Anchoring - Tips and Warnings for Small Boats

Interestingly, since my Shetland 570 day and moving to a larger South 26 monohull, anchoring and up-anchoring got much easier, it was the additional engine power. Now I have moved to the BWSeaCat, with the anchor running from my port bow, I have found recovering my anchor by hand very easy.  I put that down to bow roller position and helm position.

Anchoring is one of the most important skills required by a boat angling skipper. At best it is hazardous, at other times it is down right dangerous. I recon if that when you are fishing and you are anxious about recovering your anchor then you are spoiling your day. You could be fishing too deep, in too much tide, too much sea, or with a dodgy motor. Therefore I would recommend that all boat fishing/skippering should start inshore, ‘safer’ and close, and then work out. Most charter skippers will tell you of their boating history, many were dinghy owning sea-anglers in their time before becoming professional boatmen.

Anchor types

There are many anchors available and derivatives there of. Ploughs orCQR’s are OK for sand and shingle type bottoms. Bruce Anchors are very good as are the newer Deltas also for sand, mud or shingle. I personally go for a cheapo Danforth (Cruising Type) as it proves to be a good option in the Solent Area and I can store it well. The Fisherman's Anchor is very popular too. 

They all stick on rocky areas but one to play with is a grapnel type that can be bent out if need be, of course a moderate sea could also do this. To understand the different types of anchor available in Car Boot sales, Chandlers and on-line try this link http://www.jimmygreen.co.uk these people have always specialised in this sort of thing.

Simple Anchoring Rules for Small Boats

bulletAllow approximately 1lb of Anchor weight for each foot of boat (or 1.5Kg per meter).
bulletAllow at least 4 times length of rope (warp) when measured against the deepest sea area that you are likely to ‘Anchor Up’ in.
bulletUse white rope, you can see it easily.
bulletUse at least ½” or 12mm rope, it makes it easier to pull on.
bulletUse Nylon rope as it sinks and is less likely to go round the prop.
bulletAllow for 15 feet (5M) of ¾” chain. If you use less than this a moderate sea will lift the Anchor out, too much more chain will require lots more effort to get it back to the boat and then lift it in.
bulletAllow for a spare anchor and chain, because sometimes it is safer to loose anchors as oppose to recover it al all costs. You will not want it to ruin your day. It happens.

Tripping your Anchor

Shackle the end of your chain to the bottom of your anchor and tie the chain tight to the at the top of the anchor. What you use to tie the trip depends on the amount of ‘snatch’ caused by the waves and ‘weight’ on the rope caused by the wind, tide and boat size and type. If you set the trip ‘light’ a moderate sea in a small boat will break it out. Too tight and it will not break out when stuck in.

The idea is to get the anchor to hold up to the point where you need to break it out if you think that it is stuck in. This is not easy and is best left to you to experiment with. I am now using a trip on 'Due South' as when anchoring a wreck the chances of dragging back into the wreck are higher, the more you fish them.


bulletDo not pull up an anchor by standing on the bow (the front bit) of a small boat. There are of course, are some exceptions as a few boats are designed to do this, most are not. A hatch type access to the bow is very useful or a winch mid-ships is even better.
bulletPulling an anchor by hand at slack water is easy. This situation soon changes when the tide picks up and can range from difficult to impossible. You may have to use the engine to move up-tide while your crew pulls the warp in. It therefore takes at least 2 adults.
bulletUsing the Alderney Ring method is only advised if your experience and competence allows for it. You must only practice re-anchoring using this method in a controlled situation and have expert assistance when first attempting it. Another friendly boat in the area is also advisable. I and many others would prefer this method but you must practice on nice days and small tides in shallow water (say 20’). Note very shallow water (say 7’) with little tide is more easily done by hand and with very short ropes.
bulletThe Alderney Ring method of ‘up anchoring’, which uses a net buoy that runs up the anchor rope, while driving the boat off at about 45 degrees to it, is very dangerous. It can easily result in the anchor warp becoming wrapped around the prop, which will result in your stern (back of your boat) being pulled into the tide and downwards. As the Stern is normally square and the anchor rope will be tight off the prop you could find that as you manoeuvre towards freeing the rope, cutting if necessary, the stern sinks deeper. If there is any sea running towards you, the chances are you will be swamped. If you do get swamped your boat will sink very quickly. Need I say any more? Yes I do, Private Boat anglers are lost at sea with no obvious reasons as to why - maybe a bad decision resulted in a rope going around a prop in a strong tide while up anchoring

Lowering the anchor

bulletCheck that you are not anchoring in a busy shipping lane, on a yachting race marker (in their turning point) or too close to a charter boat as you will be looking for trouble to start with.
bulletDO NOT take up an anchor mark that is within 400M of the Stern of another Angling Boat. This is one of those unwritten laws, (etiquette even) as you will occupy the area that is being fished, baited-up and attracting fish by and to the anglers on the other boat. You will catch fish but you may also catch a lot of abuse and threats until you move….be warned. Basically the sea is a huge area and if you can’t find your own marks then you have a problem. Never do the ‘well if he is fishing there it must be good’ as in many cases the other boat may know less than you.
bulletKnow the depth and maximum tide strength. I would advise that you best start in 25’-30’ of water with not more than 1knot of tide. Note that tide strength can be checked by looking at buoys, pot markers or other anchored boats.
bulletEnsure the anchor warp is not caught or twisted and that the trip is correctly tied.
bulletSet the boat just off from beam on to the tide run, always being aware of what the wind will do to your boat in the position that you choose to take up. If you are not sure just stop and see what happens first.
bulletAnother trick when checking the amount of tide is to note how the tide is moving past yachting or navigation buoys. Ideally you will be drifting back down the tide up from the mark you want to fish over.
bulletLower the anchor and chain and control the rope, you should be ideally paying the rope out up tide. If you chuck it over the side it could turn over on itself and may need to be lifted again.
bulletIf the wind is stronger than the tide then reverse back across the tide. You may end up beam on to the sea until the tide is stronger than the wind. There is no precise science here as the tide and weather will be changing all day, unless you are very lucky.
bulletIdeally though, you should be settled back over your mark with the tide running away from the stern. Now it is time to start fishing.
bulletNote if and when you drop to the bottom you observe your weight moving up-tide you are dragging your anchor. You may still have what appears to be some tide running away from the stern, but if you wait until you ‘dig in’ then you may be surprised at how much tide you have chosen to anchor up in.
bulletIn the Solent we often fish 3knts of tide with braid or wire main line and use 1.5lb – 2lb of lead to hold bottom.

Pulling Anchor
This can be hard work unless you move marks when the tide goes slack or you always chose to fish in small tides and shallow water. For deep water and big tides you need a winch or if very experienced use an Alderney Ring and net buoy. Changing Marks during a tide is a necessity for me. I like to move around and try other places using other methods using different tactics and trying to catch different species. I also like to fish with ‘tide’ and on small boats we just don’t fit winches, so what do we do? If you are with another Adult they can haul in the anchor while the skipper moves the boat up the tide. As you move over the anchor it should break free, and becomes light and then the boat can be allowed to drift while the anchor is pulled in. This cannot be done on your own or if fishing with others not capable of pulling the anchor in.

This leads us to do what many anglers do, particularly when fishing solo, and that is use a method which some refer to as the Alderney Ring. This makes up-anchoring quicker and more efficient but takes plenty of practice. Basically you drag up the anchor with a buoy that slides down the rope, goes over the chain and slides down to the bottom of the Anchor where the chain then (being heavier than the anchor) stops the anchor sliding back down to the bottom. The anchor is floated by the buoy and the anchor warp can be easily pulled in. This allows us to change positions between 5 and 10 times a day, quickly and without too much effort.

Pulling Anchor -  ‘Alderney’ Ring
In deep water and big tides you are potentially starting the most dangerous manoeuvre of you boating day out, so be warned, this is potentially very, very hazardous. Always start and practice in small tides and shallow depths say 20’.

It is usual for the skipper (person controlling the boat not the owner!!) to do all the Anchor retrieval in this way, as he has full control of boat, anchor warp and anchor for the whole time. A crew could pull it up once the Buoy is on the anchor but like all these things good communications and call for a bit of teamwork is required.

Dory type cathedral Hulls have always suffered using this method of anchor retrieval due to the Buoy getting stuck in the Bow. Cathedral Hulled boats require another bow roller or an anchor eye, off set to the side where you intend to pull up the anchor and observe the progress. Usually on the same side as the helm, so the skipper can see what is happening. A lazy line tied to the ‘ring’ is another option. I used this method successfully with my ‘dory’ (Wilson Flyer), mind you when I was practicing I made a lazy line too long and with of polypropylene rope managed to get it round the prop and that put me ‘Stern into the tide’, LUCKILY FOR ME IN COMPARATIVELY SHALLOW WATER AND A SMALL TIDE.

Note exact details of how to do this is not shown here. It is not a skill that can be transferred from a web page to the helm of a boat. I recommend that this is taught and practiced with an experienced skipper!

A Stuck fast anchor
Anchors can be ‘stuck in’ for many reasons. It could be wedged under a cable (difficult to break free from) or stuck on a line of pots. It could be stuck in a rocky reef, or pulled very deep into a silt/muddy/clay bottom. When towing an anchor out in shallow water with a muddy bottom you tend to pull the anchor in deeper!!

A ‘controlled drift’ which is a term often given to a boat dragging anchor, will normally result in a ‘stuck fast’ anchor as you drag into a cable, rocky ledge or heap of rubbish. The reasons for dragging are normally one of, or a combination of; too little rope, too light on the anchor or not enough chain. If the Anchor setup is known to be correct, it is often a stone stuck in the anchor flukes, preventing it from opening. Another reason could be that the anchor is caught upside down in the chain, caused by not lowering correctly.

A couple of tips when trying to break a stuck anchor, but only if the sea and tide conditions allow for it:

1. drive the boat around the anchor.

2. Tighten up on the anchor rope until the sea (waves) breaks the anchor out. I have snapped the tines off a Danforth using this method, but I did recover the anchor. Note when these Danforth anchors get damaged in this way they do not work reliably enough to be your main anchor.

Here's a couple of bad early experiences
My first small boat was a 13’ Mayland with a Seagull OB on the back and at 17 years old could only think about catching the fish rather than the safety aspect. My friend Nick Sutcliffe and I got stuck on a cable in a big tide at East Lepe Buoy, with the weather just about to ‘blow’. We were sat in that horrible oily ‘calm before the storm’ where the weather front was actually above us and we could see a maelstrom on the sea down tide (we knew there were Cod around too). We soon panicked after discovering that we could not pull the anchor in by hand. I did not want to loose my new Bruce anchor so we tried our best to recover it. We had no life jackets and just a cup of petrol in the tank. Nick had the anchor half way up and the ‘lost’ cable was hanging from that! I motored up the tide to assist the recovery but made the mistake of going to help him after cutting the engine. He could not hold the increased weight which meant the rope slipped through his hands, which started to burn, so he let go and he temporarily got trapped against the cabin by the rope as it went tight, then we swung round 180 degrees on the tide to rest back in our starting position! We were bloody lucky not to turn over. I then started the engine (10th pull), cut the rope and headed for home. It was blowing hard as we ran up the beach!

Another story was from one of my early ventures round the Needles Light. I was anchored up with my brother, Brian, 6 miles South in my Wilson Flyer on a hot sunny ‘flat calm’. The tide was going well and we were settled down and waiting for bites. Suddenly ‘the tide’ appeared to increase by 3 or 4 times the strength and all four lines were moving away very fast as we were fishing with all 4 reels on ‘ratchet’. We both thought ‘submarine’ but after looking up-tide we could see a trawler heading for France.  The trawler had either dragged up our anchor or was trawling over our rope. Not willing to find out what would happen next, I quickly cut the rope. This is when I learnt that a spare anchor would have been useful! The trawler just carried on. I still believe the skipper was asleep. We spent the next 3 hours drifting for Bass before going in very early.

In both cases a sharp knife (normal ‘to have’ for most fisherman/anglers) was very useful.

Connecting Rope to Chain

The trick when using the Alderney Ring method is to have the stainless ring slide to the bottom of the anchor, as it will then be floated by the buoy. If it does not the anchor may slide back down again. Therefore we need a small tidy way of connecting chain to rope. The best way is to make an eye splice in the rope and then use a small shackle to connect. This is also useful if you choose to use a more sacrificial type anchor on a bit of really rough ground.

Prepare end of rope as per Fig 2.


Fig. 4 shows the three colour coded strands laid out with the gold strand under the blue and off to the bottom and the white strand moved off to the top.

Fig. 5a. shows the West Fid inserted into the lay of the rope (a screw driver will do). The fid is hollow so that a strand can be led into it and fed through the rope. When the fid is removed the strand should be snugly in place. it is important not to pull the strand through each tuck, but to lead and feed it through. This enables the twist of the fibres to remain as they should and not disturbed as they would if each strand were pulled through during the tucking operation. Fig. 5a shows the fid inserted into and under a blue strand, opening up the strand to allow the blue strand to be led under and tucked. Remove the fid and tighten up this strand by twisting the blue strand as you gently pull it tight. Fig. 5b shows the gold strand being led under the gold standing strand. We have discontinued showing the fid in use to clarify how and where the strands are led through. Again, after removing the fid, snug up the gold strand by twisting it In the direction of the lay and gently pulling at the same time. We now have two of the three strands tucked Into the standing part of the rope.

The most difficult strand to work on the first set of tucks is the third, white strand. Up to now, this whole exercise has been simple... it's even as simple to complete if you just pay close attention to tucking in this third strand properly. Fig. 5c shows the white strand ~ mg tucked under the white standing strand after the loop has been turned over. Note that the unlayed white strand is led under the standing part from right to left... this Is Important'. If there is confusion now and you previous tucks, with the third, do not look like the drawings, remove all of the strands and begin again. Drawing 5:1 shows all three strands tucked In, ready to proceed with the second set of tucks.

Not until you can splice in the first set of tucks with perfection should you attempt to do any additional splicing

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