Correct anchoring in the current


Anchoring – a wonderful experience

When we are out and about with our sailing ship, it often happens that we spend the night at anchor. For my family and me it is one of the most beautiful ways to end the sailing day and begin. The tranquility at the anchorage, the gentle lapping of the waves on the hull and the possibility of anchoring our ship in an idyllic setting away from the overcrowded marinas make the attraction for me. It is not uncommon for there to be currents at anchorage – especially in the area on our doorstep, the North Sea, the tides are part of everyday life on board.

Although anchoring with a current is not much different than anchoring without a current, there are a few things to consider that make life on board easier. I would not like to go into the anchor maneuver as such, but rather show what there is still to be observed when there is a current at the anchorage.

Wind and current

Two factors are largely responsible for the position of the ship at anchorage. Current and wind. Their respective strengths play a significant role.

A strong current in calm or weak winds causes the boat to lean into the current. The stronger the current, the faster this happens and the more stable the ship’s position is usually. If the current is not so strong, the ship swims around more. If the wind is strong and the current is not so strong, however, the boat tries to lay its bow in the wind.

In contrast to anchoring without a current (where only the wind plays a role), there are two different influencing factors that determine the position of the ship at the anchorage. If they are in harmony, this is not a problem – this is the case, for example, when the wind and current are in the same direction.

On the other hand, it can be exhausting when the wind blows reasonably strong and the current is reasonably strong – in opposite directions. Then the ship begins to sway back and forth vigorously. Even more: it can happen that the ship drives over the anchor.

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Use anchor claw

If such a situation occurs, the anchor chain may rub against the hull and, in the worst case, even damage the hull. Of course, this should be avoided. We use a so-called anchor claw on board. It’s a claw with a rope on it. The claw is hooked into the chain and the rope is attached to a cleat. Then the chain is slackened a lot so that it is strain-relieved and hangs down. When anchoring in the current, care must be taken that the claw hooks into the chain underwater so that the chain and claw cannot damage the hull.

But otherwise I would always use an anchor claw when anchoring, because shifting the pull to the cleat relieves and protects the anchor winch bearings. In addition, this procedure reduces sound transmission of the chafing noises of the anchor chain on the seabed.

If the combination of wind and current becomes too strenuous, a sea anchor, a bucket or a stern anchor can help.

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Use of a sea anchor

If the wind increasingly wins the upper hand, this leads, as written, to the fact that the ship swells heavily at the anchorage. Then it helps to use an aid to increase the current acting on the ship so that the wind loses out. For example, a sea anchor can be used. It’s a large, funnel-shaped body that is left aft at the stern.

The current flows through the funnel and pressure is created on the funnel. This means that the yacht is aligned in the current because the sea anchor is in the current. Alternatively, a stable Pütz can be used. In the long run, however, a sea anchor is preferable.

Tip: Since the sea anchor is below the surface of the water, it happens time and again that sailors forget about it when going up anchor. He is simply overlooked. In the worst case, it will get into the propeller during the maneuver. Therefore, a warning should always be attached to the ignition key in this case.

The big advantage of the sea anchor is that it can also be used well in areas with changing currents. For example on a river with ebb and flow. It usually hangs vertically as the tide tilts. After the tide tilts, it then builds up again in the new position. This would not be possible with a deployed stern anchor.

Sea anchors are usually made of flexible material. Usually, they take up little storage space, are light and affordable. So there is little to be said against having a sea anchor on board.

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Stern anchor

The stern anchor is another alternative to aligning the ship in the current with the bow to the current. However, I would only use this variant on bodies of water whose current always flows in the same direction. For example on the Rhine. On the other hand, if the current changes every six hours to the rhythm of the tides, the stern anchor would have to be re-deployed every time. I think that is impractical.

Rudder amidships

In general, when anchoring in the current, the rudder is set and fixed in the midship position. Everything else leads to the ship pulling hard at the anchor and trying to drive away sideways. It happened to me by mistake in a creek on the North Sea. Suddenly the current was so strong that the ship tried to drive to the edge of the creek, pulling mightily at the anchor and pulling it through the mudflats for several meters.

Length of the anchor chain

You should always keep in mind that in some tidal areas the length of the anchor chain that is deployed must always be measured so that I have enough chain in place at high tide. Also areas with currents – if space allows – a little more chain as a buffer.
Depending on the area and the shape of the ship, you can also let yourself dry out at anchor at low tide. Always a special experience. But that’s another matter 🙂

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Dealing with the tide tilt

In tide areas, to say the least, the current tumbles every six hours. The ebb current is followed by the flood current and vice versa. In between there is the so-called backwater phase. As a result, the ship moves to a new anchor position every time the current changes direction and the anchor on the sea floor is more or less dug up and re-buried. A process that worries some skippers and prevents them from anchoring in the current. It doesn’t have to be like that. There is a trick you can use here – especially when the tide tilts in the middle of the night.

I generally program an anchor watch with us. A point is set and the distance to it is monitored. If the distance is too great, an alarm goes off. The skipper determines how big the radius around the ship should be. When anchoring in tidal waters, the yacht’s position is usually very stable at one point. Therefore, the radius can be selected to be correspondingly small. If the tide tilts, the alarm is triggered and I am informed and can monitor the process.

Use of instruments

Multifunctional displays are used on many yachts, which display the following two values, among other things: “Travel through the water” and “Travel over the ground”. In an area with a current, you can usually see very quickly whether the anchor is slipping or holding by looking at these two values. However, this only applies when there is little wind or calm.

If the “ride over the ground” is practically zero knots and the “ride through the water” is two knots, for example, the anchor stops. In the example, the two knots correspond to the speed at which the water flows under the ship – this leads to an alleged “journey through the water” even though the ship is at anchor. In the photo below it is 2.07 knots. The “ride over ground”, however, is 0.08 knots. That fits!

On the other hand, if the “trip over the ground” is two knots and the “trip through the water” is zero knots, the anchor probably no longer holds. The opposite has happened and the ship drifts on with the current speed. As I said: This only applies when there is little wind or calm. In strong winds – especially when the wind is against the tide – it can temporarily lead to a ride over the ground, although the anchor stops because the ship anchors restlessly due to the wind.

In other words: in an area with a current, the ship at anchor usually travels through the water and never over the ground when there is calm or little wind!

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Gaining confidence in anchoring with a current

Sailors who are new to anchoring in the current can make life a little easier if they arrive at the anchorage very early the first time before dark. Ideally, you will experience a tide tilt in daylight and get a feel for what it feels like.

In addition, you can quickly determine whether your own anchor gear fits the given soil conditions. If the anchor holds without any problems after the tide tilts, this is usually the case with every subsequent tide tilt as well.

Deploy the safety line

A safety note is allowed: If you fall overboard at an anchorage with a current, you can have considerable problems swimming against the current to get back to the ship. From two knots of flow speed it becomes impossible for most of them. A floating line with a fender behind the stern can help here if necessary.


Anchoring in the current is not rocket science, because strictly speaking it is not that different from normal anchoring without a current. However, the above points should be observed so that anchoring in the stream is fun.

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