Anchoring Or Mooring Under Sail

Dropping An Anchor Or Picking Up A Mooring Under Sail

picking up a mooring under sailAnchoring or mooring under sail are  very important skills every sailor must learn, practice, and master. You never know when you will need to do this in an emergency.

When dropping an anchor or picking up a mooring, whether under sail or motor, you always approach from directly downwind. The concept is that you use the boat’s momentum to reach the spot where you want to drop the anchor or pick the mooring up and rely on the wind that should be blowing directly on the nose to stop the boat.

Dropping Anchor While Under Sail

Whether you are on a monohull or multihull, the sailplan is the same: use the main sail only. Furl the jib or put it away so you only have one sail to worry about.

  • Approach the anchorage.
  • Decide where you want to drop the anchor, (choose a spot with a lot of room even if it means being far out). 
  • Check the chart to make sure that you have enough depth.
  • Prepare your anchor so it is ready to drop. 
  • Set the boat up to approach from down wind with he boat on a beam reach. 
  • Keep sailing until you are abeam of your chosen spot. 
  • Turn sharply to windward so that you are now going directly towards the chosen spot and into the wind.
  • Two things will happen; the main sail will luff and the boat will start to slow down. 
  • Release the main sheet completely so that it is de-powered and cannot fill with wind again.
  • Keep steering the boat towards your chosen spot until the boat is no longer making way. (Look at the water to determine whether you are moving or not).
  • When the boat has no more way on, it will start to drift backwards so be sure to drop the anchor before this happens. If not, the boat will turn side on to the wind and the possibility exists that the main will fill – you do not want this to happen.
  • When stopped, drop the anchor.
  • Let the wind push the boat backwards.
  • Control the bow of the boat by snubbing the anchor at intervals to keep the head to wind. 
  • Generally the momentum of the boat is enough to set the anchor but if you want to give it an added pull, travel the main out to one side and sheet the main in, it will fill with wind and back the boat up to help set the anchor.
  • As always, take bearings on land and make sure that the boat is securely anchored.

Picking Up A Mooring Under Sail

While it requires a bit more precision at the helm (you have to be more exact to get to the mooring), it is actually easier than anchoring. The sail plan is the same: main sail only.


  • The same approach is used – from downwind (figure1).
  • But you need to judge how far behind or downwind from the mooring your beam reach leg should be. This is because when you turn into the wind you need to be sure that the boat’s momentum will carry it upwind to the mooring ball. This is something that needs to be practiced because every boat is different. There are a lot of factors that come into play, but the primary factors are the boat’s weight and the windage.
  • Preparations for picking up the mooring are as follows:
    • You will need a line that is one and a half times the length of the boat 
    • Attach one end to the bow cleat. 
    • Take the line back to the cockpit and have it ready to deploy with the other end in your hand.
    • Helm the boat up to the mooring ball.
    • Instead of trying to get the bow to the ball, steer the boat so that the ball is on the side of the boat. The ideal is to steer the boat so that the mooring ball is about amidships and right next to the boat on the side that the helm is on.
    • Take the loop of line while holding the end that is not attached to the bow cleat and drop it over the ball.
    • Walk to the bow while taking up the slack.
    • Cleat the other side of the line to a bow cleat. 
    • What you will now have is a line that is looped around the bottom of the mooring ball and both sides cleated off on the bow cleats (figure 2).
    • You are essentially now moored – the line will not come over the ball because it is wrapped around the chain at the bottom of the ball and the buoyancy of the ball itself will not allow the line to slip over it.
    • Use boat hook to retrieve the pennant.
    • Put a new snubber line through the eye and attach it to the bow cleats (figure3).
    • You are now free to release the original line and retrieve it so it can be stowed.

It is easy, try it. You will be amazed at how simple and efficient this method is and you will not look like a plonker in front of whole anchorage. This method works equally well under power or sail.

Check out the video below for another captain’s similar explanation.

YouTube video


Join Our Community!

Get the latest on catamaran news, sailing events, buying and selling tips, community happenings, webinars & seminars, and much more!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

On Key

Recent Posts