Sailboat Anchoring – Sailing Basics Video Series

Anchoring opens up a world of possibilities! Some sailors prefer to stick with mooring balls, but learn to anchor, and you have access to so many more amazing bays and coves. In this video lesson we take an in depth look at anchoring to make sure you know the basics, and can anchor confidently knowing your sailboat is not going to drag.

  • What makes a good anchorage?
  • Circle and inspect
  • Get everything ready
  • Drop and use hand signals
  • Attach snubber
  • Reverse on anchor to set
  • Swim and inspect
  • Hang out on the boat for a bit!

We already took notes!

We have included all of the things we said in the video here, so you can just copy and paste what you need for your notes.

Hey guys, today we are in the Sea of Cortez, a beautiful part of Mexico, and we want to come in and find a really nice little anchorage just to drop the hook, have lunch, go for a swim. What we’re going to do today is we’re going to talk you through the steps on how to anchor. Anchoring is one of those things that if you know how to do it and follow a couple of simple steps, it’s really pretty straightforward and easy. However, you will see a lot of people who really don’t do it the right way. We often see folks come flying into an anchorage, and they’ll drop their anchor. Five minutes later, they’re all piling into the dinghy and they’re going to shore for rum punches. It’s always a little sad when you watch their boat just kind of drag through the anchorage. We don’t want that to happen. We want to make sure that when we finally stop for the day or we go ashore, that we know that our anchor is set really, really well.

What makes a good anchorage? Really important that we choose an anchorage where we’re going to feel safe and it’s going to be a great place to hang out for a night, or even for a couple of days. The first thing we’re looking for when we come into an anchorage is depth. We want to find an anchorage that has a really good depth, so we can let out the right amount of chain to feel comfortable.

Number two is, we’re looking for good holding ground. Sand is always the best option. If you can find sand, the anchor’s going to dig in and hold really well. The worst holding ground are got rocky bottoms, maybe weeds on the bottom, or even coral. The anchors is not going to dig in and hold very well, so always look for sand. How do you know what the quality of the bottom is? We always want to check our charts before we come in, and then also the other place that you can look is your cruising guide. Cruising guides have a wealth of information, and they’ll tell you about the quality of the bottom, best depths for anchoring, and all that, so we always check our cruising guides.

Next thing we want to look for is shelter. Really important. You want to sleep well at night. Find shelter from the swell. That’s the most important one. One little trick there. When I come into an anchorage, I like to look around and see people’s masts. If you look at people’s masts and they’re standing straight like this, then usually it means there’s not much swell coming in. If you see people’s masts doing this, rocking back and forth, that means swell is refracting or wrapping in, and it’s going to be a bumpy night. So find a place that is sheltered from the swell. In terms of the wind, some people really want to find shelter from the wind. In colder latitudes, that’s definitely true. Give you a warmer night. In tropical latitudes, I actually like to find places where there is wind, just because it’s nice to have wind flowing through the boat, and it’s a little cooler aboard.

Next thing we’re looking for is room to swing. We want to make sure that when we anchor, we have a full 360° circle, all the way around our boat, where we can swing and we’re not going to hit any other boats, or land, or hazards in the water. The last thing we’re looking for is ideally, if your anchor drags you want to be where there’s not the danger of lee shore. A lee shore means that if your anchor drags, you don’t want the wind to blow you towards the beach. Ideally, you want the wind coming off of the beach, so that it blows you away from land if your anchor does drag.

Okay, so now we’re going to talk about the most important thing when it comes to anchoring, and that is how much chain do we need to let out so that that the anchor digs in and holds our boat. This is probably the biggest mistake that so many people make. When we drop our anchor, the ideal ratio of anchor chain to depth is five to one, when you’ve got all chain on your boat, which most charter boats and most larger sailboats do. We pull in to the anchorage, and we look at our depth transducer, and it says 10 feet. Right away, we’re tempted to say, “Hey, it’s 10 feet deep, times five, 50 feet.” You let out 50 feet of chain, and what’s interesting is you’re going to discover that you’re going to be dragging.

Why are we dragging? There’s a couple of things that we haven’t accounted for. Most depth transducers are set from the bottom of the keel, so actually, when we come in, the depth of the water is not 10 feet. We have to account for our keel. Let’s just say our keel is six feet, so actually, we need 10 feet plus six feet, which is 16 feet. What is 16 times five? Now we’re looking at 80 feet of chain that we need out. There’s a big difference between 50 and 80 feet, isn’t there?

So we put it out. You know what? We’re still dragging. I wonder why? The next thing we haven’t accounted for is where is that anchor chain going? Is it actually going to the water line or is it going up to the deck of our boat? It’s actually going up to the deck of our boat, which is quite a bit above the waterline. We call this the freeboard. On this boat, let’s estimate we’ve got a four foot freeboard, so now we’ve got to add four feet plus six feet for the keel, 10 feet for the depth. We’re dealing with 20 feet, so we’ve got 20 feet times five is now 100 feet.

If you notice, there’s a big difference. We initially dropped 50 feet of chain, but actually we needed double. We needed 100 feet. So the biggest mistake people make is they don’t account for the keel and they don’t account for the freeboard. So make sure you add those into your calculations so that you have the right amount of scope to let out when you drop your anchor. How does a 30 to 50, 60 pound anchor hold a 20,000 pound boat? Really important. It’s all about the angles. You have to have a shallow enough angle that your anchor digs in, and that’s why you want to make sure you let out enough chain.

Once we’ve picked our anchorage and we know where we want to be, first thing you want to do is always do a lap around the anchorage. This is a great opportunity just to check things out and make sure that everything is okay, and to pick a really good spot for the night. We’re looking at depth as we come in. Next thing we’re looking for is hazards. There could be something in the water, a rock, some kind of sunken object. So have somebody up on the bow looking down to make sure that there’s no hazards that we need to be aware of. The next thing we want to do is go between the boats and get an idea of spacing. How much room is there between the different boats, and where can we safely fit? We always want to drop our anchor just off the stern quarter, or kind of off the back of other boats. You don’t want to drop your anchor right next to them and end up beside another boat.

Now, couple of things we want to do to get ready, just so that anchor’s ready to come down. First thing we want to do is turn the anchor windlass on. Second thing you want to do is, if you have a safety line tied to your anchor, make sure you untie that. Next thing you want to do is we want to make sure our anchor is ready to deploy. I like to get it just a little bit off the bow roller so it’s ready to drop. We’re ready to drop the anchor now. We’re going to head in and position ourselves right over the spot that we want to drop.

We’re going to give the command, “Drop,” and the person on the bow is going to go ahead and start releasing the anchor. Really important that they do that quickly, and just get that anchor to the bottom, and just keep letting chain out. One thing that we really like to do is the person on the bow can show us hand signals, just so the helmsman knows how much chain is actually on the bottom at this point. On this boat, chain is marked every 25 feet, so we’re going to do one for 25 feet, two is the signal for 50, three for 75, and so forth, just so the helmsman knows how much chain is on the bottom.

When the right amount of chain is out, the next thing we want to do, before we do anything else, we want to put the snubber on. The snubber is really important. That’s the line that’s going to absorb the tension from the chain, and it’s also going to take all of the weight off of the windlass. One of the biggest mistakes we see people making is they’ll shop their anchor, let out all the chain, and then they start reversing with that chain around the windlass still. The windlass is only held to the deck of the boat with four bolts, and it’s really easy to rip that right off the deck, so you want to make sure you get the snubber on before you start putting it in reverse and testing that anchor.

Now we want to test our anchor, and this is where we’re going to get the peace of mind to know that our anchor is really dug in well, we’re safe to go ashore for rum punches, and we can sleep comfortably tonight. One of the things I like to remember is 1500 RPMs on a monohull simulates a 40 to 50 knot gust. Not super common, so we know if we can set that anchor at 1500 RPMs and it doesn’t drag, we can ride out a least a 40 to 50 knot gust. I’m going to go ahead and click it into reverse. Leave it at the first click. That’s going to straighten out the chain real gently.

Once my chain is tight, I can now go ahead and start slowly bringing up the RPMs. I’m going to test it at 1,000 RPMs first, see how it holds. Then I’m going to go up to 1,200 RPMs, and then I’m going to go to 1,500 RPMs. What I’m looking for at this point, I’m going to pick a point 90° from where I am, and I’m going to see if we are holding or if the boat is still moving backwards. The other thing that you can do, whoever’s on the bow at this point, if you’re in clear water, they can be looking down, and they can actually see little features on the bottom to see if the anchor is dragging, and the other thing they can do is they can actually put their foot on the chain and feel the vibrations. If that anchor is skipping along the bottom, they’ll be able to feel the vibrations. It’ll be pretty obvious. So we’re looking for the anchor chain to go real tight and hold us, and when I’m up to 1500 RPMs, we should be good.

If you’re in nice, warm, tropical water, one of the things I like to do once my anchor’s down and set, is to put on a mask and snorkel, jump in the water, go for a refreshing swim, and swim all the way up to the anchor, just to take a look and see how it’s dug in. Just make sure that it’s really dug in nicely to the sand, and it’s going to hold. That’s kind of the final check. When you’re all set, come back to the boat. Don’t race ashore two minutes after the anchor’s set. We like to hang out, crack a beer, have a drink on the boat, hang out for at least half an hour to an hour, and just kind of see what’s going on with the boat. See how it’s swinging. Are there any hazards? Are you dragging? Once you’ve had that half an hour to an hour on the boat and you really know things are good, that’s when you can head to shore.

These are the things that we like to do just to make sure that the anchor is set really well. Honestly guys, this is going to give you a lot more peace of mind when you do leave the boat, and at nighttime, you’ll be able to sleep a lot better. Thanks for watching. Be sure to subscribe and hit the bell so you’ll be notified of future videos. Lots more great videos are in the works, with all kinds of practical sailing tips. Be sure to check out the next video to continue learning from our basic sailing series.

About the Video Series

New to sailing? We created this comprehensive basic sailing video series just for you! We know how difficult it is to find solid answers to your questions related to sailing fundamentals. As professional sailing instructors, we get it, and since we cover these topics regularly with our students, we knew we could help you too. We created these Learn How to Sail:Sailing Basics Videos, to be your ultimate sailing 101 video series. In them we cover monohull sailing for beginners from anchoring to steps to recovering a man overboard, all the way up to perfect sail trim!


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