If you enjoy traveling by boat, you know that slip fees can add up quickly.  While it’s nice to have a secure place to tie up for the night, a careful choice of anchor spots can provide a place that’s just as safe, and for free.  Keep these key points in mind when choosing your anchorage and you’ll soon be saving $20 to $30 a night by skipping the marinas and dropping the hook.

Catalina 36 sailing yacht, the perfect way to escape the zombiesCredit: JestMe

Anchoring isn’t that hard, although it does take some practice.  Before you decide to trust your boat to an overnight hook while you sleep, take some time to practice your technique in different areas to get the feel of it.  Try letting out different lengths of chain, or using your different anchors (you do have more than one, right?) in different ground conditions to see what holds better.


What the ground is like

ocean floorCredit: PublicDomainPictures

This is pretty important when deciding how to set your ground equipment.  A smooth rocky seabed won’t hold an anchor at all, while an excessively rocky floor might grab your hook and never let go.  All sand or mud isn’t bad, but high winds could push your boat and cause your anchor to drag.  Don’t be afraid to circle your chosen anchorage a few times looking for the best spot.  Once you’ve chosen the area you’d like to anchor in, make sure you use the correct equipment for those conditions.

Ground area around you

While you’re looking, make sure to keep track of what the seabed, or lakebed around you looks like.  Remember that you’ll have quite a bit of chain out and the movement of the water will swing your vessel in a circle.  You need to know the depth of your boat, and whether any rocky crags sticking up will snag you as you swing.  This is especially important for sailboats that have that keel sticking out far below them.  Smashing your keel is a bad thing.


Depth at low and high tide

tide tableCredit: wiki commons

This ties in with the two concepts above.  If you’re in the ocean, the tide can change drastically over 12 hours.  You need to know if you’ll hit bottom when the tide goes out, or if any rocky areas will become close enough at low tide to damage your boat.  As the tide goes out, the seabed gets closer, and your chain becomes effectively longer.  This means that the area of swing – the circle around your anchor that your boat will be floating – gets wider as the tide goes out.  Be aware of this as you are checking the area for safe anchorage.  Always check the tide tables, don’t assume you know them.  There are periodic very high and very low tides that can catch you unawares. 

An unexpectedly high tide can be even more destructive if your chain is too short.  If you haven’t put out enough chain, and your anchor is well set, your boat will be held down at the bow from the anchor while the rest of the boat continues to rise on the water.  While unlikely to cause a dip deep enough to let water enter the cabin, even a small amount of pull will put strain on the boat and can easily cause damage to your hull.  If you somehow manage to do this, you need to haul your boat out and inspect the hull.

The other risk of a short chain and high tide is that your anchor will pull up and you’ll drift away.  If you’re on the boat and you feel this, not so bad, but if your boat floats out to sea without you, you’ll have to figure out how to get it before someone else finds it and claims it as salvage. 

Always check the tide tables. They can be found on the internet and in many coastal phone books.  Sporting goods stores, marinas, and some tourist shops will have tide table books for sale.  It’s a $2 insurance policy – check the tides.


Expected wind direction

WindvaneCredit: Geograph.org


Most important if high winds are expected.  If you are going to drag anchor, you want to know which direction the boat will go.  A wind that’s blowing towards shore could beach your boat, while an offshore wind might put you into the shipping lanes.  Anchoring near a high bluff might be a good choice for a storm if it will block the majority of the winds.  If you have several choices for where to anchor your boat, take the time to visually inspect them all for wind protection.


Shore access for your dinghy

DinghyCredit: JestMe

Normally when you anchor out, you plan to go ashore at some point.  In an area designed for visitors, or near a marina, there is usually a dock specifically for dinghies.  A private marina might let you tie your dinghy up if you ask nice, especially if you need to make a store run or will only be there for a an hour or two.  In a less frequented area, or marine sanctuaries, you’ll want to look for pebbly or sandy beaches, preferably without sharp rocks, unless you can pick your dinghy up and carry it above the water line.  If you’re dragging your dinghy you don’t want to risk damage to the bottom, even if it has a hard bottom.  Rarely will you find a natural setting that has somewhere to tie your tender while it’s floating.

Again, you need to be aware of the tides.  The high water mark might not be sufficient if one of those super-high tides is expected.  Ideally you’ll tie your dinghy to a tree or large beached log even if you are certain the water will never reach it.  You’ll also want to know if you’ll need to wade out to your tender when you return.  That’s not any fun, and I highly recommend shortening your shore stay by an hour if it saves you from having to splash through the water to get back to the dink.

With these ideas in mind, and a little practice, you’ll soon be anchoring your boat like a pro.  Spend those slip fees on something better, like cocktails and lobster tails while you watch the sunset from your deck.  Happy cruising.