everyone should have a Spade anchor.
    Include your technique and the equipment needed to rid your tackle of kelp when collecting the anchor. Address the problem that single handlers have
    In this situation…anchor off the bottom, drifting onto a lee shore and unable to man

    • John Jan 7, 2014, 12:40 pm

      Hi Peter,

      I wish I had a good answer to the kelp problem other than that I think a big SPADE is the best of the anchors without a stock in heavy kelp and a huge Luke is the ultimate answer in very heavy kelp.

      And for clearing the kelp, a very sharp serrated edge knife and a strong boathook. Some people attach the knife to the boat hook, but I have never found that that works that well.

      As to single handing in said conditions, it’s a problem. I’m afraid that my solution to that is that I don’t recommend single-handing in the high latitudes, as least in the more extreme parts. Yes, I know many have done it, but I think that the challenges of cold, heavy weather, poor anchorages and ice, tend to wear a single hander down, to the point that a fatal error becomes more and more likely. In fact, although Phyllis and I usually sail double handed, we take a third hand when heading for the high latitudes.

      • Horacio Marteleira Jan 12, 2014, 5:47 am

        Hi Peter and John,
        No kelp in Portugal, but on two occasions I had a similar problem while single handing with a manual windlass and an 11-ton boat.
        One was near a fishing dock on a windy day with boats moored behind me. I was working up a sweat pumping the stubborn anchor up when I saw a huge carpet of old nets clinging to the anchor. By now I was slowly bearing down on the boats behind me. After recovering from the shock, luckily I did the right thing. The mess was all at the bow, so I ran back to the cockpit, gave the engine a short blast in forward, ran forward, dangled over the bow and started cutting. I repeated this process several times before breaking free.
        The other time was a solid carpet of grass dangling from the tip of the anchor in a channel. Used the same procedure except for a solid wood boathook to finally pound the darn carpet off.
        Ironically, being single handed with a manual windlass may have worked to my advantage. A friend with a modern 51-foot boat just pushed the anchor-up button while slowly motoring ahead until he started hearing funny sounds followed by a stalled engine. The anchor went back down and it took his son nearly 3 hours to cut a huge roll of net from the prop, luckily on an almost windless morning.
        Kelp, grass, fishing nets…use short engine thrusts to keep you in place while working at the bow.

  • Victor Raymond Jan 7, 2014, 1:13 pm

    Hello John,
    Thank you for elucidating all your tips. Three thing we have found important:
    1) get ready to anchor by having the anchor free and ready to deploy
    2) have your communications clear: we use headsets as we can communicate a lot more than with hand signals
    3) don’t pile your 4:1 scope right on top of the anchor but let it pay out slow as the boat backs down on it’s own or slight touch of power if needed.
    Thanks again for spending the time to help us all out.
    Happy New Year!

  • Hans Jan 7, 2014, 1:17 pm

    John, that’s true. I was singlehanding when we met in Greenland and it started to wear me down even though we were not even close to the extreme parts of that coast. As much as I still like singlehanding – I wouldn’t recommend it in high latitudes. Will I see Greenland again ? Perhaps, if I can find a good companion.

  • John Tynan Jan 7, 2014, 2:15 pm

    Thought you might be interested in this new (Slovenian) tandem anchored just introduced into Plastimo’s range:

    As far as sailing around under anchor is concerned, how would you rate a bucket suspended from the bow?

    • John Jan 7, 2014, 2:21 pm

      Hi John,

      I don’t believe in tandem anchoring (see this post) and I have looked at the anchor you mention and see no point in at all: too complicated, wrong shape (plow type), and why burden the bow with what is in effect two light anchors when you could have one heavy one.

      Bottom line, in my opinion, tandem anchoring was a way to make up for the inadequacies of old generation anchors like the CQR. Today, with modern anchors like the Rocna and SPADE it adds nothing and can actually be much less effective than one larger anchor.

      On buckets. Colin has been experimenting with a small drogue on the rode to stop sailing for boats that have issues, such as arches, that make using a riding sail impractical. I’m hoping he will share his results soon.

  • Bob Tetrault Jan 7, 2014, 4:19 pm

    Happy New Year John, bout time I contributed after going to the dark side (power boat). Agree with all you have given as advise and want to endorse the one BIG anchor over two of any size provided the rest of the ground tackle is up to the task. We have the one big Rocna now and wouldn’t even think of deploying a second anchor simultaneously. One additional comment to add to your data base; we once anchored in Lookout Bight in a fierce SW’er. I thought it prudent to be in the middle for depth and room between us and a lee shore. Well it kicked up more during the dark hours and found we were sand blasting our new Strataglass. I felt the pelting when on my rounds but didn’t want to move in the dark and breeze. The damage was more than one would expect. Those little cyclones of sand did a lot of damage to the glass and everything else. I look forward to ideas on how to dampen the bow sailing on the anchor rode. We have fabricated a bow eye for the stem of “BJoyce” (N5517) but haven’t installed it yet. I doubt the new lower fair lead will make much of a difference however. We have always used riding sails but impossible to rig on this boat. This high bow and big displacement will bury this 70kg Rocna pretty deep.

    • Eric Klem Jan 9, 2014, 12:14 am

      In the other anchoring thread I gave some of my thoughts on the easy ways to deal with sailing at anchor but this post has got me thinking again.

      The problem lies in there being a net torque on the boat about the yaw center when the angle of the rode to the bow in the horizontal is small. The torque trying to turn the boat is due to the center of wind resistance being forward of the center of resistance in the water. The anchor rode applies a restoring force to the bow but the force actually pushing the bow back up into the wind is a very small proportion of the total anchor rode force until the bow gets pushed off a lot and the angle grows. In gusty conditions where the boat is moving closer and further from the anchor, the total load on the rode can often be quite small until the bow has fallen off quite a bit and taken the slack out of the rode.

      To solve the root problem, you need to change the placements of the center of resistances. Changing either one or both will work fine. I have posted in the past that a daggerboard/centerboard at the very bow of the boat would work well. This would be a difficult retrofit but could be incorporated into a new design without too much of a headache. Unfortunately, it does not qualify as a simple solution. Riding sails obviously change the resistance to the wind. The other way to change all of this is to simply turn the boat around and anchor off the stern. One of my relatives owns a classic wooden sailboat with a large mast stepped quite far forward (fractional rig). When anchored off the bow, the boat sails around like crazy so they don’t ever do it anymore. When anchored by the stern (it is almost a double ender so this is fine), it sits scarily still to the point where in an unpredicted squall in a relatively exposed anchorage this summer, I didn’t wake up until the wind was well over 30 knots steady and the waves were over 5′. On our own boat which is still quite good at anchor, we would have long since been awake and holding an anchor watch. Anchoring off the stern does have issues, especially if the boat has a wide stern but it might be the answer for some boats. Since boats survive unbelievable conditions lying to series drogues, I would have to think that many sailboats and powerboats can withstand it but it is probably design specific.

      Another way to help the issue but not fix it is to significantly increase the restoring force from the anchor rode. This is one of the major reasons that multihulls do so well with a bridle because the bridle effectively moves the rode attachment forward to where the two bridle legs meet. By moving the rigid attachment point forward, you increase the restoring torque in 2 ways. First, the force is applied at a much greater moment arm from the center of rotation and torque is force cross distance. The second reason is that the attachment point will physically move sideways much more the further forward it is and this will increase the rode angle more quickly. In a practical sense, there are two ways to accomplish this. The first is to put a strong bowsprit (maybe similar to a retractable sprit for an asym?) with the rode lead through the end of it. The other way is to have a bridle that is wide enough that neither leg ever goes slack so that it effectively creates a rigid geometry. This is easy on a multihull but nearly impossible on a monohull without adding something. If you added a spreader bar all the way at the bow that was sufficiently beefy or properly stayed to take the loads, this would work. Unfortunately, in most cases I suspect that it would be a lot of trouble to do anything to increase this restoring force. The one practical thing is to tune the anchor rode by modifying the snubber so that the boat doesn’t surge up on the anchor too much and has as constant a force as possible.

      Maybe someone has an idea to take some of this and make it more practical? Really, I wish the designers would take this into account and get a boat that is stable in the first place so that none of this was necessary. Some do either intentionally or by accident and the boats are very pleasant and other designs are practically unlivable at anchor once there is a decent breeze.


      • John Jan 9, 2014, 3:02 pm

        Hi Eric,

        Thanks for the great analysis, as always. Reading it confirms my feeling that the best and most practical solution is still to move the centre of wind resistance aft with a riding sail or similar.

        I also like the idea of anchoring by the stern. Don Jordan, of Jordan Series Drogue fame proposed this years ago and I have long thought it made sense. Of course the problem is that most boats do not have really good cleats and fairleads aft, but it seems to me that if you have a boat that has a real problem with sailing at the anchor, and, for some reason, you can’t use a steading sail, then beefing up the aft cleats and fairleads is the next best solution.

        By the way, people are often surprised to see Phyllis and I approaching a tricky docking situation in strong winds stern first, but actually, if you know your boat and her habits, it’s often the safest and most controllable way to do it, since there is no risk of the bow blowing off as you slow down or stop—same principal as anchoring by the stern.

        • Eric Klem Jan 9, 2014, 10:04 pm

          Hi John,

          Since we got on the topic of anchoring from the stern, I wanted to quickly mention some things to think about with it. The thing that terrifies me is the speed that the boat could attain if it suddenly began dragging. Anchored from the bow, most boats will lie beam on and drift at 1 knot or so even in severe conditions giving the crew time to come up with an action plan. Anchored from the stern, the boat is likely to accelerate straight ahead up to several knots leaving little time to react and things like engines that can’t start without glow plugs become a really big deal. If we didn’t immediately get underway once the anchor broke out, we found that the boat shot ahead and you really couldn’t look down at what you were doing if singlehanding unless you idled in reverse. The good news is that recovering an anchor in really rough conditions is really easy for the same reasons that you like to back up to a dock in the wind.

          From a comfort and convenience standpoint, it really isn’t bad. There is a lot of airflow down below if you keep the companionway open which is great in good weather and bad in less than ideal weather. I am really stubborn and try to sail on and off the hook whenever I can but anchored off the stern, I have yet to find a way to do it as smoothly and easily. If you want to leave the dinghy in the water, you can’t simply tail it off the stern, you need to take it to the bow. When singlehanding, it is great that the anchor handling is right next to the helm. The only time that it has ever been uncomfortable to be anchored this way for me is with a swirly current where the boat danced all over the place.


          • John Jan 10, 2014, 12:41 pm

            Hi Eric,

            Interesting point on what would happen if dragging. I guess you could ameliorate that a bit by leaving the rudder hard over, as long as you are not in a tidal current. Having said that, since we changed over to our SPADE, I really don’t worry about dragging since it has not happened to us.

  • Petter Jan 8, 2014, 11:08 am

    Iris is a vessel with a swing keel. She swings like a carousel at anchor. Not pleasant. Preparing for the 2013 summer I did a bit of research on how to stabilise the vessel at anchor. We ended up with a delta wing rider sail. It made the world of difference and swinging is now highly limited – leading to most nights being spent at anchor during 2013 – sleeping.

    Iris is 43ft, wights 16MT loaded. The sail maker recommended a size 4, but we ended with size 3, which works nicely. I think the sail is surprisingly large and draws a lots of wind. Hence it is important to secure it well and very tight.

    Fell free to check the friendly sail maker or head over to my blog a picture of the rider sail.

    • John Jan 8, 2014, 12:52 pm

      Hi Petter,

      Thanks very much for this real world experience. I really think a riding sail is the best solution since it is the only one of the many ideas people discuss that actually solves the underlying problem of too much windage forward and too little aft that most sailboats suffer from. All others, particularly multiple anchors, are an attempt to mask the real problem, not solve it.

      I think you were right to go with a smaller sail, and in fact in looking at the photo on your blog, I wonder if smaller still might be the way to go, on the theory that sailing doesn’t matter much in light to medium winds and a smaller sail will be quieter and easier to handle, as well as effective, in heavy winds.

      As I have said elsewhere, just adding a hard bimini top to our boat pretty much solved the problem, even though the vertical area is tiny and the top is quite far forward since she is a center cockpit boat.

      • Simon Wirth Jan 10, 2014, 10:19 am

        Hei John
        What do you think about anchoring of the stern? Working with anchoring gear similair to what is used on the bow would be a real hassel, but is there an other reason not to do it? Something not so obvious to the inexpirienced eye as the weight of the gear?

        • John Jan 10, 2014, 12:49 pm

          Hi Simon,

          Good question. This whole anchoring by the stern thing is pretty theoretical for me, because I have never done it. I guess I’m not thinking of it as something you would do every day, but rather a survival technique that one might keep in mind if on a boat that sailed at the anchor badly with very heavy weather coming. So you might move the rode from it’s normal position forward to aft. Not a trivial task, but maybe worth it in an extreme situation.

          Of course that assumes that there were cleats and fairleads on the stern of the boat that were up to the task. But maybe one could use the same anchor points that were installed for a Jordan Series Drogue.

          I guess the bottom line is that, although its fun to speculate about, anchoring by the stern is not going to be viable unless some preparation has been done first.

  • FAIVET DANIEL Jan 8, 2014, 3:58 pm

    Le principal probleme d ancrage en Espagne ( mediterranee Costa Brava) ou je navigue est la densite ou nombre de bateaux sur une surface limitee, ” les navigateurs du dimanche? ” qui rendent difficile les manoeuvres meme avec du bon materiel et de l experience , les criques au mois d aout ressemblent a des parkings de super marche , je vous invite a imaginer le tableaux ;…..
    Effectivement cet article contient de bon conseils techniques
    Bien cordialement

  • Svein Lamark Jan 9, 2014, 1:52 pm

    Hi John,
    I have the same experience as Petter, an anchor plough(plow) can stabilize the boat. Doyle has even constructed an advanced anchor plough to me. It looks much like the plough a farmer uses when cultivating his soil; the sides are shaped round (concave), while Petters is more straight triangular. I think the Doyle plough can be rather small because it is so efficient.
    I also use another technic to calm the ship when at anchor: In the water line I have a hook to keep the waterstay. I have attached an elastic line to this hook and the other end of the line I shackle to the anchor chain and give out more chain. The boats pull in the chain will then be from the water line of the bow. This will contribute to stabilize the boat ( and also give the chain a better angel when attacking the anchor, release the weight on the anchor winch, prevent the chain from making noise on the waterstay. When not in use at anchor, I use this line as an extra waterstay.

  • Chris Jan 9, 2014, 4:30 pm

    John, I know how you feel about kellets, and we don’t use one any more with our Spade. However… we did use one for 15 years with excellent results — I don’t know if it improved holding power at all, but I do know it made a significant difference in tacking at anchor.

    It was 12 kilos of lead I had poured in an iron skillet, popped free and then fitted with a stainless U-bolt on center — think (very) short-shanked mushroom anchor or very crude rocker-stopper. We suspended it from the (mostly) nylon and chain anchor rode so that it hung about a half meter below the rode.

    When the bow tried to tack off, the plate drag of this kellet and gravity stopped the process within a meter or so and dragged the bow back to windward. Numerous tests proved to us it was making a difference, I suspect something lighter might have worked as well, but who knows? This was with an 8.7 meter boat and the solution with lead might not scale well, but since the whole concept seems be tied to stopping the boat’s acceleration perhaps a lighter weight solution (ala a big Sechi disk?) might. I’m not sure a small para style drogue would inflate in time to help.

    We haven’t found it to be necessary on this boat as both the inertia and dynamics are different, but…

    A riding sail for us is a non-starter due to the solar array.


    • John Jan 10, 2014, 1:10 pm

      Hi Chris,

      That’s a good point. However I guess I still feel that a kellet, while perhaps capable of making the boat more comfortable at anchor in light to moderate winds, is not really the answer because just when you need to most in heavy winds, it is not going to work since it will be off the bottom pretty much the whole time.

      And if one does have to move in very heavy winds, the presence of the kellet is going to add difficulty and even danger to the anchor retrieval process, as Dick brought up in an earlier post.

      Interesting idea on the big Sechi disk. But I still favour solutions that attack the fundamental problem of more windage forward than aft.

      I hear you on the issues with the solar array and steading sails. I wonder if it would work to engineer the arch that a solar array was mounted on to be strong enough to mount some kind of easily deployed vertical cloth panels that would act as steading sails at anchor. Hum, something maybe we should think about with the Adventure 40.

  • Jean-François EEMAN Jan 9, 2014, 6:45 pm

    Dear John

    Excellent post.

    point 4) Don’t forget that very often in those kinds of places the gusts might come either from a very different direction than the main wind direction (when you entered the bay of compared to what you see from the clouds), either from “all directions”…
    Whne you enter that kind of place it is very often diffcult to guess where the wind will come from when gusting.
    Hence the importance of swinging room


    • John Jan 10, 2014, 12:57 pm

      Hi Jean-François,

      Very true. We have been subjected to that several times in Greenland where the wind direction changes as much at 100 degrees between gusts. Most notably in an uncharted anchorage near the ice cap on the East Coast of Greenland that we named OMJ (Oh My J…..) after a double black diamond ski run in Newfoundland of the same name.

      Being slammed back and forth across an anchorage to the full length of the chain, first one way, and then the other, gave us a whole new appreciation for good anchoring gear!

  • steve Jan 12, 2014, 10:07 am

    Hi John,
    Thanks for all the advise. Here is one for the ages for dumb anchoring.
    Pulled into a small bay in Gurnsey in afternoon, no wind, 4 meters depth. Dropped anchor and put out 3 to one scope, bay was crowded with boats. As evening came everyone left and we stayed. I forgot about the 20 foot tides and we had anchored on a low tide. Guess what the wind came up that night and the anchor alarm went off. I was up fast and we were already closing on the cliffs. The spade anchor I don’t think was even touching bottom.
    Remember the tides and your scope and please check your anchoring before night fall no matter where you are! Lesson learned I hope.

  • John Pedersen Jun 7, 2014, 12:46 pm

    I currently have a 9m catamaran. Anchoring with a bridle makes the boat very steady holding bows into the wind, but with wind against tide, it starts to sail about. This behaviour was most severe in a river in the north of Spain, where I was anchored in a near gale, with a 3-4 knot ebb going against it. I saw the GPS show 4 knots SOG while the boat was surging about! I should have moved, but I had engine problems. With the boat sailing from one side to the other, and coming to an abrupt halt at each side, it seemed just a matter of time before it broke the anchor out.

    I resolved it by throwing a drogue over the stern attached to a bridle. It hung just a few feet behind the boat, but it ended the sailing about almost entirely. Though the drag on the anchor was increased of course by the drogue, the pull was now steady and the boat felt much more secure. The anchor (a Mantus) didn’t drag at all.

    I now always have a drogue at the stern ready to throw over if the wind blows against the tide.

  • Petter;-) Jun 11, 2014, 8:10 pm

    Skip Novak has released part 10 of his heavy weather series – on anchoring.
    Refreshing to hear his clear views and advice, not very differnet from what may be found here I imagine.
    To be enjoyed

    • Petter ;-) Jun 12, 2014, 7:42 pm

      The other videos in the same series also contains good info.

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