How to anchor? What anchor should I choose? Is there a best anchor? Will I ever sleep comfortably at night?

These are our six steps to effective and efficient anchoring, learned through practical experience over the 12 years we have been anchoring in all kinds of conditions from Turkey to Thailand. This guide is aimed at beginners and those wishing to gain confidence in anchoring.

Would love it if you could do a “how to anchor” video, including tying the snubber, setting and retrieving, etc. It has got to be my most stressful thing as a newbie cruiser. I know practice solves all wows, but with your experience it would be great to see how you guys have broken the task down.
Yves Lemoine – YouTube

The best way to combat stressful anchoring situations is to be armed with knowledge, and that doesn’t begin as you’re dropping the anchor, it comes a long way before then…

1. Ground tackle
2. Research your location
3. Research the weather
4. Scope out the anchorage
5. Deploying the anchor
6. Snubber
1. Ground tackle

Ground tackle is your anchor, your chain, the connectors between your anchor and chain, your bow roller and your windlass.

WINDLASS Service your windlass regularly, because if it breaks there is nothing worse than having to weigh 60 meters of chain by hand in the blazing sun. Or in a strong wind. It’s horrible.

CHAIN Keep inspecting your chain. Although it will rust a little, make sure it’s not rusting to the point that it is weak and likely to fail. After a few years (depending on how often you use it, for us it was five years) try to have it galvanized (you can do this twice in the lifespan of anchor chain). To help prolong its life, swap the chain over, end-to-end, every two or three years.


CONNECTORS A controversial subject! We use a swivel between our chain and anchor, which has served us well. BUT, not all swivels are created equal. So if you are going to have a swivel do your research, there are good and bad. A great place to start your research is on Vyv Cox’s site,  read his post for more insightVyv is one of our sailing gurus!

WHICH ANCHOR? The world’s most devisive topic! Guaranteed to be ‘discussed’ round the table, at the bar and in forums, often leading to red faces and no result. Anchors are a personal choice. Do your research.

In the last 10 or 15 years we’ve seen “new generation” anchors begin to dominate the market. Originally based on the Bugel from Germany, they employ a roll bar. There are a few variations (e.g. Manson Rocna, Spade). We have a Rocna.

From what we have witnessed, arguments against the newer technology come from cruisers who use old school anchors and have never tried a new one. It’s a bit like saying, “Why do I need to change my 20 year old laptop? I can still send email from it”. Sure, your old one may still work, but a new laptop can do the job more efficiently and it’s quicker.

A Rocna close-up

New generation anchors hold faster and better than the traditional older models. We know this is true because we started with a plow, a CQR. Over two years we dragged a few times, it took a long time to set (often several attempts) and it didn’t give us a hundred percent confidence. The day we put the Rocna on, our lives changed. Have a look online at the multitude of anchor tests out there.

Your anchor is possibly the single most important piece of equipment on your boat. It will give you peace of mind and allow you to sleep. So, please, if you have the budget, get the best you can afford.

Once you have confidence in your ground tackle, you will be ready to anchor your boat. But it’s not that simple. Do some research well ahead of arrival in the anchorage: what do you know about the location and weather?

2. Research your location

There is usually plenty of information available on anchorages, locations and countries.

CHARTS Paper or electronic, charts will give you accurate information (usually!). Spend time looking at them beforehand so that you have a good idea of the approach before you arrive. Understand the lay of the land, work out your transits, know where that church is on the hill, or the café on the beach. Maybe there’s an outcrop on the waterline or coral bommie hidden at the entrance.

APPS Check out our guide to apps for use in navigation. It covers methods for identifying routes through less-travelled areas, and the sources of information we use.


PILOT BOOKS AND CRUISING GUIDES We have met cruisers who proudly boast that they do not use pilot books. While the logic of wanting to go to a new place and off the beaten path to your own deserted bay is understandable, completely writing off these information resources is naive. Pilot books are well researched and well written by men and women familiar with the area. They provide a lot of information, not just on anchorages but also the surrounding areas, history and culture of the places you’re visiting.

Note: Be fair to the authors. A great deal of time and money has been spent on putting this information together, so don’t photocopy them. It’s worth owning your own pilots and guides.

BLOGS You can find plenty of blogs written by cruisers about the areas they visit, just search in your browser. Read them for inspiration, entertainment and general knowledge. Don’t stick to them rigidly, because sometimes the positions given are inaccurate and could lead to problems.

Collate as much information as possible, and get to know the anchorage before you get there. This will give you confidence when you do eventually approach the anchorage.

3. Research the weather

LONG TERM FORECAST You’re already checking this, right? You’ll have a good idea of what’s heading your way.


LOCAL WEATHER In particular, try to find out about afternoon sea breezes, katabatic winds and the likelihood of squalls for your destination. All of these will impact on your anchoring success. Find this information in pilot books and cruising guides, on blogs and through local knowledge: talk to other cruisers.

AFTERNOON SEA BREEZES Invariably you’ll end up pointing out to sea being blown onto land. The fetch from these breezes can build up and make life on the hook uncomfortable, even dangerous.

KATABATIC WINDS These have the opposite effect to sea breezes, pushing the boat out to sea. In hot climates it’s nice to have a stiff breeze blowing through.

SQUALLS We get a lot of westerlies from Sumatra when we are anchored along the west coast of Malaysia. They blow pretty strong and normally come around in the afternoon/evening time. But a proper “Sumatra” squall can come without warning at any time, gusting 60+kts. So we try to anchor defensively.

FETCH This is probably the major factor which is going to upset your anchoring. We’ve sat pretty in 80+kts without the anchor budging. That’s because we had good all round shelter and the sea state was flat, with no opportunity to build. But if you’re in a situation where the fetch builds, you may end up bucking wildly into the waves, or slaloming from side to side. Both of these conditions are putting huge loads on your ground tackle, and may dislodge the anchor. In those kinds of conditions we up anchor and try to find a better position, or get out to sea.

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4. Scope out the anchorage

You’ve done your preliminary research and you have a good idea about what to expect, so now it’s time to sail to the anchorage. Don’t be afraid to scope it out, there is nothing wrong with coming into an anchorage and motoring through it before you make a decision on where to anchor.

MAKE A CIRCUIT Cruise round and among the boats, not getting too close of course. Watch how everyone is lying. Don’t assume that boats bunched together in one corner of the bay is always the best place. It might be, but it is often the result of the ‘flocking’ instinct of newby cruisers. Do assume that everyone has way more than the traditional 3:1 scope of chain deployed. If you’re not sure and they are on board, ask!

Don’t be a WANCHOR!
There’s no need for it, especially in a big anchorage. This is a bugbear of ours, and those who have watched our videos know that we hate anchoring too close to other boats, or having them come up and anchor right next to us. Even friends! This comes from experience. Other cruisers have anchored too close, the wind’s picked up and their anchor has dragged. It’s a crap situation to have to deal with, and it’s often at night when all you want to do is sleep. The other point is that they are putting an awful lot of confidence in our anchor, it’s just as likely that we may drag in difficult conditions. There’s no point in putting yourself in those situations. Some cruisers we know will walk around the deck naked to scare people off, it is surprising how often this does the trick!

FIND A CLEAR PATCH OF BOTTOM If you can see the seabed, keep an eye on it and find a sandy patch. Do try to avoid weed, rocks and coral.

If you find you have to up anchor and escape in a hurry, possibly at night or during poor visibility, all this knowledge you have accumulated will help you. You won’t be too close to other boats, and if you’ve kept your track on the chart plotter you should be able to avoid any hazards by simply following it back out.

5. Deploying the anchor

Once you’ve found your spot you are now ready to drop the anchor. And this is the tricky bit. It’s not really tricky at all, it’s pretty straight forward!

POINT YOUR BOW INTO WIND OR TIDE, WHICHEVER IS STRONGEST If you are not sure, there are two ways you can work this out:

  1. look at other boats to see where everyone else is pointing,
  2. drop something in the water that will float and see which way it moves.

TIMING TECHNIQUE You now know where the anchor will lie and where the boat will end up. Clearly, these are two different spots, and this is where your timing technique becomes a balancing act. If there are two of you, put someone on the bow, where they do two things:

  1. watch the anchor go down to see where it lands,
  2. count the chain as it comes out of the locker.

This is because you want to put the boat into astern as the anchor is just about to hit the seabed.

As you manoeuvre the boat astern, the chain is paid out.

  • If you go too quickly or too soon all that’s going to happen is the anchor will not have time to set and you’ll pull it along the seabed.
  • If you go too slowly or too late you’ll end up with a pile of chain over your anchor, which could mean the chain wrapping around the anchor.

We usually have Liz standing at the bow signalling instructions to Jamie by raising her arm when we are approaching the required length of chain or when the anchor is about to hit the seabed. If we are in 10m of water, as the 10m mark is coming over the bow Liz puts her arm up so that Jamie knows he should start putting the boat into astern.

Some people release the capstan and let the chain run freely with the anchor’s weight. We tend to use the windlass motor so we can pay out more slowly.

LAYING THE ANCHOR The boat is going astern and you pay out your first 30 meters (if you’re in 10 meters of water, that’s a 3:1 scope – more on scope further down). The person on the bow will stop paying out the chain when you hit the required length and signal to the helmsman who keeps the boat going backwards. Again, not too quickly but just fast enough so that it pulls the chain taut. The person up front indicates what the chain is doing by pointing along its direction and angle, pointing forward when it becomes taut. The helmsman puts the engine into neutral because the anchor has now bitten. You know when it bites because:

  1. the boat lines up behind the anchor and chain,
  2. the boat will often lurch forwards.

IS THE BOAT DRAGGING? The person on the bow will be able to tell immediately if the anchor has not bitten because the chain will bounce as it drags along the seabed. You may even hear the anchor scraping. When you think that it’s bitten put the boat back into astern, not too fast, just enough to ensure the chain is taut. You should be able to take your hands off the wheel with the boat in slow astern and it should hold it there. Put the engine in neutral and take a quick transit from the boat to shore, there should be no movement other than the boat settling forward.

SCOPE 3:1 is what we are all taught. But if you have room, put out plenty more. In 10m we will put out an initial 30m, followed by a further 20m or 30m, giving us a scope of 5:1 or 6:1. Sometimes we will put over 10:1. As the saying goes, the chain’s not doing anything when it’s in its locker!

TRANSIT LINES Once in your final position, find a fixed transit line on the boat (each of you choose a different spot), like a stanchion or shroud, then line it up with something ashore that isn’t going to move, like a building, boulder or tree. Once you have them lined up, make a cup of tea. Then go back and check your transits, they should still be roughly in line. Of course, wind and tide may shift the boat 180°, so remember than when you check the transits later.

You can use an app or on-board chart plotter to track your movement at anchor. Expect it to move around, but a good anchor will reset itself, and the new generation anchors are excellent at setting quickly.

Remember that different anchors require different anchoring techniques. Our CQR took a long while to set and we often ended up having to put the engine into quite high revs. With the Rocna it’s the opposite, and too many revs astern could potentially result in the windlass being ripped out of your deck!

Each boat and engine is different, you will gradually get used to it as you practise.

6. Snubber

“Could you guys do a mini video of how you tie your snubber on your anchor?”
asdfdfggfd – YouTube

WHAT LINE? The idea of deploying a snubber is to take the strain off the roller and to avoid bending or breaking it. You must use stretchy line to absorb shocks, similar to your warps. A 3-strand or double-braided rope in polyester is best.

HOOK For many years we used a 3/8 stainless steel hook, which we hooked over one of the links in the chain. We paid out excess snubber as we paid out more chain, then tied off the snubber through the fairlead onto a cleat. Then we paid out more chain out so that it ended up looping beneath the snubber.


ROLLING HITCH Hooks are easy to use but can slip off quite easily, especially in rough weather. So we switched over to the rolling hitch method. It’s a little more involved, but we feel a lot safer with it now. Watch the snubber sequence in Episode 68, where Liz demonstrates how she attaches it to the anchor chain.

In conclusion, make sure you have good ground tackle. Your confidence in anchoring begins with that ground tackle. so make sure that you’ve invested in it wisely and that you service it regularly. Do your research, pick a clear spot, take your time, use transits and monitor the position of your boat at anchor.

Finally, it is worth mentioning a Facebook user group called Anchoring and Anchorages run by a guy called Andy Marsh. It’s a friendly forum where they discuss different anchoring techniques and anchors. They post articles and tests, which are useful especially if you’re new to anchoring.

We hope this gives you a few pointers. No doubt there are people with their own tips and advice, so do post any comments below, we love to hear from you.

Peace and safe anchoring!

Liz, Jamie and Millie

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  1. When you talk about scope it may be worth pointing out that the scope required is a multiple of the distance from the bow roller to the sea-bed and not just the depth of water. We have the depth meter that is set to water below the keel and therefore have to add 2.1m for the depth of the keel and another 2m for the height of the bow roller above the sea. So if the depth is 4m below the keel we let out a minimum of 24m, ie 3 x 8m

    1. This is a fair observation, Boyd. TBH by the time we’ve deployed our snubber (normally 5m, sometimes 10m in rough weather), we’ve compensated for the difference. That said, your points are well worth bearing in mind.

  2. Read this with interest not because I necessarily need to learn. (having said that when do you stop) But it is so important to all of us to get it right. Can I compliment you on a very well written article and the advice on the above reply. All excellent stuff
    Tony. Red Marlin

    1. Hey Tony, really nice to hear from you. Thank you for your comment and yes, we agree, this is a very important topic. We never stop learning. Fair winds to you.

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