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Successful Anchoring and Docking


dropping anchor

Terns chirp noisily overhead and the dazzle of liquid sparkling blue ripples with splashing bait and life. It's a beautiful day out on the bay. The engine is purring, the kids are getting along (at the moment) and the day is open to possibility and adventure. Life couldn't be better. Abruptly Mother Nature dishes you a curve ball. The wind shoots fierce cats paw gusts across the open water, and everything dances to life well ahead of an unexpected fast moving frontal system. Things are getting gray and ugly quick. Running back to the shelter of the harbor is out - too far away. This squall won't wait. Now is not the time to learn, it's time for quick and deliberate action. That shiny 20 lbs of ornamental stainless steel with Danforth engraved on the crown needs to find good holding ground in the lee of that high, tree sheltered windward shore. At this point you're grateful that you've taken time to master one of the most important basic seamanship skills that is decreasingly called upon, anchoring. The following guide will help you master the basics of anchoring and docking with fail-safe methods that work in foul conditions.

anchor windlass chain

Setting Anchor

The critical steps when setting any anchor include paying out the proper amount of scope and assuring that the anchor rode is set in the proper direction with the bow pointing into the weather. First select a site with a sandy or mud bottom where the anchor will hold. If rocky bottom is your only option, just be sure to use appropriate anchor such as grapnel or herreshoff type. Drop the anchor over the selected spot with the bow pointed into the wind and all forward motion off. Allow the boat to drift back as you pay out the anchor rode. It is best to rig a section of chain rode, if not entirely of chain, so that the angle of the anchor pull is low to the bottom. Hot dipped galvanized chain is preferred for corrosion resistance. Pay out 7 times as much rode as depth of water making the 7 to 1 ratio. It helps to make a momentary wrap on the samson post to draw the anchor rode fair then continue paying out. This momentary snubbing of the anchor assures it's in proper orientation to set. Then pay out the remainder of anchor rode and make fast to a cleat or bow bit.

Once the anchor is set, take shore bearings. Check the bearings later to see if you've dragged. Also feel the line for skipping to assure that the vessel is secure before tending to other business. In tidal zones, the anchor line may have to be adjusted during low and high tides and changing current directions. Don't forget proper etiquette. Give vessels already in an anchorage courtesy by setting your own anchor down wind behind them, if possible, to minimize risk of your vessel drifting into theirs.

If you have a windlass, relieve the strain by securing the rode to a cleat or using a chain stop. It will save wear on this expensive piece of machinery. If you plan on getting some shuteye, setup an anchor watch rotation with the crew or better yet, plug in the anchor alarm to your GPS and rest easy.


tying off at dock

Docking the boat

Docking can often be the most tense procedure of an entire voyage. At times you may feel the eyes of the world upon you at the wheel. To minimize stress for all, be sure to have dock lines and fenders rigged and ready before approaching busy fairways and high traffic docks. Notice direction and velocity of wind and current before maneuvering and, when possible, try to dock the boat head to the weather. Think of it like landing a plane, the wind on your nose will slow your speed over ground easing the landing and improving maneuverability.

Use two spring lines, one leading diagonally forward and the other leading aft, and bow and stern lines to properly secure to docks and piers. Have your deckhand shake out hockles and neatly coil all docking lines prior to approach. As you approach dock, send the deckhand forward to the closest point of approach with bow and spring lines ready to toss or in hand as they step ashore. Deckhand should take a complete turn around the base of the cleat or bollard and make fast (tie off) on helmsman's command. With traditional right-hand prop setup, a port-side to dock approach is best. As boat goes hard astern to stop forward motion, the prop-walk will kick stern of boat to port making a clean dock approach. Adding accessories to your home slip such as corner dock wheels and cushioning dock guards will greatly minimize gouging boat finish when the wind picks up.

Before heading ashore for good, tidy the dock as standard courtesy and seamanship. Adjust lines so excess is aboard and not a trip hazard on dock. Be sure to leave some slack on dock lines once everyone has stepped ashore. This is necessary for the boat to ride waves independent of dock. Dock lines too tight will pop cleats and flip boats in heavy weather. Also, if tying to a fixed pier, not floating dock style, dock lines must have enough scope to compensate for tidal height. To prevent your boat from dangling from a piling (always a frightening sight), lengthen the scope from boat to pilings. The longer bow and stern lines still prevent the boat swinging in and out, but also have enough line to ride the tidal differences. To help this, attach to shoreside cleats or pilings at a height so dock lines are level with the cleats on the boat at mid tide, if possible.


- Michael Reardon

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