Does anchoring your boat safely, easily, and quickly each and every time you drop the hook sound like a piece of cake? Then the chances are you simply don’t anchor very often.
Anchoring a boat seems like it should be easy (especially if you’ve already studied up on the topic buy reading things like our article on Anchoring Tips From Sea Tow Captains), but different conditions, depths, and bottom surfaces often conspire to turn this seemingly simple maneuver into a disaster on a regular basis. To make matters even worse, certain types of activities — wreck fishing, for example — requires pinpoint anchoring accuracy. Want to know how the pro’s make anchoring look easier than it really is? Then use these tricks and tactics.
Anchoring Accuracy – Setting your boat on-station over a wreck the size of Volkswagon in 50-feet of water can be a real challenge. And as is true in most cases, what you need is the proper tool for the job: an anchoring buoy. Even in this day and age where we depend on GPS for everything from finding the canyons to driving a car to the store, the old-fashioned visual indication provided by a buoy can’t be beat. An old Clorox bottle works just fine for this purpose, but it’ll have to be rigged right. For starters, use braid fishing line or monofilament, not rope, to attach the weight. These materials catch far less resistance from the water. Wrap the line around the outside of the float so that when you drop it over the side, the weight at the end of the line will cause the float to spin in the water and deploy itself automatically.
When using weights like sash weights or large bank sinkers, bend a clothes hanger through an eye or around the end of the line. These will snag the wreck or shells on the bottom so the float doesn’t stray far from the hotspot, but they’re pliable enough to bend straight without breaking off your line when it’s time to retrieve the rig.
Now you’re ready to find that exact spot, and drop the buoy. When you do so, immediately shift into neutral and then allow the wind and/or current to take charge of the boat for a few minutes, long enough to create a distinct track-line on your chartplotter. Now, you’ll know the exact direction of your drift. Drive back to the buoy and, heading directly along that track line, pass it by about five times the depth; if it’s 50-feet, for example, motor 250-feet forward of the buoy. Then drop your anchor, let out about 200’ of line, and wait for it to come taut. Is the buoy directly astern? It should be. If not, pull that anchor and re-position to port or starboard, as necessary. Once it’s in line drop back additional anchor line until you can reach over the transom or gunwale and grab the buoy. Then the wreck or structure should be directly below you.
Note: After wreck fishing with the Yamaha Helm Master system, we need to point out that virtual anchoring functions (which allow you to hover in place and make tiny positioning adjustments at the press of a button or joystick) are thoroughly superior to old-fashioned anchoring. If you can afford to upgrade, get ‘em.
Calm Weather Anchoring Trick – In very calm conditions you can get even more accurate in even less time, by anchoring with a fishing line. Spool up a reel with 130-lb. test braid, and tie a large diamond jig on. Simply drag it over the wreck and snag it, then cleat off the line. It sounds impossible but modern braids of this test will actually hold a 20-something center console in position when there aren’t waves, wind, or current to contend with. (Note: plan on losing the jig).
The Bottom Line – One of the biggest reasons people flub their anchoring tests is because they aren’t using the proper anchor for the bottom type. You think you can get by with just one good all-around anchor? No way. Danforths are excellent in mud and sand bottoms, but they just bounce over shell beds. And if you use one to grab a wreck, chances are you’ll never get it back. Plows are great for sand and weeds but in muck, they’re little more than ditch-diggers that drag along endlessly. And on shell, again, they just bounce. Grappling anchors won’t do a thing for you on soft bottoms, but they’re the way to go when grabbing at wreckage or shell mounds. (Note: in some areas it’s illegal to use a grappling anchor near living reef; check your local regs before deploying). Of course, there are many other types of anchors and this is a partial list; you an see a pretty good comparison of the different types at West Marine Advisor, Selecting the Right Anchor.
Bottom line: every boat should carry multiple anchors to contend with multiple conditions.
Anchor Weight Matters – Is heavier better, when it comes to anchors? Many manufacturers would have you believe the answer is no, and high-dollar lightweight anchors are quite popular. What the manufacturers don’t tell you is that these anchors will plane if dragged through the water, and you’ll have a very tough time getting them to set unless you use a long, heavy length of chain – which simply replaces all that weight that expensive anchor eliminated.
Chain (read: weight) is, of course, always advantageous when you’re trying to get an anchor to set. But many people don’t like to use it regularly because it can beat up the boat, and break your back. The solution? Leave your anchor rigged without chain, but have a length of chain with an extra shackle ready to go. When sea conditions and depths require the use of the chain, simply break it out and rig it in place.
Direction of the Drift – You’re doing everything right, and still can’t get the hook to set? Remember that especially in soft bottom, anchors grab better when going uphill. The wind and current may force your boat, however, to travel downhill over the bottom. In this situation set your boat up cross-current, and motor off the edge of the incline. Then drop the anchor, let it hit bottom, and put the throttles into reverse. Give it just enough power to keep the boat moving across the current (and the anchor, therefore, moving uphill.) Drag it until it grabs, then immediately shift into neutral. Often it will hold for a moment or two, then pull free as the boat swings. But don’t give up hope, just give it another shot. It may take a few attempts but eventually you should get it to stay put.
Maneuvering at Anchor – Let’s say you’ve finally gotten the anchor to hold, but you’re slightly off-target. Before pulling and starting over, see if you can salvage the situation. If you pull the anchor line back to a spring cleat off the starboard side, the boat will swing significantly to port. Cleat it off the port side, and you’ll swing starboard. But remember, there’s a price to pay for this maneuver: the boat will lay more beam-to in the seas than bow-to, which will increase rocking and rolling. Close, but still not good enough? Cut the wheel in one direction or another, too. Often the force of the current against the rudder or outdrive will help the boat swing even farther over.
Anchoring Astern – It’s tempting at times, but never anchor off the stern. If a wave strikes while tension on the anchor line holds the stern down, that water can roll right into the boat and swamp you in no time. Even in calm seas it’s a bad idea, as you never know when another boat will go cruising by and create a wave large enough to wash over the transom.
Now you’re ready to anchor up solidly in just about any conditions, right? Mostly, but one final thought to always keep in mind: Make sure you have sufficient scope out for the conditions, or this entire conversation is moot. In calm conditions, 3:1 scope should do the trick. In moderate conditions, go to 5:1. When it’s rough let out 7:1 at a minimum and if that doesn’t work, every last foot of anchor line.