Anchor Tango

By: American Sailing Association, Flotillas, Safety

It’s like sticking to the right lane of traffic if you’re driving more slowly than everyone else. It’s just good etiquette, and will give you good karma. The unspoken rules of any anchorage work the same way–fail to observe these, and you’ll have someone cursing you under their breath… or perhaps more loudly.

So when I read‘s great article today on Anchor Etiquette, it made me laugh because of an oh-so-typical anchoring scenario we experienced in Komiza harbor, Croatia.

Most nights on the trip, we med-moored, but in Komiza, the docks were full. There was plenty of room in the anchorage, and we were the first ones to arrive, so we headed out and dropped our hook in a nice wide spot. We were getting going on dinner when the rest of the flotilla arrived; the biggest boat anchored nearby us, a considerate distance away, and then two other boats rafted up to the first. The rafted boats swung round at a different rate than single boats, but even still, there was sufficient swinging room for everyone. Until the Germans came.

They swooped on in and dropped the hook on the fly, right in between us and the rafted boats. Then, as they set their anchor, they drifted alarmingly close to the others before the whooping and hollering from the rafted boats caught their attention. So the German boat, “Marguerite,” without pulling up her anchor first, putted around the circle in another direction–which was not the way they came in.

By this point I knew that our chains must be dancing underwater: they’d come in on our left, dropped their hook, and exited on our right, so our lines are most certainly crossed. Sure enough, they hauled up on their hook, hauling ours with it, and snarled the two. It was an absolute circus of an operation, dramatized somewhat by the language barrier, which required the use of large arm motions to communicate. Finally we untwisted and took off into the “sticks” on the other side of the bay (annoyed that “we were there first!”)

Don’t be the boat in the anchorage that everyone secretly hates! Read on for Sail-World’s well-put anchoring etiquette tips:

1. The first boat sets the precedent:
If you arrive in an anchorage and find that all the boats have a stern anchor set, that’s now the rule. If the first one there is a cabin cruiser that yaws all over the place and they have 60 metres of rode out in five feet of water, they have set the precedent. Any subsequent comers will need to give them room.

2. Watch your Wake:
Entering an anchorage or a mooring area is like moving into a new neighbourhood. Enter at a slow speed, less than five knots, to avoid making a wake which might upset their sundowner drinks or the bits from the winch they were servicing, or dinner preparations. This also applies to dinghies when travelling close to anchored boats – and in most countries it’s the law anyway.

3. Give yourself, and other boats room:
Look at the wind in the anchorage and try to work out where the anchors of other boats are lying. Cruise through the anchorage a couple of times to assess the situation. Calling out to find out how much chain the boat has out is an indicator that you are aware of swing patterns and will attempt to place your boat so that it is not in the way of another boat. There’s also some self preservation here too, as you may want to stay clear of potential party boats, or the boat with that very noisy wind generator. Remember, if he was here first, you are the one who has to move.

4. Watch the ‘Magnet Effect’:
A boat already anchored seems to attract the next boat to anchor right next to it, even though there is an enormous emply bay to anchor in. Try not to do this, and, if you were there first, it is your right to speak to a boat that arrives after you and ask them to move if you feel that they are too close.

5. Buoy your anchor:
In a crowded anchorage, it’s a good idea to buoy your anchor – place a floating marker on your anchor so that you, and others, know where it is. There’s nothing worse than tangled anchors, particularly if you have to make a hasty departure because of deteriorating conditions. (Of course, you have to keep a small watch to make sure your first-time sailor doesn’t arrive and try to pick it up as a mooring ball.)

6. Sound carries far:
Voices, music, engine noise, especially outboard motors, unmuffled go-fast boats, ski boats, jet skis, generators, barking dogs and the dreaded ringing telephone are all examples of the egregious disruption of anchorage serenity. Common sense should prevail in predicting what will not be appreciated and protecting the serenity for the common good.

7. Keep Bow to Cockpit communications civil:
It’s not the anchoring, or the need to re-anchor, which separates the beginners from the experts. It is the amount of yelling and chaos that breaks out between the person handling the anchor and the person manoeuvring the boat. Boating is the only sport that requires T-shirts which proclaim ‘Don’t yell at me!’ Either develop a set of hand signals, or better still, use some inexpensive walkie talkies, so that at least your comments on the abilities of your other crew member will be kept on your boat.

8. Think of your neighbours AND the environment:
The smell of burgers on the grill might be a marvellous aroma for most, but really smelly cooking upwind of a boatload of vegetarians may be a cause for some strong sentiments. Don’t go into a crowded anchorage full of pristine water and then not use the holding tank! – It’s really not a good scene for swimmers in the water. And it can ruin your whole day to find yourself swimming with rotten tomatoes or floating banana skins.

9. Be careful with lights at night:
When anchored at night always have an anchor light on (black ball during the day), when looking for an anchorage don’t shine a strong beam directly into another boat’s cockpit, and don’t be the boat that’s lit up like a football field deep into the night when all else in the anchorage are trying to sleep.

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