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Anchoring With Windlass: A Simple Guide

Anchoring with Windlass: A Simple Guide

Properly setting and retrieving an anchor is a vital boating skill as it directly correlates to boat safety. When shore anchoring for a day at the beach or anchoring out in open water, there are important steps involved that will keep your boat, your passengers, and others nearby safe. Anchoring can also be a lifeline in case of engine failure or rough waters. Anchoring in and of itself is pretty universal but having a windlass may changes up the process a bit, often times making it easier and less time consuming.

The No-No’s

We would like to begin by pointing out some definite no-no’s when it comes to anchoring with a windlass. For starters, the windlass should not be used as a tie-off; that is what the cleats are for. Not tying off to a cleat will put too much stress on the windlass.

In addition, the windlass should never be used to pull the boat forward when attempting to free the anchor and should always be secured with a lock or chain stopper. Lastly, never tie off solely at the stern of a boat. This can lead to devastating outcomes, specifically the risk of taking on serious amounts of water.

Setting Your Anchor

You’ll want to start by picking the proper spot to drop your bow anchor based on water depth and where you want to end up. Knowing the water depth will help you determine the accurate amount of anchor scope needed (scope is the ratio of rode you will pay out to depth of water), for which the recommended ratio is 7:1. If the water depth is 10 feet, this would translate to 70 feet of rode needed. Before dropping your anchor, you will also want to be sure your anchoring spot is clear of bottom obstructions, other boats, and swimmers/snorkelers.

So, if you’re anchoring in 10 feet of water, you’ll want to position your boat about 70 feet (or a little more, keeping in mind the anchor may drag just a little before setting) from where you want to anchor, accelerating very slowly into the wind or current. Next, prepare your bow anchor by releasing your desired scope of rode and then tying off to a cleat. If you are alone and can control the windlass from the helm, continue paying out the rode while letting the wind or current float you back, or you can reverse slowly, until your line is taught. For shore anchoring, you’ll want to tri up the engine(s) as you get close to shore. Reverse one last time to give it a little tug, verifying that the anchor is properly set and not dragging; you should feel it when the anchor catches. To be certain, you can get in line with two landmarks or use onboard equipment to check reference points and alert you in case of dragging or unexpected position changes.

For shore anchoring, you’ll need to use both your bow and stern anchors. Once your bow anchor is set, you’ll want to grab your stern anchor and tie it off to the cleat. It’s also helpful to turn the engines away from the ladder so that yourself and any passengers aboard can get in and out easily. Once the line is secured and motors out of the way, get into the water and walk the line towards the beach until the line is taught. Place your anchor into the sand.

Retrieving Your Anchor

If you’re anchored to shore, you’ll start by removing your stern anchor from the sand and pulling on the line while walking towards the boat all the way to the ladder.

To free the bow anchor, power forward slowly until the rode is vertical, using the windlass controls to pull the line up. The movement of the boat should be enough to dislodge the anchor, allowing you to pull the line the rest of the way in. If the anchor is stuck, try turning the boat in a large circle slowly. This will change the direction of the pull and hopefully free the anchor.

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Once your anchor is retrieved, be sure the anchor is fully retrieved and in proper position and then lock it up or reconnect the chain stopper. This is an important step to prevent unexpected free falls and protect the windlass.

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Final Thoughts

While the practice of setting and retrieving an anchor is quite similar across anchor systems and boats, having a windlass definitely makes anchoring a breeze. Just remember to keep your windlass secured with a lock or stopper and to reduce strain on the windlass by following proper procedure when setting and retrieving. As with any other aspect of boating, always follow safety protocols and of course, have fun!

Happy Boating!

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