I have often surveyed boats which have minimal anchors, chain, bow rollers and winch so I decided it was time to publish a general guide.
The first thing is to say that the European Recreational Craft Directive is the most ridiculous set of rules I have ever come across. Slightly better - although still not perfect - is the American ABYC system.
Yacht and boat manufacturers are producing vessels which conform to the European regulations but are barely safe enough or will last long enough for a trip round a boating lake - let alone going to sea.
I suggest that you do not take seriously the size or weight of gear stated as being correct by some anchor and yacht manufacturers as much of the gear is only fit for very calm conditions. The gear fitted by yacht makers is kept small to reduce costs and anchor manufacturers often want to make their gear look more efficient.
On Ti Gitu we have four anchors. There are two 55lb CQR types on the bow ready to be instantly used, one is on 80 metres of 10mm chain and the other on 60 metres of 20mm octoplait nylon rope with 10 metres of 13mm chain joining that to the anchor.
At the stern we have a genuine Bruce of only 20lbs with 10 metres of chain and 130ft of stretchy rope. Useful to set with the dinghy to hold us off a wall or to a tidal stream opposite one of the other anchors.
Stored on deck is an 80lb Danforth storm anchor and stored down below octoplait rope and chain for it.
A couple of times in storm conditions we have set all three of our heavier anchors.
I really wish we had slightly heavier gear especially the chain which would be better if it was 12mm.
Rule of thumb sizes.
I normally recommend that a coastal cruising a yacht carries a minimum of two anchors of just over 1lb for each foot of boat.
One should be on chain with a thickness of 0.8 to 1mm for each metre of vessel and the other can be on rope with a thickness of 1.5 to 2mm per metre of vessel with 10metres of chain joining the rope to the anchor.
If using a ‘fisherman’ type these will need to be considerably heavier - up to twice the normal weight. If you only want a fisherman as a ‘rock hook’ the normal weight will be OK.
For longer distance sailing the sizes should be increased. Both for storm conditions and when leaving your boat in an anchorage to go see the sites - it is nice to know that the boat is held by good heavy gear.
All of that is based on our experience over the years and backed up by other experienced designers, sailors and surveyors.
The following is roughly the size and weights that I would recommend.
The sizes are rounded up or down to the nearest standard size.
If your vessel falls outside the norm then you may need to increase the size and weights. Catamarans and boats with a lot of windage forward are a good point where the recommendations are for heavier gear due to the increased shearing about of these types.
The chain needs to be marked so that you know how much has been laid. Most cruisers mark the chain every 5 or 10 metres. There are some fancy methods but the most practical seems to be by painting a few links and perhaps tying on a thin line marker once the paint is dry. On Ti Gitu we paint half a dozen links every 10 metres and then tie a couple of inches of about 3mm cord over the paint. We put one piece at 10 metres, 2 pieces at 20 metres, three at thirty metres etc. etc. The paint seems to need renewing each year but the cord lasts for years even with heavy use.
One very important point to make is how to attach the end of the chain to the boat.
This needs to be by fitting a length rope to the end of the chain which is then tied to the boat inside the anchor locker. This needs to be long enough to reach the deck and be cut in an emergency. It also needs to be strong enough so that if a mistake is made and too much chain let out then the boat can be temporarily moored with this.
After I had sold it, one of my boats was saved from serious damage while in an anchorage when a large vessel dragged down towards it. All the chain was run out and this rope cut to allow the boat to evade the large dragging vessel. The owners wrote and told me of the experience and that several other boats who could not quickly drop their anchor chain were not so lucky. Later in calm conditions they dived and recovered the anchor and chain.
There are numerous types of anchors with all sorts of claims made by the manufacturers and sailors convinced that the one they produce or are using is the best.
Do not be fooled – all types of anchor will fail you at some time.
Broadly anchors fall into several groups:-
1/ Fisherman types which are the traditional hook shaped type.
2/ Plough, which as the name implies work like a farmers plough digging themselves into the bottom.
3/ Spade, which are a reverse of the plough and work just like a garden spade, digging themselves in.
4/ Claw, which have a horizontal fluke to dig in.
5/ Danforth and Brittany which have two flukes.
Some seem to be better than others. I have tried several types and here is my experience.
1/ Fisherman types can be useful especially as a rock hook. To use one in sand or mud the size needs to by increased over the normal and it will need a good sized fluke to act as a spade and resist dragging. We no longer carry one.
2/ Delta anchors which are a plough type similar to the CQR but without the swivelling head, these stow and launch virtually automatically. They seem to set well in a soft bottom but when trying to use one on a hard bottom such as a hard sand or a flat stony bottom they seem to skate over the surface having difficulty biting in. We did have one which now sits on the bottom of an inlet up North - after I threw it overboard in disgust (and temper) when we had tried to set it half a dozen times before changing to a CQR which set immediately.
3/ Bruce types which are the original claw anchor were originally sold with a recommendation that one of little weight would be suitable. In the 1980’s it was normal to see boats with a Bruce dragging all over the place. Apart from watching and being hit by a boat dragging, I only have direct knowledge of our small version which is a genuine 20lb Bruce anchor. (According to the Bruce company this would have been correct for Ti Gitu. Rubbish in my opinion.) I must say that in sand it seems to set quick and hold very well. We have used it a few times to help hold us in position or off a harbour wall – setting it from the dinghy – but have never relied on it as a main anchor. Bruce no longer make them and there have been reports that some of the cheap versions often called ‘claw anchors’ break.
4/ The spade types which include the Bugle – Spade – Ocean – Sarca – Rocna – Manson and Sword - I have no direct experience of them. These have been developed and have started to be produced in the last few years. Fantastic claims have been reported and the shape would seem to support some of these. However, it took a little while but eventually the reports of them dragging began. Remember ALL anchors will drag!!! I have also been told that since early production – some of them began to be made of incorrect – low grade steel – and that they have been bending.
5/ CQR types. The Coastal Quick Release types of anchor have been popular with cruisers for well over 50 years and are probably still the most commonly used of all. I guess that must say something. The CQR is a plough anchor designed to bury itself and with a swivelling head seems to work well. There are the drop forged versions available at incredible cost or various copies. Some of the copies such as the Plastimo version can be roughly one seventh the cost of a drop forged version. This may mean that a considerably heavier version can be afforded.
On Ti Gitu we have two welded galvanised CQR copies bought many years ago from a chain manufacturer. Interestingly they tested the strength by hanging the anchor from the point and applying weights to the shank. The quoted figures far exceeded the breaking strength of the chain and we have been satisfied with them.
On a friends yacht he got his 40lb version caught in coral and had to use all of the engines 80hp available to break it out. The shank bent some but it still worked and later we heated and straightened it. I know that it went on for years after that.
6/ Danforth types which include the Brittany. These are also very popular. They seem to work well in sand – mud and to get through weed fairly well. Stowing on a bow roller can be difficult but as they lay virtually flat can easily be stowed in other places. Our 80lb version lies flat and lives under our dinghy on deck.
One version available primarily in the USA has two settings for the angle of the blades. Normally these are at about 30 degrees but in very soft mud or leaf mulch on this version the angle can be increased to 45 degrees. Very useful in some places.
I like to keep things fairly simple, the complicated always seems to let you down at an awkward time. The Danforth and CQR types both have moving parts but rarely seem to fail. Many of the others have either a weight to make them turn to the correct position or a ‘roll bar’. The one weighted plough type that I tried did not work very well and I’m not sure how the roll bar will quickly turn a spade anchor in very soft mud. However it appears that once a spade set it could hold better than a plough.
I would like to try some of the modern spade types but the prices are ‘out of this world’ and with the knowledge gained over the years I know that reasonably made considerably cheaper anchors are satisfactory.
Bow rollers and winches.
Bow rollers need to be strong. There should ideally be at least two of them. Many of those fitted to modern production yachts can only be considered as a joke designed by someone who never really cruises and is trying to save on production costs.
The anchor gear on Ti Gitu was slightly restricted due to the available space on the fore deck. As I previously said, I would like heavier gear but the next size of anchor up would be too long to automatically stow and a larger winch hard to fit, so on the bow we have 2 x 25kg anchors and 10mm chain for the main anchor, 20mm rope and chain for the second and a winch to suite. This is still heavier than will often be found on other yachts.
The bow rollers on Ti Gitu are very strong. The cheeks and bottom are 6mm stainless plate welded to the hull with support struts down to the hull. The rollers are plastic and 60mm diameter. (This is about the minimum acceptable diameter.)
To enable us to use a variety of different types of anchor the whole system is quite wide and the edges of the plates are finished with 20mm stainless bar welded in place. This helps enormously with chafe. Actually I am often forced to comment on the plates of production yachts as the sharp edges will quickly chafe through a rope used for anchoring or mooring.
On production yachts the bow rollers often form part of the stemhead fitting which also has the forestay fitting and perhaps the guardrail built into it. Much of this can be removed and decent rollers fitted.
When fitting a set of rollers consider the following:-
1/ The roller needs to be long enough to overhang the bow far enough for the anchor to be raised and stow easily without damaging the bow.. This often means that the fitting will become a ‘U’ shaped channel, overhanging the bow and bolted to the deck. (Don’t forget that this may increase the vessels overall length which could be charged for in marinas etc.)
2/ The whole roller may need to be fairly long to enable it to be bolted through the deck perhaps with backing plates below. When breaking an anchor out the downward loads can be high and the resulting leverage could break the fitting off the deck.
3/ The roller must be a good size. The larger the roller the easier it is for you or the winch to pull the chain round it. Some rollers actually have a hinge system with two rollers to lessen the angle around which the chain has to pass.
4/ Chafe can be a major problem at the ends of the plates which form the ‘cheeks’. These need to be well rounded, especially if rope is used.
5/ A method of removing the strain from the winch must be provided. This is because anchor winches are not designed to take the continual strain of laying to an anchor. This is often by hooking a rope from a deck fitting to the chain or by using an anchor pawl.
6/ When the boat shears about the chain can be pulled from side to side on the roller. This can be noisy – especially noticeable at night. Many cruisers use a short length of rope hooked onto the chain to take the load and reduce this noise. We found that by having this rope attached slightly forward of the rollers this stops any noise from the chain.
On lots of smaller yachts a winch is not fitted. The anchor can be hauled in by hand, perhaps also using a chain pawl. Even with this system the comments about the roller are still true. To break the anchor out the chain or rope is hauled in until it is tight up and down and any slight swell will lift the bow and help break the anchor out. This still puts the system under a lot of strain.
On larger yachts there is usually a winch.
On my last yacht, a Fay 32, which I intended to sail single handed, I initially had no winch. I figured that if Eric Hiscock could sail his 32 footer without one then so could I. On one of the first test sails with friends aboard we anchored for lunch and after lunch in breezy conditions I decided haul the anchor without any help from the crew or from anyone gently motoring the vessel forward to help take the strain. Nearly impossible - The next morning I ordered a winch!!!!
On a cruising yacht the winch will be used a lot. Some claim to be maintenance free. Do not believe it! The winch is sitting at a point where it will continually be soaked with salt water, sometimes being submerged when a wave is taken over the bow. Make sure that a decent one is purchased whether it is manual or electric.
There are two types, vertical or horizontal. I have only a little experience of vertical winches and on one that I tried I found it impossible work out how the rope gipsy could work separate to the chain gipsy. My personal preference is for a horizontal type.
It is best if the winch has the following attributes:-
1/ Be of good quality and not working at it’s extreme limit. For example fitting a chain gipsy for a larger size of chain than designed for is asking for trouble.
2/ Be capable of winching both chain and rope. This means having a chain gipsy and a separate rope drum. The two should be capable of operating separately.
3/ Electric winches should be capable of operating by hand as well as electrically. Beware as one, that I have knowledge of, had a hand operation pawl but the pawl was made of plastic and failed the first time it was used.
The hand operation is often very slow but better than nothing if the motor or electricity supply fail.
4/ Have the motor well sealed from the elements and the gearbox reasonably easily accessible for an annual re greasing.
We have a Vetus 1000 watt nominal - 1500 watt maximum winch. Against my better judgement this is for a maximum of 10mm chain which is what we have, but is advertised as being suitable for slightly larger yachts than Ti Gitu. We are aware of it’s ‘shortcomings’ and when lifting the anchor we always try not to put it under extreme strain by gently motoring forward to remove excess strain. So far it has lasted for 10 years.
We only have an operating system that hauls the chain in, although it would sometimes be nice to have a two way system. This is because sometimes when the chain has piled up in its locker and then fallen over, trapping itself, it can be difficult to get it to run out. Most winches are capable running both ways, they just need a relay that will reverse the current.
Many winch manufacturers recommend fitting a battery in the bow just for the winch. This is likely to be forgotten during routine maintenance and as it is little used it could sulphate quite quickly.
I thought it would be better to supply the winch from the normal batteries.
While fitting a winch from a leading US winch manufacturer, I discussed this they said that so long as the cables from the battery bank, (normally a long way astern of the winch) are of sufficient dimensions that would be fine. On Ti Gitu we have a pair of 50mm square welding cables running from the batteries to the bow. These are capable of handling 285 amps continuously or 520 amps at a 30% duty cycle. The maximum draw by the winch should be 125 amps so these are more than adequate, even allowing for loss due to the length. This has worked for ten years so far.
I have watched lots of yachts needing many goes to set the anchor and occasionally it takes us more than one go. However there are some simple rules which help and part four covers these.
Come charter a yacht in the Ionian, no experience needed, the advert said. So a bunch of us cruisers watched a poor family on a charter yacht drop 10 metres of chain in 10 metres depth and drag again and again…..
You get the picture!!
Soon several of us were shouting at them to drop more, but they really didn’t understand and eventually were helped onto the local quay.
Anchoring is not rocket science – it just needs a few simple rules following. First the gear should be suitable for the conditions. If the general rules for the weight of anchors, chain and handling gear has been followed then the following will work.
1/ Understand that the anchor will only bite into the bottom if it is pulled nearly horizontally.
2/ To achieve this horizontal pull enough length of chain or rope and chain must be fed out. This is called the scope and chain forms what is known as a catenary. It is the weight of chain hanging down in a curve which by the time it has reached the anchor will pull the anchor horizontally. Obviously the heavier the chain the harder it becomes to pull it straight.
Think about how much effort would be needed to pull say 50 metres of chain straight if it was between two posts, similar to a garden fence chain.
3/ To work out how much chain or rope is needed to be let out the following rules apply. They are based on the depth of water that you are trying to anchor in and are for calm conditions, perhaps anchoring in 5 to 10 metres depth with wind up to 10 or 15 knots. The amount let out is known as scope.
For chain lay out a minimum scope of three times the depth.
For rope with chain at the end lay out a minimum scope of five times the depth.
We along with many other long term cruisers increase these to five times the depth for chain and seven times the depth for rope and chain. With rope the length of chain helps with the angle of pull but longer rope must also be used.
4/ As soon as the wind begins to increase then more scope is needed. This puts more weight of chain in the water which increases the catenary and with rope decreases the angle of pull further.
An old saying is ‘that it doesn’t do any good in the chain locker’.
5/ Drop your anchor and either let the wind blow you backwards or gently motor backwards laying the chain out until the required amount of scope is laid. What you do not want is a pile of chain sitting on the bottom.
6/ With the required amount laid, then stop feeding the chain or rope and you should see it come tight. At this point the anchor will hopefully hold. To check you can gently motor astern watching the chain or rope go tight. If it goes tight then you know that the anchor is ‘set’ and holding OK.
On Ti Gitu we generally do this with three times the depth of scope and once the anchor is set we than increase the scope to about five times the depth.
7/ If it doesn’t hold then let a bit more scope out. Sometimes on a hard or very soft bottom it takes more scope to get the anchor to set. If it still won’t set then raise the anchor and re drop it somewhere else. You may have found a rock - hard part or very soft part of the bottom.
To check if you are dragging the anchor, take a transit ashore at 90 degrees to the boat and watch while gently motoring astern.
Sometimes the chain can be seen to go tight then suddenly slacken. This indicates that the anchor is trying to bite but being broken out. Extra scope can sometimes cure this.
8/ Be careful of your neighbours. Look at what they are using by way of either chain or rope. Do not anchor close to a boat which is using a different system to you. If you are using chain do not anchor close to people who are using rope and vice versa. This is because as conditions change, boats on the different systems will react differently and may well drift into each other. Also consider that different types, such as monohulls and heavy displacement single hulled vessels will react differently to wind and tide.
9/ It is customary for the first boat anchored to have the right to stay and if someone anchors too close it is for the second one to move. If the second one causes a collision then it usual for them to cover repairs.
10/ As a general rule in shallow water then more scope is needed to obtain that horizontal pull and in very deep water then less is needed.
At anchor we have ridden out winds of up to force 10, perhaps more but by then we had stopped counting. We have developed our own methods for dealing with conditions like these but there are others that can be used.
We keep a good watch on the weather and as soon as something strong is forecast we start looking for somewhere to ‘hole up’. This will be as sheltered as possible and hopefully have good holding.
We look at the forecast wind direction and this guides us as to how to anchor.
As the wind begins we lay out our normal anchor with most of its chain. We then ready the second bow anchor and motor forwards and to port at about a 30 or 40 degree angle to the first anchor. At this point we are dragging the first anchors chain with us to one side. Once roughly parallel to the first anchor the second is dropped and we motor or are blown backwards until we are laying to both of them. In really extreme conditions we will also ready another anchor and repeat the exercise to starboard, then laying to all three.
Laying the one on rope first may seem easier but you then can be in danger of the rope fouling your propeller.
Sometimes it can be better to take the second and third anchor out in the dinghy. When doing this the anchor and short length of chain are put in the dinghy. Then all the dinghy is pulling out is the rope. At the boats end the rope is increased in length with a mooring warp. This allows the dinghy to go far enough to simply throw the anchor and chain over in one go and then straighten it out by pulling the excess back in.
A watch needs to be kept on things as if the wind dramatically changes direction it is possible to end up with a ‘mad woman’s knitting’ of chain and ropes. When using this system we have floats ready so that we can release the anchor ropes and chain but leave them buoyed for later recovery.
We have found that Ti Gitu, which with one mast at the bow, shears about a lot will be calmed with the three anchors. What actually happens is that we lay to the two anchors on nylon rope, out to each side, and as the gusts hit we gently stretch the ropes out and go backwards until the chain also goes tight and this stops the bow from being blown from side to side.
When things are bad it can be useful to gently motor and take some of the strain off the anchors. It can be surprising just how well this can work, in fact moving forward and over running the anchors should be avoided as the vessel will suddenly shear to one side and snatch at the anchors which should be avoided.
Some people use two anchors in tandem. A second anchor is joined to the head of the normal one with a short length of chain. I have not tried this and it is a bit controversial but those that have mastered it say that it works well but can be a bit difficult to recover.
Another way of increasing the holding is the use of a ‘chub’. (sometimes called other things) This is a substantial weight which is hung onto the anchor chain or rope and with a lighter rope lowered / slid down. This increases the weight causing a better catenary and helps the anchor to hold. Although working well it can be time consuming and awkward if the anchor does start to drag and need recovering.
Different boats and people have many other ideas. However most of the ones quoted here are fairly standard, simple and straightforward. As far as possible stick to the KISS principles. (Keep it Stupid Simple).
Bruce and a Brittany anchor.
Spade and Fisherman type anchors.
Depth marks on the chain and strong bow rollers with rounded edges and second CQR type ready to go.
A grapnel dinghy anchor and an ultra modern bow roller which would quickly fail if used for serious cruising.