Boating Tips

Deploying an Anchor: Best Practices & Considerations

Anchored boat

Technique is key when anchoring.

Few boats come adequately outfitted with all of the necessary equipment and gear for anchoring in all conditions, or in any type of bottom that the crew might encounter. Making the boat so-equipped should be a top priority for the new owner, and this includes the ability to deploy and retrieve the biggest, heaviest, or the most awkward-to-handle anchors.


Good technique for deploying your anchor is as follows: Position the boat, halt forward momentum, and as sternway is gained, lower the anchor to the seabed. Deploy an appropriate length of rode (scope), install a snubber or bridle, then back down (set) on the anchor. When finished be certain to secure the rode so it doesn't continue to slide out. Don't forget to hang the mandated day shape, or for night or restricted visibility, the anchor light.

Other Thoughts

  • When entering unfamiliar anchorages, go slow; sound your way in as the bottom may have changed since a chart update.
  • Take into account the tidal range, if in salt water. Calculate the depth at low tide and act accordingly.
  • Prior to deploying the anchor, check the depths of the water, not only where the boat will initially be anchored, but also in areas where the wind or current might swing the boat.
  • Prior to letting go the anchor, if practical, head up into the wind or current, whichever has the greatest influence on the boat. If you're not sure, stop the boat to see which direction it drifts.
  • It is best to not allow the anchor to reach the seabed until all forward momentum has ceased.
  • The anchor should be lowered to the seabed, not just tossed overboard. Anchors can be deployed from any amiable location on the boat, so long as the rode leads fair to where it will be belayed.
  • For a hard bottom, you will need 10' to 20' of chain, and a scope of 7:1 or more may be necessary to get an anchor's flukes to dig in. Some anchors, such as the Ultra, are better than others.
  • When using the engine to back down on the anchor, increase the load on the anchor slowly.
  • In determining how hard to back down on the anchor, think in terms of a "sliding scale"–use the amount of force that is commensurate with the anticipated conditions. For example, if the conditions are mild, the length of time to be at anchor will be short, and the crew remaining aware of the weather, backing down "very lightly" on the anchor may be acceptable. On the other hand, if the conditions are or will be "heavier", back down on the anchor as hard as is necessary to ensure that the anchor is set well enough for those conditions.
  • When setting out an additional anchor, we recommend anchors taken out by dinghy. The dinghy can be rowed or powered, though with much wind or current, rowing might not be a viable option. 
  • When an anchor is deployed by dinghy, the rode can be towed away from the main vessel, a good choice when wind or current is favorable. The other alternative, especially when wind or current is against you, is to load the anchor and the entire rode into the dinghy, position and drop the anchor, then pay out the rode from the dinghy as it returns to the main vessel. In this latter method, carrying a float or extra line in the dinghy could be helpful in case the rode comes up short.
  • Two or more dinghies working in tandem can be used to deploy an anchor. The anchor is worked from the rear dinghy, while the front dinghy provides power and steerage. This is a particularly effective method to use when strong currents are running or the wind is up.
  • When getting additional anchors out by dinghy is just not practical or safe, consider using fenders, cushions, or enough other items with sufficient flotation to support the anchor and the large loops of rode that follow. The anchor and rode need only float high enough to keep them from dragging on the bottom. Then, using your mask, fins, and snorkel, swim the gear out into place. In cold water, a wet suit might be a welcome addition to this gear. If the flotation pendants are attached by a slipped knot the gear is easier to let go.

Anchoring guide to swimmer

  • Getting an anchor of size overboard, one not housed on a roller, cathead, or in a hawse pipe, may require a windlass, winch, davit, or boom, plus any associated tackle, turning blocks, or other contrivances, as well as some ingenuity, and maybe an additional crew member(s). Make these arrangements ahead of time.
  • If the anchor may become fouled, prior to deployment attach a trip line or scow the anchor.