Getting a good night’s sleep at anchor involves a lot of things. But one of the biggest has to be trusting that you won’t drag. Or if you do, you’ll find out before there is any damage.
Choose the Right Ground Tackle
Step one is to have good ground tackle. And ground tackle is a system, not simply your anchor. It’s the anchor, the chain, any rope rode, snubbers or bridle, the fairleads, chafe gear, connectors, attachment points on the boat and so on. Everything has to work properly together.
There is no universal “best” system – it depends on the bottom, the depth, the expected conditions, and so on. The big thing that I want to point out is not to focus on just one piece of the gear, but the entire system. Read more about anchoring gear.
Use Good Anchoring Technique
Step two is good anchoring technique. Having the right gear does nothing if it’s not deployed correctly. The same article I linked to above details our anchoring technique. Don’t be intimidated – anchoring well isn’t difficult, it just takes attention to detail and getting into a routine so that you do it properly every single time.
Set an Anchor Alarm
Step three is one that I haven’t really talked about before and so I wanted to raise here. That’s having (and using!) an anchor alarm. Many chartplotters or nav apps have one, some radars do, or you can just put one on a phone or tablet.
I use one on my phone because it takes the least amount of power. HOWEVER, phones will often shut down an app after a certain amount of time if the phone is not plugged it. So I make sure that my phone is plugged in all the time (most phones/apps will sound the alarm just before turning the app off, which does warn you of the problem but can cause unnecessary panic as it is the same alarm as if you’re possibly dragging).
Make Sure You Can Hear Your Alarm
So – making sure it will stay on is important. Being able to hear it also is – and is another reason why we don’t use the alarm on our chartplotter. We simply can’t hear it from the bed.
I downloaded a very obnoxious klaxon sound (free on the internet – search on download notification sounds) and set it to be the alarm sound. That is generally good enough for us to hear it in bed. But when we happen to be in a noisy place (say just off a bar with live music on Friday night), I connect the phone to our wireless Bluetooth speaker, which I set at an appropriate volume and place right beside the bed. This is also a good option if you use hearing aids but don’t sleep with them in.
Know Your App’s Features
The app I use – Anchor Lite (free on Android) – gives several options when you set the alarm. For example, you can say that you’re X distance from the anchor, assuming that you didn’t hit the button right when the anchor hit the water. If you want to use features like this, you can investigate them in the help files for your app.
I honestly don’t use these features. And I set the alarm radius to be a little less than the amount of rode that we have out. Other cruisers are generally surprised at this, saying that I’ll get false alarms (thus hurting that “good sleep” I was after).
Well, yes. But those “false alarms” generally occur due to a major wind or current shift. Two things: first, a major wind or current shift is when the anchor is most likely to break free, so I want to know and take a look around. Second, major wind shifts usually occur with the leading edge of a squall. And I definitely want that “slightly earlier” warning that a squall is about to hit!
When the Alarm Sounds
In both those cases, I get up, reset the alarm, look around, and see if any action is needed. On occasion, you may not have a problem, but another boat may either swing too close to you or be dragging towards you. You can try calling on the VHF or give five blasts on an air horn. When all else fails, you may have to take evasive action.
If the alarm goes off and you don’t see a problem, then it goes off again, don’t ignore it on the grounds that “I just checked and we were okay.” Sometimes, it’s hard to realize that you are dragging, particularly if you’ve swing directions and thus the first time you think things are fine. That second alarm should be a real eye-opener – double- and triple-check that you are not dragging.
By the way, anytime that we are on a mooring ball that I don’t 100% trust, we also use the anchor alarm.
When You Leave the Boat
Finally, be sure to turn the app off when you head out or if you take your phone in the dinghy. Both will set off the alarm as the app senses that the phone is moving away from the anchoring spot.
I love nights on the hook – but when we started cruising it took a while before I really trusted the anchor. Now, I sleep best when we’re at anchor!