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Freeing a Hung Boat Anchor


Photo © Ron Brooks

Grappling Anchor

Photo © Ron Brooks
After the loss of life that occurred while four anglers tried to free an anchor in heavy seas, someone asked – just how do you free a stuck anchor safely? So let’s see what we can come up with.

The Basics of Safe Anchoring

  1. First of all, we need to talk about the basics of safe anchoring. Few anglers realize that they need as much anchor line (rode) as they do to be safe. In 100 feet of water, a rode of 600 feet is not out of the question.
  2. The anchor rode needs to be as near horizontal as possible to allow the boat to ride the waves and swells up and down.
  3. The angle of the rode from the bottom to the boat is called the fetch. A 90 degree fetch would mean the anchor is directly underneath the boat – straight down.
  4. In heavy seas, the fetch needs to be as small as possible, meaning the anchor line (rode) would have to be as long as possible.

Safety First

  • I can’t tell you how many boats I run into that have a small anchor and 100 feet or less of anchor line. In shallow water – like 15 to 20 feet, that much is fine. But these same boats venture into deeper water offshore and get into trouble when they are anchored in building seas.
  • I will say up front that in some instances the only safe option you may have is to cut the anchor line and leave. You have to realize that pulling and anchor in heavy seas means shortening up on all these things we just talked about, and that is where your boat can be swamped and capsize.
  • The other option, if the rode is long enough, is to sit and ride out the heavy seas. Ideally, you would have pulled anchor and headed in way before the seas increased top that point.

What’s in an Anchor?

  • Let’s talk about the anchor itself. In mud or sand, a plow anchor does well, and can usually be dislodged pretty easily. On rocks, reefs, and wrecks, you are going to have a problem with any anchor that does not have some sort of release mechanism, either designed into the anchor or designed by you.
  • Personally, I use a grappling type of anchor that has tines that will bend. I also attach the anchor line to the top of the anchor where the tines come out, and then strap the line to the bottom of the anchor. Tackle shops sell some locally made anchors and the g big box marine stores sell aluminum ones that work very well and break free quite easily.

What is the Process?

  • So, now – we are stuck – the anchor is hung and will not come loose. What do we do? This is where the long length of anchor line comes in. You need to take an anchor buoy with you when you head offshore. It attaches with a sliding clip to the anchor line. Many anglers use these to clip onto their anchor while they untie and chase down a big fish.
  • Clip the buoy to the anchor line and let out all the line. Then you can use your engine to circle the buoy. The pressure from the anchor line is no longer pulling any part of your boat down – rather it is putting vertical pressure to the anchor itself. If you have a grappling anchor, the strap should break free with the pressure from the buoy. If you have any other kind of anchor, you may simply be out of luck – and safely cutting the rope may be your only option.
  • If the weather is bad enough that you absolutely have to get free of the anchor, you might consider clipping that anchor buoy to your anchor line and then head in. You can come back and retrieve it when the seas calm. Of course, this assumes a GPS plot and some amount of luck.

The Bottom Line

Yyou need to consider the anchor and anchor line as an expendable expense of fishing. The lost boaters, if you remember, did just that the week before – that’s why they were so bent on retrieving the anchor; they lost one to the bottom the previous week. It is sad that a good decision one week led to a poor decision the next week.
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