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Tips for Anchoring in a Current

Note: This is a must-read before Thunder!


Pictured above, a Marinette tied to a Californian. The Californian has a well-trained and experienced skipper using the correct equipment to successfully anchor in a current and hold position for both boats.

We all know the safe boating stuff. Well, maybe. Due to the fast currents and the rust that has accumulated on our boating skills, I put together a small list of things to keep in mind for anchoring in a current, or "Thunder Anchoring" as the case seems to be every April.

Tips to establish your anchorage:

  1. Leave a lot of distance between you and others.
  2. Anticipate that you will drift in a turn. That is, if the river is moving at 4 mph and you're approaching your spot with the current to your back, the boat will keep moving 4 mph relative to the surroundings as you pivot the boat and put the current at your side. You could easily travel several hundred feet while maneuvering.
  3. Anticipate that you will drift while the anchor sets. You will be several hundred feet downstream of where you initially place the anchor.
  4. Pay out a lot of scope. A 7:1 ratio in 40' water means at least 280' of rode, plus another 7 feet of rode for each foot above the water.
  5. Don't skimp on anchor size. Don't use mushroom anchors, as they will drag.
  6. Consider using at least 10-15' of chain at the anchor. It will help it to dig-in and hold better.
  7. Be careful letting out the anchor line while in gear. Excess line can travel with the current and find it's way to the props.
  8. After anchoring pick that landmark out and keep an eye on it to indicate possible drifting.
  9. Don't shut engines down as soon as the anchor hooks. Make sure you are securely at anchor and not drifting before shutting down.
  10. Be very careful around other anchor lines.

Tips while you are at anchor

  1. If you're getting close to a neighbor turn your wheel. There may be enough current flowing past the rudders to get some distance between the boats.
  2. Keep an eye on the boats up river from you throughout the day and evening. If any of them break loose, you can better prepared for the hit. If things start to go bad, consider using your engines to maneuver before contact is made.
  3. Keep extra fenders available to place between the boats coming together. Don't use body parts.
  4. If another boater keeps making passes by repeated anchoring attempts and in turn endangers your anchorage (like passing over and close to your anchor line), make contact with law enforcement. They will give them a hand and find them a safer area to practice.
  5. Keep in mind we all screw up once in a while. Hold your cool and help out as much as you can.

Tips for retrieving your anchor:

  1. If you have an electric windlass, use the engine(s) to move closer to the anchor. Only use the windlass to retrieve the anchor. Pulling your boat with the windlass will be very expensive in the long run.
  2. Have a knife within reach just in case you find yourself tangled and unable to retrieve your anchor.
  3. Consider having a spare anchor and rode available (in case of the above).

-Contributed by a Guest Writer


Left, a Danforth Anchor. The design makes it easy to set, and is also easy to trip for retreival.


Editor's Note: After previous Thunder Over Louisville experiences, here is some additional information I'd like to emphasize:

1) The correct equipment is absolutely necessary! I would recommend a Danforth-style anchor (above) with an appropriate amount of chain at the beginning. The chain will help keep the anchor parallel to the bottom of the river and keep the anchor dug-in. I saw countless smaller boats drift by trying to set with either a mushroom anchor or no weight at the front.

2) Use enough anchor line (rode)! If you are in 45' of water, a 50' line will certainly not be enough. With current, even a 100' line is asking for trouble. Again, we watched countless smaller boats drifting. I know they were frustrated after trying for an hour to get set or drifting near other boats and having to start over.

Above, a boater went right over my line, dragging his anchor. I have no idea why my line wasn't snagged! I lost count of how many boats drove right over my anchor line right off the bow.


3) Very important! Plan your anchorage carefully. I watched on guy (yellow pontoon, below) try to drop his anchor right off my bow. The faces have been blurred to protect his identity. You have to ask where he thought he'd wind up? Let's think about this: a cruiser is sitting there with over 200' of line payed out, and the anchor line disappears under water about 15' off the bow. Another 15' upriver, the line is barely underwater and can be easily snagged. Draw a line upriver from that boat, and you get a picture of where their anchor is set. Consider this a danger area, where any attempt to anchor will certainly cause trouble. If you don't drift, you still run the risk of getting tangled. If you drift, why put yourself right infront of another boat? Sound simple enough, but it happens.


Stategy: Stay away from other anchor lines--they are invisible underwater but will still cause you trouble. Pull up next to (but not right up against) a boat already set, then drop your anchor. As you plan your spot, anticipate that you will drift back as you get established. When the anchor hits bottom, slowly let out more scope. Next, reverse your engines to set the anchor. If you aren't moving, you should be there. Pay out even more scope, then secure the line. Check your relative bearings to other objects, then keep an eye on them to make sure you're not moving.


Above, another boater not thinking about where he was anchoring. Believe it or not, this guy dropped anchor only 100' off my bow. Besides fouling my anchor line, where did he think he was going to go???


This guy reversed and his anchor came up my line right up to the bow pulpit, where I could retrieve it. I was then able to walk it back to the stern to sell it back to him (just kidding).


Amazingly, it wasn't 30 seconds later when the same crew dropped his anchor infront of the aluminum fishing boat behind me and did the exact same thing!!! I can't emphasize enough that you need to think about the current and where it will take you.

This is a perfect example of a new boater who would benefit from proper equipment and a safe boating course. Then, he will be able to help his buddies with their new boats, and the world should be a safer place.


Lastly, my hand-held GPS. I set the anchor alarm to a 100' radius to alert me of drift, and the GPS unit draws a red track to show "breadcrumbs" of where the boat has been. Sometimes the drift is sideways due to wind changes.

Note on the picture that the strong current kept the boat within a 40'x40' area, even after 5 hours on the anchor and winds off the stern of up to 15 mph. If you can visualize, the anchor would have been set about where I put the yellow dot on the picture of the GPS unit.



Eric Grubb
Founder, Port KY
Licensed Master

Eric grew up around boats, trading summers on board his parents' Sea Rays for many man-hours of swabbing the decks. He grew up by the little town of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, overlooking the the Dashields Locks and Dam. He has traveled the Great Lakes, Lake Huron's North Channel, Gulf of Mexico and several rivers to include the Ohio, Allegheny, Monongahela, Kanawha, Mohawk (Erie Canal), Tennessee, Tombigbee, Black Warrior and Mobile Rivers.

As a commercial pilot, Eric flies jets and is a flight instructor. He has owned recreational boats ranging from PWCs to most recently, a flybridge convertible that he keeps in a Louisville marina (MM 590). You can also find him with his family on the "Escape Pod," an 18' fishing boat. His most memorable journey was aboard the J. S. Lewis, a 155' towboat in service since 1931.

Eric is a USCG Licensed Master with a Commerical Tow Assistance rating, and is a member of the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Riverman and the Louisville Sail and Power Squadron. After moving to Louisville, he conceived the idea for Louisville's Port KY website while searching for information to help him become a safer and more knowledgable local boater. He has worked hard over the years to educate other boaters by promoting safety classes through Port KY and by hosting captain's classes and related events.




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