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Anchoring – How it works: equipment, chain length, maneuvers


Anchoring is part of everyday life on board for many sailors

Expanse, calm, silence. After a sporty day of sailing, the wind has fallen asleep and the sun has disappeared behind the Algarve horizon. The air is still pleasantly warm and in the cockpit it is cozy under the orange-blue sky. We anchor off the Portuguese island of Culatra, sit in the cockpit and enjoy life in the glow of the kerosene lamp. A wonderful end to the day. Atmospheric, intense, fulfilling. Anchoring can be so beautiful.

For many sailors, anchoring is part of everyday life on board like the wind is part of sailing. There are many reasons for that. Some seek closeness to nature and the solitude. Others save marina fees. Sometimes the infrastructure does not allow any alternative – especially when it comes to blue water sailing. If you sail to Namibia or the Galapagos, for example, you will quickly discover that there is not a single marina there.

And last but not least, most sailors simply like to anchor. So do I. I have now spent more than 600 nights at anchor and I enjoy it anew every time. The silence, the loneliness, the life in harmony with nature. Splendid.


The idea of ​​just lying on a few chain links in the middle of nowhere makes some sailors sleep restlessly. Often there is a lack of trust and experience. That is a shame and therefore I would like to give you solid tips about common anchor practice at this point. How does the maneuver work and what must be considered? I will deliberately not go into the different types of anchors, chain materials, winches and bow fittings. That is a different subject. The aim here is pure practice at the anchorage, and the presence of a sensible anchor gear is assumed.

Find the right anchorage

The choice of anchorage goes from rough to fine. In other words: First a suitable bay is sought, which is deep enough for all expected water levels and is also protected against wind, wind sea and swell. Then the right spot is searched for within the bay. The following questions should be carefully answered before choosing the final place to drop the anchor:

Does the water depth allow you to swim around the anchor if necessary (i.e. 360 degrees)?

With a few exceptions, it is necessary at an anchorage that there is enough space available that the yacht can swing once around its own axis at each expected water level. A correspondingly large distance to the bank and any obstacles under water should be chosen.

Will the wind remain stable in terms of direction and strength or will wind shifters be expected?

In the Caribbean, for example, there is usually a very constant north-easterly wind (trade wind) in the main season and as a result, the bows of the various yachts are all oriented in the same direction for days, even weeks. On the Baltic Sea, on the other hand, calm often sets in at night and a slight surface current is enough to move the boat in a different direction. There can also be an overnight change in weather.

In short: I have to study the weather forecast because the wind direction and strength have a significant impact on my Schwoj behavior. In addition, a sheltered bay can suddenly become unprotected when the wind changes.

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Is there a current at the anchorage?

The current, as it occurs, for example, in rivers, straits or tidal waters, has an influence on the Schwoj behavior and I have to take it into account when choosing an anchorage.

Is it a body of water with a tidal range?

In tidal waters, not only does the current influence the anchor maneuver, but also the tidal range. Basically, it’s just a matter of knowing the maximum tide range for the day (spring tide, nip tide or any state in between) and the relative water level at the time of the maneuver. The result affects two things:

On the one hand, the current water level influences the choice of the length of the anchor chain. Logically, the anchor should not break out during high tide. For example, if the water is six meters deep and it is expected that it will rise another two meters, the length of the anchor chain must be calculated for a water depth of eight meters so that I am on the safe side in the event of flooding.

On the other hand, conversely, when the tide is low, there should of course still be enough water under the keel at the anchorage. An example: In the north of Australia at the gates of the city of Darwin there is the beautiful Fannie Bay, which is very popular with long-distance sailors. There is a six-meter tidal range there and you can often see cruising yachts that have fallen dry and that have simply anchored too close to land.

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What is the soil like and is my anchor the right one for it?

Either the water is so clear that I can see with the naked eye what kind of subsoil it is, or I can see from the nautical map what type of soil is to be expected in the bay. Usually the soil types are encoded with letters. A look at the legend on the nautical chart helps here. For example, the letter “S” usually stands for the term “sand”. Sand, loam or silt are usually very good supports. It becomes more difficult in larger seagrass fields, kelp, scree or corals, to name just a few.

Where are the anchors of the other yachts and how much chain have they deployed?

It is particularly important to understand where the anchors of the other yachts are and how much chain they have deployed, especially in full or in narrow anchor fields, as this results in different swivel circles.

I’ve got used to asking the surrounding anchor berths in very narrow spaces how much chain they have deployed, provided they are present. Alternatively, after arriving in tropical areas or the Mediterranean, I go swimming with glasses and a snorkel and get an idea of ​​the situation underwater. It doesn’t have to be, but I really enjoy snorkeling and swimming anyway.

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Determine the length of the anchor chain to be deployed

The depth at the anchorage is checked using an echo sounder and the length of the chain is then measured. It should be noted that I would generally try not to anchor if the water depth is more than 20 meters. Should it be over at 30 meters at the latest?

There are two reasons for this: On the one hand, you should always choose a depth at which the anchor can be cleared with a dive if it does get caught on the bottom. On the other hand, there comes a point at which the joint weight of the chain and anchor hanging freely in the water becomes so great that the electric winch reaches its load limit. A ten millimeter thick chain weighs around 2.2 kilograms per running meter. That makes 66 kilograms at a depth of 30 meters. If you add 20 kilograms of anchors, that’s 86 kilograms that the winch has to lift up!

Critics might note that only a chain precursor and otherwise a leash could be used. Personally, I don’t think much of that. A solid, reliable anchor gear and a chain that should be at least 50 meters long belong on a blue water yacht. As I said, we’re talking about a blue water yacht and not anchoring on the Baltic Sea, where it can certainly work differently. However, I would always want to use a chain there. Because the most important thing when anchoring is, in addition to the anchor, the chain feed.

The more chain there is on the seabed, the better the anchor holds because the chain feed fulfills several important aspects. For example, it dampens swaying movements, it also generates friction on the ground and it ensures that the pull on the anchor occurs horizontally.

A line would have to be extended much more length to compensate for these aspects. At full anchorages it becomes difficult again with surrounding yachts and the large swivel radius.

Tip: If the crew likes to dive or snorkel, I recommend watching your own anchor underwater. That creates a lot of confidence in anchoring. If everything is correct, you can quickly see that the chain intercepts all movements as it moves forward.

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Interestingly, I read in specialist books or often hear rules at anchorage such as “Always anchor with five times the water depth as the chain length”. This may be true in shallow water, but once it gets a little deeper, not. Who should put out 125 meters of chain at 25 meters depth? Apart from the fact that the swivel radius would then be up to 100 meters. How should I coordinate this with my neighboring residents?

With us on board, we therefore follow a different rule of thumb: If the anchorage allows, we anchor in such a way that there is at least 20 meters of chain on the ground. If the water is 3 meters deep, it means the following: 20 meters of chain are on the ground. Then there are around 5 meters in which the chain bends upwards and does not lie permanently on the ground. And finally the water depth follows. In short: 20 plus 5 plus 3 meters – so 28 meters of chain. If we anchor at a depth of 25 meters, it would be 20 meters on the ground plus a 5 meter curve upwards plus 25 meters of water depth – i.e. 50 meters.

The minimum is 20 meters of chain on the ground. 30 meters is much better if the space in the anchor field allows. We anchor with a 30 meter lead whenever possible – so far that was always enough! It would be a fallacy to believe that the chain is sloping from the anchor on the ground up to the bow. With increasing depth it is much too heavy for that. Keyword: dead weight. The deeper it is at the anchorage, the more vertically the chain hangs down because its own weight is so great that it has no other choice. And that’s good!

In addition to the water depth, the area of ​​the yacht exposed to wind and the strength of the wind also play an important role when calculating the chain length. Therefore, the above rule can only be viewed as a rule of thumb.

What’s more, if a storm is weathered at anchor, the yacht may pull the chain upwards more than its own weight pulls it downwards. Therefore, in such an extreme situation, as much chain as possible should always be inserted in order to achieve a better hold via the chain feed. The above rule of thumb then no longer applies. When there is a storm: “A lot helps a lot” – if space permits.

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Length markings on the chain make it easier to anchor

Of course, it is important to know how deep it is and how much chain has been applied. While the depth can be read on the echo sounder, markings on the chain help. One way of marking the chain is to paint it with paint.

Tip: The marking should be made every ten centimeters and be of a conspicuous color, otherwise it can be overlooked. 10 meters are marked with a line, 20 meters with two, 30 meters with three … Alternatively, there are so-called chain markings, neon-colored plastic clips that can be clipped into the chain.

Here are three remarks: It is best to order two packages at the same time, as you need a few clips in order not to overlook them. In addition, one should definitely not worry about the production costs of the clips in relation to their price. And finally, it helps to note the color length code of the chain in the flap of the anchor box. This means that every sailor has the option of showing how much chain has already been deployed when the anchor is dropped.

As already indicated, it can happen that a storm has to be weathered at anchor. Then, if necessary, a second anchor should be deployed and, above all – if the water depth is great – a line should be shackled. Depending on the seabed, one important rule should not be overlooked: Never shackle more line than it is deep. Otherwise there is a risk of the line chafing through the seabed. Against this background, the line should also be marked every five meters using spray paint, permanent markers or whipping rings so that the exact length can be selected later.

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This is how the anchor maneuver is performed

The most important requirement for relaxed anchoring is that the actual anchor maneuver is carried out correctly. It works like this: First, the length of the chain is determined according to the above principle and passed on to a crew member on the bow. The ship is then brought to a stop above the dropping point and the command “anchor drops” is given.

Tip: While the anchor is rushing into the depths, the fellow sailor should give hand signals at the bow in analogy to the length of the expired chain (1 finger = 10 meters, 2 fingers = 20 meters, etc.).

When the point is reached where the anchor should touch the ground, the skipper begins to drive slowly backwards so that there is no chain mountain on the ground and the anchor and chain do not get caught. The emphasis here is on “slow” so that the anchor is not pulled out again before it is properly gripped.

Once the right chain length has been installed, the anchor and chain are given a little time to sort themselves. The person on the bow grips the chain with their hand – alternatively, their foot can also be placed on the chain. As long as the anchor and chain are sorted on the ground, vibrations can be felt on the chain. Only when the anchor has been properly gripped and the chain has taken its final parking position does calm return. This is the moment when reverse gear is engaged and you run backwards with at least 1,200 revolutions. The ship wanders through the bay until the chain is fully stretched and the anchor is pulled into the ground.

The next step is to look for a bearing point in the vicinity – that can be another anchored yacht (not ideal, as it can float, but possible), a buoy or a pier.

As long as your own ship is moving, the far area behind the bearing point also moves. If the anchor grabs and our ship stops, the far area behind the point also stops. This state should be reached after not too long. In addition, no more vibrations should be felt on the chain. If both are the case, you can be very sure that the anchor is buried and will hold.

If the basic iron does not find a hold, the maneuver must be performed again. This is annoying, but it has the advantage that we have already found out what we would probably have found out at four in the morning with the wind and rain blowing. 😉

Finally the anchor ball is hoisted, although I have to say that this is more of a German virtue. Nobody cares about this at anchorages around the world and hardly any sailor does that. The anchor light is then more important. In the age of LED lamps, it can in principle burn for 24 hours because the power consumption is so low.

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Use an anchor claw when anchoring

If the anchor has been retracted on the ground, an anchor claw is hooked into the chain and attached to a cleat with a rope. Then the chain is slackened so far that the pull is passed on to the leash by means of the claw. This relieves the load on the electric anchor winch bearings. In addition, the not inconsiderable noise nuisance caused by engaging in the chain is avoided.

It is helpful if the rope has a lot of stretch or is wrapped around a shock absorber. Then all movements are optimally dampened – including swell! Incidentally, this applies to both ends of the chain. As a result, there is also less jerky pull on the anchor. For example with a gust.

Program an anchor watch

Last but not least, an anchor watch should always be programmed. This works on almost all GPS devices or via corresponding apps in the smartphone. If the anchor does not stop and changes position, the device triggers an alarm. This feature ensures peaceful sleep in unsafe anchorages.

Tip: Incidentally, for those new to anchoring it can be a good start not to drop the anchor just before nightfall during the first anchoring maneuver, but to reach the destination in the afternoon. A few hours pass before dusk, and the skipper and crew have already got a feel for how the ship behaves at anchor and whether it is safely buried.

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Pick up the anchor again

Picking up the anchor is comparatively easy. After removing the anchor claw, the crew member on the bow shows with an outstretched arm where the chain is, so that the person at the helm can hold the bow in this direction with a slight advance. This protects the bow fitting and takes some of the work off the windlass. Incidentally, this is a job that children can do well on board.

In most cases the vertical pull upwards breaks the anchor out of the ground. If this does not happen, the anchor is driven over to break it out – at the latest now, a stable bracket on the bow is of great importance.

Of course it can also happen that an anchor cannot be picked up again. This has happened to us twice on our various trips. Once the anchor was stuck under a coral block and we had to free-dive it. The other time it was stuck on the ground of an old scrap anchor weighing several hundred kilograms in a Greek port. We had to have an official diver come because private diving was strictly forbidden in the port. For now more than 600 nights at anchor, that’s a very good result.

The use of a trip buoy when anchoring

Basically, a trip buoy that is connected to the anchor with a thin line can alleviate such problems. For this purpose, the leash – in relation to the chain – is attached to the opposite end of the shaft. In the case of the CQR or bow anchor, this would be on the cross bar.

If the anchor is on the seabed, the line extends from the anchor to the water surface. The length of the line should be at least three meters longer than the depth (more in tidal waters if necessary). The buoy at the end of the line then shows where the anchor is.

The big advantage is that a stuck anchor can be pulled upside down by means of the triple line. However, it makes little sense to anchor with trip buoy at all anchorages. For example, if it is very full at an anchorage, the buoy can get caught in another ship and then the foreign ship may pull our anchor out of the ground. We always use a trip buoy when the nature of the seabed is unclear and there is enough distance to other anchorages. Then it can be a useful help.

In your own interest, the name of the ship and an anchor symbol should be painted on the trip buoy. Otherwise, another sailor may believe it is a mooring and pick up the buoy. Which is also a reason to put at least three meters more line than the water depth. Otherwise the anchor may be pulled from the ground.


Anchoring is not magic. On the contrary: It is more of a hard work that gets easier and easier over time. If you pay attention to the points mentioned, you will probably find pleasure in it quickly. And as a sailor or motorboat owner, sooner or later you can’t avoid spending the nights on the Grundisen. Personally, I’m a big fan of it. The silence, the loneliness and the discovery of places that can only be reached by boat. That has an appealing appeal for me. A very attractive charm. 🙂

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