So, what do you do if a storm is on its way and you’re anchored in a harbor? Anchoring in a storm or in high winds is part of the sailing lifestyle. Many storms arrive unannounced and others, although predicted, can turn out to be worse than expected.Use these eight steps to anchoring in a storm. As a sailor, it's important to understand key steps to ensure your boat and crew are safe. Click To Tweet
After reading the steps make sure to watch our video, located below, showcasing A Big Blow in The Bahamas.
For three days we were anchoring in a storm dealing with sustained winds of up to 45 knots and gusts well over 50 knots. The video also shows a catamaran dragging and important information about how we handled the high winds.
8 Steps To Anchoring In A Storm
1. Analyze your surroundings
Survey your current anchor spot and determine if it makes sense to move the boat – either to another safer anchorage or to another spot within the anchorage. There is a multitude of factors to consider when analyzing the safety of a harbor; especially when a storm is on its way.
Ideally, you want the wind, when it hits, to blow you away from land and/or any obstructions (rocks, shallows, etc.) in addition to having good holding for your anchor. Look at the forecasts to determine if the wind direction will change and if you can safely swing on your anchor.
Another key consideration regarding anchoring in a storm is the number of boats in the anchorage.
With more boats, there are more chances of another boat dragging and hitting you. There’s also the position within the anchorage to consider. If you anchor close to shore and you drag, how many boats will you take out on your way? Or what happens if you get your anchor line fouled in another line?
TIP: We usually choose to anchor the furthest away from land and other boaters in a harbor. Our feeling is that if things get really bad, our best bet is to up anchor and head out into sea away from other boats, land, etc. The downside of doing so is that the wind can often be stronger as there’s less protection from the land.
2. Dive on your anchor.
Wherever you decide to anchor, if it’s possible, make sure to dive down to visually ensure that it’s bedded in. Later on, when the storm hits this action will provide a higher degree of comfort. In many cases, it’s not possible to do a visual inspection, but if you could have done it and didn’t, you’ll regret it when the winds start blowing.
When diving, make sure that the anchor is set well. Also, take note of the seabed. If you’ve anchored in the grass or around grass you might want to switch to an alternative anchorage. When dragging in the grass the anchor often gets filled with grass and mud preventing the anchor from being able to reset.
Important note: Many sailors fail to understand the art of anchoring. I think that people assume it’s easy or that it’s just one of those things that come naturally?! If you have any doubt about your knowledge of anchoring and/or whether or not your ground tackle is correct for your boat, this is one aspect where ignorance is not bliss.
Get my step-by-step guide on how to anchor. Not only will it decrease your likelihood of dragging, but it will also provide you with increased peace of mind that you prepared properly.
3. Let out enough scope when anchoring in a storm
If you’re happy with your current location and you’ve done your best to verify that the anchor is well set, the next step is to consider your scope. The scope is the ratio of anchor rode (anchor chain or rope) let out according to the depth of water you’re in, taking into consideration your freeboard (length from the deck to the waterline). Most sailors use a ratio of around 3 to 5 times the depth in calm weather. So, if you’re in 15’ of water (including freeboard), you’ll let out 75’ of rode using the 5x ratio.
When you originally anchored, if your scope was between 3x to 5x the depth, you’ll want to increase that figure. Many sailors will aim for a scope of 7x to 8x scope during storm situations if doing so does not put the boat in danger. The key concept to grasp is that more rode causes more of a horizontal pull on an anchor and less rode causes a vertical pull.
During a storm, the wind causes the anchor rode to pull back and waves cause it to jostle up and down. The more rode that’s out the less likely that it will pull up and out.
And if the anchor does pull out, with more rode, you’ll have better chances for it to drag rather than get pulled through the water. In other words, if the anchor drags it’s more likely to reset itself provided enough scope is used.
It’s important to note, however, that too much scope is not necessarily good either.
Too much rode can put you dangerously close to obstructions. Furthermore, in really high winds, your boat can start to sail. We’ve seen boats sail right off the anchor due to too much rode out!
In short, before a storm hits, ensure that you have a scope that is suitable.
4. Make sure you have a snubber, or bridle, attached with anti-chafing guards.
If you don’t have a snubber or bridle and plan on anchoring your boat often, you’ll need to put that on your shopping list as a number one priority. Time after time I see boats without snubbers and I can’t believe my eyes.
A snubber takes the load of the ground tackle, wind, and current, off the windless mechanism (the thing that pulls the chain in and out) and places it onto the hull, or superstructure, of the boat.
The windless is just a tiny bit of kit. You wouldn’t want something so small to hold the weight of the boat, would you? By using a snubber, you effectively create a small bit of slack in the anchor chain removing any pressure on the windless. The load is then transferred onto strongpoints on the hull of the boat.
Again, if you’re not accustomed to using a snubber, make sure to get my anchoring guide as it’s a vital piece of equipment. Within the guide, I offer information on how to use a snubber.
Additionally, when anchoring in a storm, the snubber can move about over the top of the anchor chainplate. There’s a high chance of chafing so the use of anti-chaffing guards is vital. If you don’t have chafe guards, you can wrap areas of the snubber with heavy-duty tape.
5. Check that your anchor alarm is set
In fact, use a couple of anchor alarm systems to ensure you’re covered. We use our built-in GPS anchor alarm system in addition to an Ipad anchor alarm app (We use SafeAnchor.net). When our alarm goes we know that it’s time to jump into action.
Anchor alarms allow you to program the position of your anchor and then set the radius that you’re happy to swing within. If the boat goes outside the circumference of the circle the alarm will trigger.
In 99.9% of the cases, our alarms are triggered due to naturally swinging outside the limits we set, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you’re dragging you want to know as soon as possible.
6. Reduce the amount of windage on your boat
Before the storm hits, remove anything that will catch the wind and increase the load on the anchor tackle. Pull down your sprayhood, bimini, cockpit enclosures, and so forth. Not only will this protect them from tears, or blowing off, but also it will provide your anchor with a higher chance of holding.
7. Decide upon an anchor watch system
When anchoring in a storm, if it’s really going to blow and you’re in a crowded harbor it might be worth setting a watch rotation. We often do three hours on and three hours off all through the night, similar to our night sailing watches. On an anchor watch, you’re ready to respond in the case of dragging and, often, more importantly, you can see an oncoming boat dragging towards you. We’ve had many boats drag in front of us, behind us and a few have even hit us. Luckily, we were always on sight to use fenders to fend the boat off or work with the other boat owner to find a solution.
8. Have anchor faith
If you have loads of time before a storm hits, (perhaps you’re reading this before you’ve even purchased a boat?!), my biggest piece of advice for you is to understand your anchor system. Find out how your anchor ranks in the world of best setting anchors for the seabed you plan on anchoring in. Research the areas you plan on anchoring in and make sure you have enough rode or chain.
Side story: Good friends of ours purchased a boat and set sail for the Bahamas. By the time they got to Georgetown they had anchored a couple of times and already realized that their anchor was not adequate. Having a Bruce anchor they dragged time and time again. When The Big Blow of 2018 hit they had three sleepless nights. Thankfully they didn’t drag during the high winds but they did drag at other times. As soon as they made it to Puerto Rico, where they could source a new anchor, they purchased a Rocna.
Nothing is worse than being stuck on a boat in high winds for 48 hours or 60 hours not having anchor faith. To reduce fear and be able to sleep at night, you want to know that you have an anchor that will keep you safe.
And if you don’t already have a Mantus Anchor or a similar new breed of more advanced anchors, do yourself a favor and get one. Whenever I start to freak out, my husband looks at me and says, ‘Kim, we have the best anchor in the world. We have a Mantus.’
Sailing and the sailing lifestyle is most exciting, enjoyable, and fulfilling.
However, there are bits and pieces that really suck. And I mean really, really suck. Being at anchor in a storm or in a hurricane is scary. If you’re going to be a boater, storms happen. Needless to say, when a storm hits you want to know that you’ve done the best you can.
Out of the millions of things that a boat owner can purchase, it can be confusing as to what’s a necessity versus what’s nice to have. Having a plotter that provides a touch screen or a new-fangled techy gadget is not a necessity! Having a sound ground tackle system is.
We’ve come across loads of boats that have all sorts of bells and whistles and then you look at the anchor and notice that it’s an old generation anchor (like a Bruce, Delta, or CQR). What the heck?! Priorities people. Priorities.
But sailing, sailboats, and the sailing lifestyle is overwhelming to newcomers. Heck, I’ve done this for six years full time and I still consider myself wet behind the ears. We don’t know what we don’t know.
Living Aboard A Boat Video – Featuring The Big Blow of The Bahamas (Anchoring in A Storm)
Enjoy more of Bahamas articles and episodes
Check out all our Bahamas articles and videos here: Sailing Bahamas
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