It’s one thing to learn the mechanics of anchoring. It’s another issue entirely to learn the unwritten rules of etiquette for setting your hook. Here are some tips for peacefully sharing an anchorage in Puget Sound and beyond.
Be informed. Have a sense in advance for your desired destination, how crowded it may be, bottom composition (mud, sand, silt, etc.), bottom topography (flat, sloped, etc.) and other features of the anchorage. Is the bay open in a direction that the wind is likely to blow from? A little preparation will translate to better choices in the moment when it’s time to drop the anchor.
Respect prior arrivals. Boats already anchored benefit from a “first come, first served” precedent. It’s the responsibility of later arrivals to anticipate and avoid the swinging circle of those in place, and to follow any protocol the other boats have established. For example, it could be a spot where it’s essential to set a stern anchor, or use a certain minimum of rode to prevent dragging. If there’s a question about set or rode, ask boats nearby before anchoring. Pleasant communication is better than being subjected to The Staredown.
Avoid the herd mentality. Just because the only boats present are anchored in one corner of a bay doesn’t mean it’s “the good spot” and you should go there too. Pick a location based on your priorities, not theirs, and remember that they might not have had a choice: what now appears to be the center might have been the outskirts of an earlier fleet. It’s also possible that a group is seeking separation, and has set themselves apart for a reason.
Be a good partner. Sharing a screaming match between the cockpit and the bow is not a great way to introduce yourself to the fleet or maintain a happy boat. Discuss the anchoring plan beforehand, and learn a few “constructive” hand signals to better communicate or get walkie talkies. Too often, anchoring drama is simply due to miscommunication, so make communicating easy. It may be a little less entertaining for boats around you, but that moment of relaxation in the cockpit will come much sooner if you can keep the blood pressure down.
Honey works better than vinegar. There’s nothing like the sight of heads popping up like prairie dogs from below decks when chain starts rattling out from a nearby boat. If you think a boat circling to anchor near you is too close, start by being friendly: hail from the deck or over VHF, or better yet, visit in the dinghy to introduce yourself.
Standing on deck, arms akimbo and sunglasses shooting daggers, isn’t necessary. Why start off on the wrong foot? You may need their help later. Besides, nobody likes to be under that kind of scrutiny, and you risk pushing them to make the “it’s probably a good enough set, because I don’t want to try again and look like an idiot” mistake.
Be a good neighbor. Your superpowers do not include invisibility behind a pair of binoculars. It’s poor taste to stare through the lenses at the rest of the fleet from your cockpit. Yes, everyone does it, so try to be subtle if you can’t resist. Likewise, remember how well sound carries over water. Think about your noisemakers, whether it is a pet, a cell phone, a generator or your planned music set, and avoid unnecessary sharing.
Drive slowly through the neighborhood. When using the dinghy in and around the anchorage, keep the speed and wake down. There could be swimmers, fishing gear or other hard-to-see obstacles avoided only at slow speed. Kicking up a wake big enough to get boats rolling isn’t very neighborly.
Anchoring etiquette is based upon respect and common sense. You won’t find these in state boating legislation or COLREGS, but following a few simple etiquette guidelines will go a long way towards a more peaceful – and safer – anchorage.