Raising Anchors / Clearing a Fouled Anchor

When it’s time to go the anchor needs to be raised, and this is where the hard work is involved.. unless you have a motorised anchor winch.

The anchor cable needs to be pulled in bit by bit hand over hand until the chain is straight up and down. Sounds simple but if you’re pulling it in by hand it is anything but. When the wind catches the boat and it sheers from side to side you may find the chain ripped out your hand. It’s then down to getting a round turn of the chain around a cleat or bollard. In all cases wear heavy gloves and WATCH YOUR FINGERS.

The strain of it can end up putting your back out, and perhaps the most sensible way is to sit down on the deck and pull it hand over hand.

If you have a manual anchor winch, pull in by hand until it becomes too difficult then loop the chain over the winch and start winching.

Even if using an electric winch it is normal to wind in the chain until it is up and down and then stop winching.

The boat can be carefully motored towards the anchor while this is going on, and it requires good teamwork between the foredeck and the cockpit… best done with hand signals to avoid confusion and shouting. The danger here is the boat being motored forwards too fast, and before the foredeck man can cleat off the chain, the boat overshoots the anchor and the chain is ripped out his hand.

Anyway assuming you end up with a stationary boat, the chain straight up-and-down and the anchor not fouled…… the next stage is the anchor breaks out. The foredeck man will see this as the boat will start swinging or moving and the chain that was bar taut will ease off. Next it is just the stage of recovering the dangling anchor and chain, stowing everything, and cleaning up the mess. This can be quite considerable if you are anchored in mud.. stinks too.

Someone needs to be controlling the boat while this is going on, so single handers are often seen jumping around like a startled gazelle all over their boats at this stage.

If the anchor is thick with mud and filth sometimes motoring forward slowly while prodding at it with a boat hook will clear it.

In normal circumstances this is all there is to it. If you are using two anchors, recover the Leeward or down tide one first, paying out more cable on the working anchor if necessary. Then recover the working anchor.

If you have checked your charts carefully before anchoring you should be clear of cables and pipelines (and wrecks). Sometimes however your anchor will foul something that is already laying there on the seabed, it will hook around it, and as you try and raise your anchor it will be bringing the obstruction with it. It could be bits of rusty old hawser (watch for sharp spikes that can rip your hand), it could be part of a mooring, or it could even be someone else’s anchor chain. I have even heard of people getting their cable wrapped around their own deep fin keel…

If you have suspicions about what might be lying on the bottom before you drop anchor, it is wise to rig a trip line and anchor buoy (a trip line is attached to the forward part of the anchor, and when it is pulled it capsizes the anchor and thus frees it). Trip lines and buoys are very good in theory, but in crowded places they can get fouled by other boats, or even picked up by someone thinking they are moooring ! Yes I’ve seen this happen…

Assuming you haven’t and the anchor is foul, try and raise it up enough so that you can see what is fouling it. If you can pull the fouling object just above the waterline, you will then have a chance to pass a rope underneath it and back onboard again. This rope can be used to take the strain, while your anchor is lowered and unhooks itself from the obstruction.

In my experience motoring round at full throttle trying to dislodge the obstruction only makes things worse….

If you can’t get the obstruction to the surface or see what it is one trick is left for you. Tie a large loop of rope around the anchor chain, and feed the bitter end of this rope out to someone in the dinghy. They can then motor forwards (in the opposite direction to which the boat is lying)… the loop travels down the chain and gets caught around the flukes of the anchor. Continued effort pulling at it from that direction MAY pull it away from the obstruction.

In suitable conditions it may be possible to dive down and inspect what is going on. If the anchor is pulled up as tight as it can go the diver can run a rope underneath the obstruction, and the ends of this rope can be hauled up tight on board. The anchor chain is then slackened off, and the anchor freed. Quite often the diver will have to help untangling the anchor.

If all else fails, it may be necessary to cut the chain, tie a thin rope and buoy to it, and get a diver to recover it later.

If you suspect you have fouled an electricity or telephone cable, you will need to abandon your gear and buoy it as above … careful checking of the charts could have avoided this in the first place.

In my experience most fouling is caused by rusty old steel hawsers lying on the seabed, I have even hooked a submerged tree trunk, and once got well and truly caught up in a three point mooring… which was probably my own fault for anchoring too close. That one involved unpleasant diving work for me..

If you anchor enough sooner or later you will foul your anchor, and it’s best to have plans in place for dealing with it.

On that cheerful note we’ll finish this article.

Many thanks to Steve Bryant for letting us re-produce this article. Please click here to visit his website for more article and harbour information.