tips on anchoring

Anchoring Tips For Deep Water, Strong Currents & Rocks

In this blog we are sharing tips for anchoring in all kinds of difficult scenarios: deep water, strong currents and strong winds. Add a rocky bottom and things can get tricky. And when your charts are far from accurate, then you really have to be on full alert.

For more detailed information and our own full animations, watch the video linked at the end of this article to see the real-life situations we describe.

Have you ever had a problem anchoring? Or retrieving the anchor? Or had no sleep because you’re worried about your anchor?

We’ve been living on the hook for most of the 17 years we’ve made SY Esper our home, and we’ve had our share of sleepless nights, so don’t believe anyone who tells you they never worry (or that they’ve never dragged)!

In our latest video episode we look in detail at how we cope in these challenging circumstances, and give tips on how to make it a stress-free experience, even though the chart datum is less than useless.

The coastline of Lombok is like much of Indonesia, deep up to the shoreline, often making it impossible to find anywhere to anchor. We were looking for a suitable spot along Lombok’s north-eastern corner and found a section where the charts showed the sea bed shallowing.

This charted shallow patch is a little further up the coast that we could have explored, but we wanted to tuck right in to avoid any potential swell that was wrapping around the NW tip of the island.


There are two things to bear in mind when using Navionics for much of Indonesia.

The first is that the charts are not accurate and should always be used with caution.

The second (tip of the day!) is that often if the charts show any shallow patches, it normally means there is something potentially anchorable somewhere. You just have to sniff it out.

First Anchoring Scenario

The depth contour is steep, rising from 50m to 15m in a matter of seconds. You only have to look at the fishing boats parked on the steep shore to understand how the seabed pans out in this area.

tips for anchoring
Sometimes landing on the beach is intentional…

Under different circumstances we may have skipped this anchorage altogether. But don’t forget, as we saw with the squall that brought us here, there is an offshore breeze blowing off the mountains. This works to our advantage as it will help keep Esper away from the steep shelf.

As we approach the anchorage we find a suitable depth to drop the hook. If we get in too close we’re in danger of running aground, and if we anchor too deep we’ll end up having to pay out all the chain.

We lower the chain in 20m because we’ll be putting out three times scope minimum, any closer and we could be in danger of hitting the bank.

Wherever you lay your anchor you must always consider not only swinging room but the fact you’ll need to motor forwards when weighing anchor.

If the anchor is dug in deep you may have to motor over the top of the anchor and forward of it in order to pull the anchor out, so you need to allow yourself that extra room forwards of the anchor.

Tips for anchoring
Wind keeping us offshore

After dropping 20m of chain we start to back up. In this particular situation we stayed perpendicular to the shore in order to maintain a constant depth and continued to pay the chain out until 70m.

Offshore Breeze

This is not an ideal scenario and if there were other options we would have considered moving on, but there was one factor in our favour, and that was the offshore breeze. The prevailing wind can have a big impact on anchoring decisions and we knew that both prevailing winds and any squalls would be coming off land and pushing esper out to sea. This fact alone kept us comfortable with our decision and we ended up having a good night’s sleep from the protection of any swell.

Second Anchoring Scenario

Weighing anchor not only in adverse currents but also with an anchor and/or anchor chain wrapped around a rock can be stressful.

The worse-case scenario here is that the chain had wrapped around a rock and would have required diving down on to release it. With really strong currents this would have been too dangerous. Also with really strong currents Esper may not have had the forward power to drive over the anchor.

Fortunately we have some tricks up our sleeve to get out of this situation. First let’s look at this particular scenario.


The currents between Lombok and Sumbawa can run pretty strong. In fact the currents along this island chain can be a real challenge and despite what Jamie said to camera, they are not necessarily related to the state of tide or even the moon.

tips for anchoring
wind over tide

From our experience, they appear to be strongest around mid-tide, but this is not a rule of thumb one can follow. If you remember back in Sulawesi we had one episode in which Esper pirouetted in circles as the currents hit their strongest, and yet this only lasted for 15 minutes before Esper recomposed herself and held her position once more.

Anchor into wind

Under normal circumstances a boat will point into wind and sit downwind of the anchor, keeping the anchor dug in at the correct angle.

tips for anchoring

However there can be wind against tide situations. This is where the wind seemingly keeps the boat pointing in the right direction, but where the currents are stronger and end up pushing the boat forward of the anchor.

Watch our original tips on anchoring video, HOW TO ANCHOR A SAILBOAT – TIPS & ADVICE

This presents a couple of issues. The first is that this is pulling on the anchor in the wrong direction, potentially pulling it out of its dug-in position

Though we have to say this has never happened, at least not knowingly. If it does, the anchor should reset.

The other problem is that the chain is now running underneath the boat. Not only can the chain rub against the hull, scraping at your anti-foul, but it can make weighing anchor quite difficult, putting strain on the windlass. You may end up having to reverse the boat against the current.

Exit strategy

You should also be mindful of your exit strategy. If strong currents are running you may find that the moment the anchor is released from the sea bed, the boat will get carried with the current. This was particularly relevant in this anchorage because the sea was being funnelled towards two islands with extended reefs beneath us, and with sketchy chart data we were uncertain if we could run with the current through these tight channels.

This is why it is best to wait for the current to slow, giving you more thinking time and manoeuvrability.

Anchoring on a rocky seabed

It wasn’t until the waters cleared the next morning that we could clearly see rocky patches beneath Esper. If you’ve ever got your anchor or your chain wrapped around a rock or a reef you’ll know what a headache this can be.

The chain goes taught and you start putting strain on your windlass, potentially ripping it out of the deck.

If you’re shallow enough you could dive down on to the anchor and move the chain yourself. If you do this, make sure you keep the boat in neutral at all times until you are out of the water.

If the anchor is stuck fast then we find the best solution is to let out 10-20metres of chain, secure the snubber on the chain once more, motor forwards and turn the wheel hard over so you spin the boat round 180 degrees. Once in this position, go into astern and put the strain on the snubber to release the anchor. Take the snubber off and bring the chain up. In theory you have changed the angle at which the chain is pulling at the anchor and this should break it free.

tips for anchoring
motoring around a rock

If it is the chain that has wrapped around a rock or a reef, if the water is clear then dive down on it or look over the side to see how the chain is laying. You want to motor the boat outside the perimeter of the rock, following the direction of the chain in which it was laid. Quite often the chain has wedged itself underneath a small overhang in the rock so by motoring around the outside of it you are effectively pulling the chain out in a sideways motion, rather than straight up.

In both scenarios, if it doesn’t work first time, change the angle and give it another go.

Final Word

We have used these two techniques on a number of occasions and, with some patience, they work. The only time we got really stuck was in our first summer of cruising in Turkey when our anchor chain had wrapped itself around an old mooring buoy whose line had been cut 10m beneath the surface. That involved the emergency services of a dive team, but that’s another story…

For a fuller explanation with overlays, check out the episode…

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  1. Pingback: How to Conquer Strong Currents: Fishing Techniques for Challenging Waters

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