Anchoring is one of the great pleasures available to the cruising yachtsman. There are few things better than relaxing at anchor on a fine summer’s evening in the company of friends or loved ones. A quiet anchorage can really make a cruising holiday.
It’s a pity then, when so many people seem nervous of anchoring and opt, instead, for a crowded (and expensive) marina. There is no reason why a good anchorage cannot afford the competent cruiser a relaxing and enjoyable venue for an overnight stay.
Perhaps then, we should consider what the competent yachtsman should consider when planning to anchor overnight. Here are some suggestions;
1 - Know the weather forecast!
Probably the most important variable is the weather forecast for the next 24 - 36 hours. There is little sense anchoring in poor weather, unless you have to, and the warm showers ashore and the restaurants of a familiar port are probably a better option if poor weather is forecast.
That said, you may be on passage and have decided to take refuge enroute. In this case, make sure the proposed anchorage will suit the forecast. You want to be in sheltered water and downwind of the shore. If a forecast change in wind direction will create a lee shore, you need to know about it and make provision and relocate, accordingly.
You also need to allow for time to get to a sheltered harbour if you are planning a short stay at anchor. Remember, rolling swell into a bay may arrive some time before the wind that is forecast. Understanding the weather forecast and how it will affect your comfort and safety is critical.
2 - Know the terrain
It is important to know what impact local terrain may have on your chosen anchorage. For example, is the anchorage sheltered from the prevailing wind ? What is the nature of the seabed ? Are you anchoring in sand, mud, shale, rock or something else? Your choice of anchor and it’s holding ability will be dictated by the nature of the seabed.
Check the chart and almanac for restrictions against anchoring. These may be seasonal or specific to a particular area (for example where submarine power cables run along the seabed).
Make sure you allow for tidal ranges. You need to have enough chain out for high water and enough room under your radius of swing when at low water.
Also read our article: What to Consider when Anchoring?
3 - What effects will tidal flow and current have on your anchorage
Anchoring in a strong tidal stream is likely to be uncomfortable and it will make holding more of a challenge. A good anchorage should be sheltered from the elements and a strong tide is one of them. As when sailing, wind against tide will quickly build a chop that will be downright horrible when at anchor.
4 - Be aware of other vessels in the area and local traffic
The whole point of anchoring, for most cruisers at least, is to take advantage of quiet, unpopulated places. When you anchor, try not to sit right next to your neighbour unless you have to. Make sure that you are not on a well-travelled route of a local ferry or fishing fleet! And make sure you use proper day and night signals.
5 - Crime?!
If sailing abroad, make sure you are not anchoring in an area known for crime. A yacht at anchor in some parts of the world is an inviting target. Ask around with other yachties and use your common sense.
6 - Make sure to lay enough chain / warp and set an anchor alarm / anchor watch
We all know the rules, 4 x max water depth if chain and 6 x max water depth if warp. If in doubt, let more out, and check your swing radius. Make sure you and your neighbours are all swinging free. If one has a kedge anchor, it is going to cause issues !
Then, take a couple of fixes (ideally one should be a transit) and set an anchor drag alarm on your GPS. If the situation demands it, arrange an anchor watch so that the vessel’s position is monitored, at least intermittently, throughout the night.
7 - Ensure that you have a good view of the sunset, a nice glass of chilled Chablis and….