Successful Anchoring: Tips from Captain Jack

By Jack Klang
Cruising Consultant, Quantum Sail Design Group

Anchoring is a peaceful, non-crowded, free alternative to harbor hopping for coastal cruisers. With the right equipment and proper technique, you can stop rushing to the marina and anchor at any time.

First you need the right equipment. Most anchor designs will work if properly deployed. It must be of adequate size and have several feet of heavy chain and sufficient nylon line attached. If using all chain, you will need a mechanical or electric windlass (or a strong, willing crew) to raise it. 

Mark each rope at intervals of 20 to 25 feet and attach a floating marker. I use and old, brightly colored laundry soap container with a generous supply of light line, also marked at the same intervals. The float shows your anchor location to other boats so they can avoid possible entanglements. It can also be used to back out and retrieve your anchor if it has become snagged.

Preparing to Deploy
Before releasing your anchor, attach a float line, slightly longer than the depth of the water, to the head of the anchor. Launch this before lowering your anchor.  

Make sure you have the proper anchor scope* for your needs. Anchor scope is the ratio of the distance from the anchor to the boat’s deck, divided by the distance from deck to the lake bottom. Recommended scopes for anchoring are:

  1. 5:1 for anchoring while aboard or in a protected area with good holding ground
  2. 7:1 in most conditions, providing the anchor is well set
  3. 10:1 in a storm

Example: The water depth is 15 feet and my bow is 5 feet above the water line (total 20 feet). I have let out 100 feet of line including chain. My scope is 5:1 (100 divided by 20).

Circle the chosen location using your depth sounder to verify the charted depths. Be alert to uneven depth soundings, which may indicate underwater obstructions, heavy weeds, or rocks. Make sure to circle the entire area where your anchor scope will allow your boat to swing during wind shifts.

Head into the wind and bring your boat to a stop with your bow over the selected spot. Deploy your anchor marker float then lower the anchor. Maintain control of the rope so it doesn’t run out. Shift into reverse and slowly back downwind while paying out the rope. Shift into neutral and drift until the predetermined anchor scope causes the rope to tension. Make the anchor line fast and shift into reverse to set the anchor.  

To determine if your anchor has dug in, test the tension on the anchor line with your hand. If there is continuous and strong tension, you are set. If the rope vibrates with only slight resistance, your anchor is not holding. Retrieve and redeploy the anchor or simply let out more rope until strong resistance is met.  

Tips for Successful Anchoring 

  1. Check the weather forecast for wind speed and direction and thunder storm possibilities.  
  2. Search navigation charts for protected bays, coves, and rivers, noting the water depth and bottom material. 
  3. Look for sand, mud, or soft clay bottoms. Avoid weeds, hard clay, and rocks.
  4. Avoid underwater obstructions, strong current, exposure to wind driven waves, boat traffic, and ferry routes.
  5. Have an alternative location in mind.
  6. Arrive at unfamiliar anchorages in daylight with the sun overhead.  
  7. At sundown light your 360 degree white anchor light. 
  8. Before turning in for the night establish range markers on shore that will be visible after dark to verify your location. 
  9. Be ready for changing conditions: have a pre-planned escape route, including compass headings, GPS waypoints, and distances.



About the Author: Jack Klang is a Cruising Consultant for Quantum Sail Design Group. He has shared his vast experience with thousands of sailors through his seminars, a syndicated newspaper column, magazine feature articles, television and movie appearances. He is the author of  “Cruising with Quantum” a series of how-to articles covering all aspects of sailboat cruising as well as an instructional video. Jack is recognized as one of the country’s five best sailing speakers, appearing at boat shows across the country. For the past five decades, Jack has sailed the Great Lakes, Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. He earned his first Coast Guard captain’s license at age 18 and has logged over 30,000 miles under sail as a cruiser, ASA instructor, charter captain and delivery skipper. Contact Jack at captjack1(at)

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