From time to time you’ll come upon an anchorage where it seems impossible to get your anchor to dig in. Anchoring in poor holding anchorages is not fun. But let’s step back and start at the beginning.
Here are the key steps to anchoring:
- Drop anchor
- Go in reverse to let chain out
- While the chain flows out, put out enough scope (around 5x the depth you’re anchoring in)
- Once enough chain is out, go into hard reverse to make sure the anchor digs into the ground and will hold your boat
- As long as your boat is in reverse, the chain stretches out in front and you’re not moving backward, your job is done (mostly).
However, there are anchorages where you drop your anchor, pull back, and keep going back.
That’s not what you want! The good news about this occurrence is that you can certainly feel it. I put my barefoot on the anchor chain (making sure the chain is locked at the windless so it’s not to be pulled out) and this helps me to feel what’s going on.
If I put my foot on the chain and there’s no movement after the chain is stretched out, it’s a good feeling. When I put my foot on the chain and I feel it bumping or vibrating I know we’re dragging the anchor along the seafloor. I can also look at right angles picking items on the land to determine if we’re staying still or moving back. And if you want electronic proof, the helmsperson can set an anchor alarm on the iPad to also see what’s going on.
Before heading to an anchorage you’ll do your homework and read up about it in a pilot or cruising book. You’ll know that it has good or poor holding.
But what does poor holding actually mean?
In many cases, it means that your anchor will find it difficult to dig into anything. Or if it does dig into the seafloor, the materials holding the anchor won’t hold it in place very well.
While visiting various anchorage you’ll come up against two main types of poor holding areas. One is grassy floors and the other is flat rock or flat rock with a tiny layer of sand/pebbles.
With grassy floors, your aim is to look for patches of sand to land the anchor on. And with flat rock you’ll want to find a rock or large mass to get the anchor to grab onto.
With grass, if you drag, pull up the anchor immediately and clean it off.
Once the anchor is full of grass it won’t have any hope of digging in. Sometimes you have to just try over and over again looking for a patch of sand.
With flat rock, however, it’s possible to drag the anchor slowly back until it bites into something. You’ll have to make sure you’re not going to drag over someone’s anchor line and that you have enough scope out. Once it bites, you can then slowly go in reverse, increase the revs, and test whether it holds or not.
In some cases, you simply can’t get the anchor to hold. We’ve been in bays where we’ve tried ten times and no luck.
In cases like that, we’ll eventually leave the anchorage OR if we have to stay, we’ll go in reverse very slowly until we get a bite, and then we simply don’t pull back to test the anchor. In light conditions, the chain will hold the boat in place. This is certainly not something that I advise but in some cases, it might be necessary (ex. It’s getting dark and you don’t have time to get to another anchorage). I wouldn’t get off the boat knowing that the anchor wasn’t properly set. And I’d certainly sleep with the anchor alarm next to me!
Most anchorages that you visit will have good holding so this won’t happen often.
But even in good holding, it can take a few tries to get the anchor to bed in. Don’t ever feel bad about pulling the anchor up and trying again in a new spot. Anchoring is more of an art than a science.
And something to keep in mind – if you have troubles anchoring, that’s an indication that everyone else around you did too. When anchored in low holding anchorages you’ll want to pop up if a squall comes through or any high winds to keep an eye, not only on your boat but the boats around you. And having an anchor alarm, a device to let you know you’re dragging is a must.
For a step-by-step guide on how to anchor and weigh anchor, enabling you to better sleep at night, get my guide, How To Anchor – A Checklist To Prevent Dragging
Check Out Other Sailing, Maneuvering & Mooring Related Articles and Videos
To get an overview of all our sailing, maneuvering, and mooring related articles and videos, start here: Sailing, Maneuvering & Mooring. Otherwise, check out one of these articles or videos:
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- High Wind Sailing Techniques
- How To Tie Onto A Mooring Ball
- How To Leave A Dock
- Anchoring In Poor Holding Anchorages
- Anchoring In Storms
- Anchoring Complications – Picking Up Someone Else’s Anchor
- How To Pole Out Your Jib Downwind Sailing
- Sailing With A Gennaker
- Rigging, Sails & Reefing On A Sailboat
- Sailing Pre-Passage Checklist