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Anchor Marker Floats

Fran and Jean-Guy Nadeau

Gosling
Camper & Nicholson 42, CC Ketch
September 9th, 2015

Arriving in a crowded anchorage can be a daunting challenge. The degree of apprehension skyrockets while you bumble about trying to find that perfect spot while the skippers of the surrounding boats look on with that disapproving “stay away from my anchor” look. You study all the clues: whether they are using rope or chain rode, the angle of the rode from their bow, the wind direction, current direction, etc. Most often these indicators will give you a good idea but sometimes they can be deceiving. The last thing you want to do is cross another boat’s anchor cable or end up sitting over your neighbor’s anchor, because dollars to doughnuts, he’ll be weighing anchor before you and you’ll be forced to move out of his way. How many of us have settled into our spots, opened the long awaited cool one only to get hailed by your neighbour that he is concerned that you may have fouled his anchor?

A tool rarely seen these days and considered a courtesy by many is a float to mark the position of a vessel’s anchor. I have not always used one but I have seen the advantages of an anchor marker over the past few years, especially in the crowded anchorages of Mexico and Central America. The technique has paid us dividends in crowded anchorages like Playita on the southern side of the Panama Canal and all through the San Blas Islands on the Caribbean side where jockeying for positions with European boats is always an adventure.

Not only does the marker advise other boaters but it can be a real lifesaver when the unexpected happens and you lose your precious anchor or get it snagged and find yourself unable to recover it. That expensive piece of steel and chain is very hard to replace in most of the exotic places we find ourselves. Friends who lost their new Manson anchor in the soft mud of the Barra De Navidad lagoon years ago through a faulty swivel would have benefitted from the line attached to the anchor and used as a tripline. For that matter, yours truly could have retrieved the flukes of our Danforth anchor when they suddenly detached from the shaft in Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica a few years ago but I didn’t think I would need the float there, being the only boat. Bad decision…

An anchor marker is a simple, inexpensive tool. Sure, it can have its moments but I find that I am more comfortable with it than without. While in the Sea of Cortez this past season several boats asked about my setup and our Commodore, Jennifer, asked that I submit an article on my arrangement, so here goes.

My existing float system consists of a 10-inch hard plastic fishing float, 45 feet of ¼ inch line, a stainless shackle on one end of the float, and a 5 lb diving weight (which is really too heavy and will be changed to a 2 lb downrigger weight next season). One end of the line is attached to the anchor on the recovery/tripline eye, the strong eye on the crown that most anchors have so that, if fouled, your anchor can be pulled in the opposite direction of the way it was set. The line is fed through the shackle and the weight is attached to the end. The shackle must be sized so that the weight will not pass through but the line will slide freely. On the upper eye I have rigged a vertical 10-inch stainless wire ring to aid in recovery.

Floating system

Float system

The length of the line is dependent on your boat length. Our boat is 42 feet, with the prop at about 38 feet from the stem, so we use 45 feet of line. The line with float attached will never foul the prop. The weight, on the free end of the line, allows the line to adjust itself for the depth of the anchor, thus, if the anchor is in 30 feet of water, the weight will drag that extra 15 feet down through the shackle so that the slack is not floating on the surface and causing a hazard to passing dinghies or European cruisers. The line should be strong enough to be used as a tripline. Weighted crab trap line should work too. Note: We rarely anchor in depths greater than the length of the line. When we do, I add more line to compensate for the depth at high water.

Example of how to keep the line from fouling the prop.

Example of how to keep the line from fouling the prop.

When deploying the anchor, the cord and float should be allowed to slip freely as the anchor is released. Recovery is done by retrieving the float first using the wire eye or snagging the anchor line with the boathook and then bringing the cord in by hand as the anchor is recovered.

We have used this system a lot in the past years but this past season in the Sea of Cortez I did experience some problems. In a calm anchorage, where the boat is subject to slight current, the boat can float over the ball causing it to slide down the hull or, if drifting broadside, it can be dragged from one side to the other, passing under the keel. The hard plastic knocking against the hull during the night will drive you nuts so I have a rubber inflatable buoy for next season.

Another issue is, in an anchorage where the current causes the boat to drift around the anchor, the pennant will twist around the anchor chain necessitating remedial action and a delay when raising the anchor. Note: We have never had the cord foul the prop even when the boat floated over it.

Don’t forget to mark your float with your boat name and an anchor symbol for the passers-by who think it is a freebie floating by.

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  1. Avatar Richard Van Appelen says:

    Hola Gosling! The anchor float may have its merits but can also have the effect of sterilizing the area of the anchorage as the last boats entering may not to swing over the float from your anchor as the wind and/or current changes. Perhaps this is what cruisers intend when they deploy an anchor float – not only saying “keep your rode away from mine” but imploring new entrants to “keep your boat from swinging over my anchor.” Do you think there would be potential for your float system to foul another yacht (prop shaft, windvane, hanging portion of rode) if the late entrant swung over or near your float?

    1. Avatar JG Nadeau says:

      That is precisely why I use the float,to warn other boats of the exact location of my anchor so that they do not swing over it. Imagine trying to leave an anchorage with a boat sitting directly above your pick and there is no one aboard to move it.
      With the line hanging directly below the float And weighed down it is very unlikely that it would foul another boat. It hasn’t happened to me yet and my boat has swung over it several times. There is, of course, the possibility that boat doesn’t see it and motors directly over it and gets it caught in the screw. Again, this has never happened.

  2. Avatar Tony Roberts says:

    Great article, well illustrated and explained. We will add one of these to our kit!

  3. Avatar David Robb says:

    anchor floats are commonly used to mark stern anchors in tight situations where all boats have stern gear deployed.
    It allows anchor recovery from amongst the fleet with a minimum of stress on departure and reduces the risk of entanglement .
    Over the years we have seen more than one boat try to moor to someone else’s float, ok if you are there but a potential disaster if you are ashore.

    We have lost an anchor and rode in the Med in an emergency anchorage (dead engine, storm) when the chain snapped when caught under a boulder, we now put a short line (4 ft) and net float on the anchor to be able to find the gear later by diving. This is also useful in Med mooring where fouled anchors are the rule and surface floats are a hazard and draw port captains ire.

  4. Avatar Julius & Margaret Keresztesi says:

    We stopped in San Diego harbour en route south. The allowable anchorage was quite crowded and it really helped us on Zeeba to see where other boats anchors were. It enabled us to anchor safely and cordially!

  5. Avatar Robert says:

    I am a European cruiser, so on your list …

    For reasons you mentioned, knocking after midnight, I do not use a marker float. There is also another reason I do not like fellow cruisers using it: Arriving in n anchorage at knight is a nightmare with high risk of fouling the prop. Thus, not yours 😉

    For the reason of retrieving the valuable hook its enough to have a float 1 meter above the seabed. Normally I anchor in 8-10 meters so noone gets hurt by this.

  6. Avatar Robert says:

    One more thing. When I was new to cruising I used a marker float. A nice buoy with a beltline that spooled inside the buoy. Unfortunately this attracted small crafts to use is a an swimstop mooring 😉
    There i got the idea to us an inflatable diver marker. 2 Problems solved 😉