Emergency Dragging Anchor Procedures for Sailboats

Emergency Dragging Anchor Drill, Emergency Dragging Anchor Procedures for Sailboats

Emergency Dragging Anchor Drill for Sailboats

Dragging anchor during the day is nerve-wracking. During the night; it’s a whole added dimension when use of hand signals and vision is limited. Here are some steps to take if this happens to you.

Emergency Dragging Anchor Drill, Emergency Dragging Anchor Procedures for Sailboats

Prevention

Such a cliche, but, prevention is the best cure. Once you have carefully selected an anchorage, drive in a big 200-foot-plus diameter circle to check depth everywhere you might drag. You will want to verify that the depth is what you thought it would be, and that there are no oyster bed surprises, or sandbar surprises. Make note of the prevailing winds and direction of tidal flow. Recognize that at slack tide, you may blow toward a lee shore; be sure to account for enough scope necessary by moving away from shore if this is a possibility. 

Once you’ve proscribed your circle and committed to anchoring; make sure your anchor is set. Back down on it with enthusiasm – I joke that I like 100 rpm’s for every knot of wind. So, if I think we’re going to have a 30-knot blow; I back down at 3,000 rpm. I really test it thoroughly. 

But, if you do find that you are dragging, there are some things you will need to do. 

Emergency Dragging Anchor Drill, Emergency Dragging Anchor Procedures for Sailboats

IF You Do Drag: First – Survey Your Surroundings

First is surveying your surroundings – are there any boats around you or down current / down wind of you or near your vessel. You need to keep track of where they and their anchor rode lie. Keep constant watch on the boats around you. 

Emergency Dragging Anchor Drill, Emergency Dragging Anchor Procedures for Sailboats

Next – Several Immediate Actions

One you recognize that you are not holding; a whole bunch of actions need to be taken simultaneously – estimating how long until you will be in danger is first. Right behind that is the need to communicate to your crew what you need them to do, and possibly communicate on the VHF that you are in danger, or that you are endangering anyone downstream/downwind of you. 

If letting out more scope will solve the problem, and you have space behind you; try that. 

If you don’t have enough room behind you, you’ll need to pick up your anchor and retry setting it. 

Emergency Dragging Anchor Drill, Emergency Dragging Anchor Procedures for Sailboats

What About at Night

However, if it’s in the middle of the night – or anytime dark – with blowing rain and pounding hail (this is when anchors drag, of course) you might have to amend your plan to simply running your engine just enough to hold your position. This method requires several actions; starting your engine, ensuring that your anchor rode is not near your prop or keel, making sure no one else’s anchor rode is near your prop or keel, turning on your running lights, and communicating via VHF or sound producing device that you are in danger and possibly endangering other vessels. 

If necessary; retrieve anchor, move up-wind / up-current – whatever made you drag back – and re-anchor. 

Emergency Dragging Anchor Drill, Emergency Dragging Anchor Procedures for Sailboats

Listen for the Chain

One trick from the helm, if you have line and chain, pay attention to how much chain you have and how long your usual crew takes to retrieve it. Count it out in seconds and memorize your number. When you hear the line turn to noisy chain, start your count. This depends on your crew knowing to make sure the chain does not pile up and back-block the windlass. If you and your crew have practiced, and your crew person knows if your anchor windlass gets clogged with chain and knows to keep up with it; you can count on your memorized time until the anchor should be free.

Emergency Dragging Anchor Drill, Emergency Dragging Anchor Procedures for Sailboats

Agree on Hand Signals in Advance

Agree on a hand signal that means “the anchor is free of the bottom” – this is far more important than “the anchor is back on the bow” because once the anchor is free, the helmsperson can begin gently motoring forward out of danger. Not fast enough to bang the anchor into the boat, but enough to begin to move out of danger, away from the rocks or lee shore.

At this point, you may need to proceed quite a bit further up wind / up current before attempting to anchor again. 

Emergency Dragging Anchor Drill, Emergency Dragging Anchor Procedures for Sailboats

Emergency Dragging Anchor Checklist

  • Make sure you are safe
  • Make sure your crew is safe
  • Look around the boat for other boaters, bridges, sand bars, rocks
  • Determine wind direction, current, set and drift
  • Check downwind and/or down current
  • Decide if it is safer o let out more scope to solve the problem
  • Start engine
  • Assign bow watch to look for yours and other rodes, run a big torch and signal the helm
  • Turn on running lights
  • Engage engine to keep you from dragging further back
  • Assign someone to announce situation on VHF and keep watch
  • Have sound producing device ready for emergency signals
  • Have someone at bow make sure you don’t run over your own anchor line or others’ lines
Emergency Dragging Anchor Drill, Emergency Dragging Anchor Procedures for Sailboats

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