Using a stern anchor

We all talk about using a stern (or so called kedge) anchor but all too often few of us have actually deployed one and truth be told even those of us who have tend to avoid doing it unless we absolutely have to. Stern anchors are a popular option in situations such as where a tidal effect occurs in a confined space or a rolly anchorage where it helps us to point into swell and lessen the roll or perhaps where swinging circles and limited space mean we all need to use a stern anchor to fit in. We’ve used them in places like the Galapagos Islands (swell) and the Marquesas Islands (space and swell!)

Like with any other sailing manoeuvre, it’s all about the preparation. Don’t drop your main anchor and then think you have all the time in the world to get your stern anchor out – you can easily swing in that time and in a confined space be up against another boat. This was a problem we saw commonly in Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands where space was limited and the prevailing wind was not aligned with swell.

We have seen many different stern anchor set-ups on cruising yachts. Our second/stern anchor sits on our bow but we have seen people with a more lightweight Danforth anchor stowed on the rails on their stern. We have 10m of chain for protection against chafe along the seabed/coral and 50 metres of polypropylene rope that provides a little stretch. In addition we have a small fender tied on approximately 10m of rope line which we attach to the anchor as a tripping line.


In advance of anchoring we find a suitable place to stop and prepare:
1. Take the stern anchor and rope/chain to the back of the boat and ensure the anchor/chain/rope are all shackled together in that order. Use some seizing wire to prevent the shackles undoing.
2. Attach the tripping line with fender to your anchor – this is very important for retrieval! Be sure to attach it in the correct position – most anchors have a specific tripping line hole at the top corner of the anchor – don’t confuse it with a stowage bolt hole.
3. Get your dinghy in the water and have it ready to deploy for use either rowing or with motor depending on the anchorage. (We have easily rowed to set the stern anchor.)
4. Put the anchor and chain into the dinghy with the connected rope trailing from your stern to the dinghy. Ensure the chain is flaked in the dinghy so that it won’t tangle as it enters the water.
5. Lead the rope back into the boat through an aft fairlead and onto a winch – ensure there is some slack out to the dinghy but also watch that there is not too much so as to avoid any risk of fouling your propeller.
6. Put fenders out – yes – put fenders out and leave them out. If you have problems setting your stern anchor or either of your anchors drag or another boat drags and you’re in a crowded area it could save you considerable expense! We’ve seen it happen several times with mad scrambles for fenders or worse someone who left their boat and its stern anchor dragged leaving a nearby boat fending off.

Deploying your anchors

With everything ready before you enter the anchorage you can now proceed:
7. Slowly motor in and find a suitable anchorage spot. Deploy your primary anchor as normal.
8. Once you are happy your primary anchor is set, have someone take the dinghy out with the stern anchor in it while another person remains on board and feeds the rope out through the aft fairlead. If you have sufficient crew, the dinghy can be deployed before the work with the primary anchor is finished. You would usually take the stern anchor out from either your port or starboard aft quarter, not necessarily straight behind you; look around you, it usually makes sense to choose the same side as boats who are anchored in your vicinity.
9. Once the dinghy is in a position from the boat to enable the stern anchor to hold the boat into any swell or in line with nearby boats, throw the stern anchor into the water and the chain will follow (remember it should be flaked in advance to ensure this happens). We tend to drop about 2 boat lengths off the stern. The anchor will drag a little from the spot you drop it before it is well held. Circumstances will vary and you may have to try once or twice until you are sure you are happy with the position.
10. Once the anchor is on the ground, pull in the slack rope. Then use your winch to wind more rope in, digging the anchor in. It will behave like any other anchor and you will see the rope ride up when the anchor starts to dig in and hold.
11. Consider any tidal effect – the tide may rise and you will need a little slack in your lines as your boat rises. Some people like to “pin” their boats in position with both bow and stern lines tight but that potentially means little chain on the seabed.
12. In addition to your tripping line you might want to attach another buoy to your line closer to your boat to highlight your stern anchor so that no-one rides over it!

Hoisting your anchors

Departure is a little easier and there are a few ways to retrieve your stern anchor. On departure typically we do the following:
1. Engine on and boat ready to go.
2. Slacken the stern anchor line a little.
3. Take the dinghy out to the tripping line, pull on the tripping line to haul the anchor up and into the dinghy. Treat it as a gym session and it might not feel so bad! Sometimes the anchor will come up easily over the bow of the dinghy but if it is really stuck you may need to try haul in it over the side. Sit on the opposite side of the dinghy and use your feet to brace yourself and then pull using a rocking motion. Try and be straight over the anchor or just over it. If the anchor is really stuck, you could reverse your boat letting out more bow chain and then once next to the anchor try winch it up from on board.
4. Whichever method is used, the person in the dinghy should then pull the anchor and all of the chain into the dinghy.
5. We like to store our second anchor on our bow. Lead the stern anchor rope around to the front bow roller. The person on board then pulls in the rope and effectively pulls the dinghy in to the bow.
6. Working together, pull the chain and anchor over the bow roller and secure the anchor.
7. The dinghy is retrieved and you can then lift your primary anchor as normal.
An alternative method where there is sufficient space to manoeuvre is to bring your stern anchor rope to the front of the boat, lead it through your second bow roller and secure it. You then take up your primary anchor while one person lets out rope on the stern anchor as you go forward. Once you have secured your bow anchor you can simply turn round and motor up to your stern anchor and simply bring it in over your second bow roller.

We hope this helps and as ever we welcome contributions from fellow sailors.

One response to “Using a stern anchor”

  1. Fred Hawes says:

    we are getting ready to go to Santa Cruz island. Anchoring there is famously an issue. Thanks for your good advice. It seems that the number of crew available drives what technique you can employ.

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