No boater wants to get stuck in the mud, but it happens nonetheless. Basically there are two ways boaters become stuck in the mud. The most apparent muddy situation is to run aground. Closely following active grounding is having the anchor slip along the bottom because it is not properly set. In this issue of Boating Safety Tips we will examine both situations. Anchoring … The basic knowledge required to become skilled at anchoring a boat is having the ability to read charts so you can select a good spot for anchoring, knowing what types of equipment is needed for the conditions below, and knowing how to use that equipment. Types of Anchors … There are several types of anchors; however, recreational boaters mostly choose either a Danforth, Plough, or Mushroom anchor. Danforth Anchors … These are sometimes called Fluke Anchors. Fluke anchors are very dependable when used in sand, mud, and in mud-sand mixture bottoms. These anchors feature self-adjusting flukes that dig deep into a wide area without tipping from side to side. Plough Anchors … These anchors are suited for rocky, clay, and grassy bottoms. Shaped much like a farmers plough they have the ability to cut through, dig in and hold tight. Mushroom Anchors … Very good for moorings. They are best used in soft bottoms where they dig in deep and create a suction effect which enhances its holding power. Ironically, Mushroom anchors are good options for very small boats and personal watercraft. Grapnel Anchors … These anchors are only useful in certain situations. Examples are freeing your boat’s anchor from the line of another vessel, and snagging items lost on the bottom.
Best Practices for Anchoring … Anchoring requires good communications between the Skipper and the deckhands on the bow. When approaching an anchorage the Skipper must remember to brief these supporting passengers to ensure that everyone knows what to do, and that pre-arranged hand signals can be used if wind or other impediments hamper communications. Additionally, it is a best practice to have your deckhands wear a PFD when working on the bow.
Picking Your Spot … Use local charts to ensure that the composition of the bottom is a good match for your anchor. Make sure you will have enough water at low tide, check that you are not over large hidden rocks, and avoid areas near underwater cables. If other boats are in the same area, be careful to allow sufficient space to account for the swing of close-by boats.
The Approach … Slow and steady into the current wins the race when anchoring. Before you begin the approach be certain that the anchor and its line has been made ready for lowering whether you are hand-over-hand dropping the anchor, or using a winch. Approach at a speed that will allow you to stop before you over run the target. Wait for the momentum of the boat to begin drifting back then drop anchor. If you anchor during a slack period you may need to gently back down as you feed, or winch out the anchor line. Setting the Anchor … In order to achieve its maximum holding power, an anchor must be set properly. Once the anchor is on the bottom, slowly let out line to a length that is between 5:1 and 7:1 of the water’s depth. If heaving to in heavy weather use a longer scope. Note, some mariners prefer to measure the scope from the deck at the bow; however, I have found adding bow height to your scope can add 10 to 14 feet to the boat’s swing radius.
Keeping an Anchor Watch … Once the anchor is set, it is important to check that it is holding firm to the bottom. If you gently place your hand beneath the anchor line and feel any jerks, or vibrations; it is a sign that the anchor is slipping. To solve this let out more anchor line. A second precaution is to take hand compass bearings using 2 or 3 landmarks at least 45 degrees apart. However, these bearings will change as the current and wind directions change. A third check is to use your Seaman’s Eye to observe changes in the boat’s swing and distance from landmarks and other boats. For instance, if you are getting closer to neighbors, or the shore, your anchor is not holding. Lastly, most GPS units feature anchor watch alarms.
Weighing Anchor … The time has come to de-anchor the boat, get underway, and head for home. To de-anchor slowly move the boat forward by using the winch or a hand-over-hand manual technique. If using your engine to assist be careful not to run over your own anchor line. When the boat approaches the spot directly over the anchor, with the line tending straight up and down, the anchor will usually free itself from the bottom. If the anchor does not release, fasten the anchor line to a cleat and advance the boat a few feet. Still stuck in the mud? Using reverse power to circle around the anchor will free it.
Refloating a Soft Grounded Boat … If you run hard aground you will need to turn off the engine, check for passenger injuries, breaches in the hull, and fuel leaks. Then call for assistance. However, if you were proceeding at a slow speed, landed softly, do not have injured passengers, and the boat is secure; you may be able to back off. First and foremost make sure everyone is wearing a PFD. Second, move weight away from the grounded section. Raise the engine slightly if you can, then gently use reverse power. If still stuck you may be able to use oars, boathooks or brooms to help push off.