Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits

Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits, Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits

Emergency Anchoring When Engine Quits Drills

One of the fastest ways to stop the boat from drifting into danger is anchoring. In a three-knot current, your boat will be set 303 feet in one minute. In a six-knot current, that number increases to 607 feet. Since a nautical mile is a little over 6,000 feet, you rapidly can calculate your set; 100 feet per minute per knot of current. What you choose to do with that time can make a big difference.

Do you know how fast you can get to your bow and get your anchor set? My number on the boats I operate most often is 39 seconds. Just like those UPS drivers who are trained to start their vehicle with their right hand while their left hand pulls and clicks their seatbelt; I’ve honed my own movements for maximum efficiency.

Practicing the moves is pretty easy. There are two different scenarios that you will want to practice; with and without the aid of your anchor windlass. Adding in a timing element will give you inspiration to move faster, and give you real-time knowledge of how long it takes you plus how far you can expect to drift given your implementation time. 

Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits, Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits

Communication

During this maneuver, depending on conditions, you may need to make announcements over the VHF radio. Don’t forget to communicate with those on board as well as those in your vicinity if your actions affect them. Blocking the waterway with few boaters around may be a “Securite” call, while anchoring with an oncoming tug and barge may call for the “Pan Pan” call. Your decisions should be based on the situation in which your boat is involved.

Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits, Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits

With Anchor Windlass

First, determine if your anchor windlass requires ignition power to be on, or requires the engine to actually be running for your anchor windlass to operate. This is a crucial bit of information for you to memorize and know by heart.

Circuit Breaker

One more catch is that some people dis-engage their anchor windlass circuit breaker while they are off the boat. That requires remembering to re-engage it every time you leave the dock. Check that yours is engaged.

If something were to happen that required you to anchor quickly, having to run below and set that breaker is more seconds wasted. In the next section, we’ll go over how to anchor without the assistance of the anchor windlass.

Ok, operating with the anchor windlass circuit breaker engaged, and the anchor windlass capable of functioning, now begins the part where you can shave second off your reaction time.

For your vessel – and this will vary boat by boat – the next step is to go through all the motions including, and very importantly; the move from the helm to the bow.

Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits, Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits

Moving Forward Efficiently

Our boats have swept-back shrouds, and I have found that grabbing the shroud with the arm furthest from the shroud allows me to quickly swing past. No matter which side of the boat I’m on for moving forward; as I approach the angled shroud, I raise my inboard arm and grab the shroud over my head with that hand. That allows me to swing my body under control around and propel me past the shroud, and it keeps my body close to the shroud so I’m not leaning over very far and off balance. You make for yourself a powerful triangle of tight control to propel yourself forward. Also, over your head, your inboard hand is ergonomically angled to perfectly match the angle of the shroud, so you have far better power and grip. If the boat rocks at the most inopportune moment; you are secure and in control. 

Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits, Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits

If I grab the shroud with the hand on the side of the shroud; I’m actually weaker, have more “play” in the length of my arm, resulting in a deeper lean and longer recovery time. It takes a lot more effort and balance to grab the shroud with your outboard hand. It also puts your hand at a non-optimal angle for strength and position. You are more likely to flop and flounder.

I find that I am faster running forward on the port side of the boat because mentally, that puts me on the side where the anchor locker handle is located to port. Open the locker and secure it. Develop the fastest possible method of securing the anchor lid. Although you can save a couple second if you skip tying the lid open; you give up one hand or arm to hold the locker open.

Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits, Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits

Secure the Locker

This is the time to determine if your setup is optimized for quickly securing the locker. If you think there is a better method; develop it. For instance, if you are relying on a bit of line that you must tie; that takes time. Some sort of a clip may allow you to rapidly secure the lid. Anything with a bunny cord will allow spring – and in heavy winds, you don’t want the added stress of that locker bashing into your arm.

Once the lid is secure, it’s time to shift the balance of the anchor so that she drives herself off the bow. 

Safety Catch, Safety Line, Safety Latch

First, remove the safety line that keeps the anchor from self-launching. If you don’t do this before releasing several inches of chain in order to tilt the anchor; there will be too much tension on it to release, and you’ll have to double back. 

Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits, Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits

Shift Anchor Weight Overboard

Now, there is one huge important step that you might have to do before you open the anchor locker, or, after you open the anchor locker depending on your configuration. That is the tilting of the anchor.

Ideally, you want just enough slack in the chain that the anchor shifts her weight from resting solidly on the boat, to angled a bit and her weight ready to carry her overboard. Not so much chain let out that she can bash the hull, but enough to begin to carry her floor-ward. 

Some boats are configured in such a way that you will need to do this BEFORE you open the anchor locker. Some vessels have the anchor situated in such a way that you need to think about getting the anchor weight shifted before you open the locker. 

The reason is; your anchor locker may be so deep that you can’t step into it, or, it’s so far forward that you need to step on the anchor locker lid to reach the anchor. 

OK SO you have moved forward, gotten the anchor “hung,” and it’s time to deploy.

Right, so, grab the windlass controller, and let out six inches of chain so you can shift the weight of the anchor from on the boat to about to deploy. 

Right. Now. Time to release any safety clip you have on the chain. I am adamant that after each practice, we put the safety back on exactly the same. Once we’ve memorized it as being clipped from the port; why would we being clipping it from starboard? 

Then the descent. Yes, you’ve got tunnel vision, you’re concentrating on dropping the anchor. It would be best if you know which button to push! 

Ours are “up” on the left, “down” on the right. That means as I am holding the control, the natural spot for my thumb to rest is toward the right, the “down” button. Get familiar with your buttons! You don’t want to rip the anchor back toward the boat, then have to completely redo the letting six inches of chain out, tilting the anchor to drive overboard. That would be several seconds wasted. 

Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits, Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits

Fouled Anchor

Now the trick is to get the anchor on the bottom, without fouling it. If you were to drop piles of chain on top of the anchor; you might get a wad of chain on top of the anchor, and as the boat drags backward; it would foul. 

Instead, steadily release at least the amount of chain that will allow the anchor to rest on the bottom. This would be a good time for a pause, brief, then as the boat moves down current or downwind; let out more chain, or, chain then line. You should know exactly what depth you were in before you sprang to the bow, so quickly calculate a 4:1 ratio. If you were in 15 feet of water; aim for at least 60 feet of scope going out over time. If you need to stop and allow the chain to stretch out, do that. 

Once you have anchor on bottom and chain/line out, judge from the shore to the beam of the boat if you are holding. If the initial problem that caused you to perform an emergency anchoring was lost of engine; you won’t be able to back down and make sure your anchor is set. You’ll have to let the tide/current do that for you. If it’s not holding; you’ll have to let out more scope IF you have room behind you. 

 

Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits, Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits

Without Anchor Windlass

All the same – except you need to know if you do or do not have a winch handle stored in the anchor locker. If not, part of your routine must be to grab a winch handle on the way toward the bow. That means even if you are going for a motor and not a sail; you need to put a winch handle in the cockpit just in case.

If you have a winch handle already in the anchor locker; you don’t need to bring one with you. As you approach the anchor locker, be prepared to latch the lid, then dive for the handle.

With the handle, and this can vary boat to boat. Usually there is an inner disc that you will see a spot to put the handle – this will release the brake. An “unwinding” motion, or movement counter-clockwise should release the brake. Then you might have to also insert he handle into the outer ring and twist it counter-clockwise to get the chain going out. 

Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits, Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits

Performing The Drill

Once you are familiar with all the aspects of your particular set up, it’s time to practice!

From the helm, either have someone announce “anchor!” or you decide when to begin. Start a stopwatch, and go for it. Just remember that in reality, you will need to pause dropping line /chain to allow the rode to stretch out and not pile up on the anchor, fouling it. 

Once you have lowered sufficient scope, check your time. Try it again. Adjust your body position, hands, gear – whatever it takes to maximize your efforts and minimize the amount of time it takes to get the anchor on the bottom.

After running this drill; you will feel so much more confident in your abilities. You may be surprised at how fast you actually can accomplish the entire maneuver. 

If there are any aspects that seem to really slow you down; consider how you can optimize your body and the equipment to shave time off your response interval.

Have your crew run through the drill as well. 

We conduct this drill out in the Intracoastal Waterway sometimes. If we have the entire channel to ourselves and the winds are reasonable, tide is under control; I may even actually stop the engine just to give our crew the whole experience including having to release the brake on the anchor windlass manually.

Other times, I might announce that the engine has stopped and shift to “neutral” while the crew runs the drill. 

Sometimes we run through the drill at the dock to eliminate the external pressures of wind, tide, current, traffic, sandbars, and concentrate on the body motions and position to perfect our response. 

However you choose to practice; you will be better off for having run through the scenario than if you never considered how it would feel to perform it under extreme stress and distractions. 

Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits, Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits

Emergency Anchoring With Operational Windlass Checklist

  • Hand over helm to another crew or set autopilot
  • Assign someone to announce situation on VHF and keep watch
  • Have sound producing device ready for emergency signals
  • Dash forward
  • Open anchor locker
  • Latch anchor locker open
  • Remove safety line
  • Grab windlass control
  • Push/step on “down” for a couple seconds – enough to release six inches of chain
  • Stop, lift inboard end of anchor stock to shift weight forward to tilt
  • Push/step on “down” long enough to let out double your depth in chain
  • Pause for boat to drift backward and set anchor / stretch out rode
  • Let out more chain/line to preferred scope for the depth / item to leeward
  • Monitor holding
  • Continue VHF communication
Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits, Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits

Emergency Anchoring Without Operational Windlass Checklist

  • Hand over helm to another crew or set autopilot
  • Assign someone to announce situation on VHF
  • Grab winch handle if one is not staged in the anchor locker
  • Dash forward
  • Open anchor locker
  • Latch anchor locker open
  • Remove safety line
  • Grab winch handle
  • Loosen inner brake drum
  • Loosen outer tension drum
  • Release six inches of chain
  • Stop, lift inboard end of anchor stock to shift weight forward to tilt
  • Let out double your depth in chain
  • Pause for boat to drift backward and set anchor / stretch out rode
  • Let out more chain/line to preferred scope for the depth / item to leeward
  • Monitor holding
  • Continue VHF communication
Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits, Emergency Anchoring Drills for When Your Engine Quits

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