When To Use A Sea Anchor?

Sea anchors and drogues are useful in maintaining boat stability during storms, controlling drift, and assisting in fishing or steering issues. It’s also crucial for facilitating quick stops, such as engine failure.

Their slowing effect on a boat can be the difference between a rough storm that is weathered successfully or not.

Over the course of my career, there have been a handful of times when deploying a sea anchor has helped my safe passage.

This article will dive into the details of when to use a sea anchor and when to use a drogue. Here are the key takeaways to remember.

1️⃣ A boat that the crew cannot keep pointing the bow-on or stern-on to heavy seas becomes unstable and will roll with breaking waves.

2️⃣ This is important because many light displacement yachts do not respond well when hove in running seas.

3️⃣ Sea anchors have saved many small yachts that have gotten into trouble in heavy seas.

4️⃣ Sea anchors are used when the boat is stopped, while drogues are used when the boat is underway but needs the speed to be kept in check.

When To Use A Sea Anchor?

A sea anchor is useful in several situations:

🟠 During Storms: It stabilizes the boat in rough weather.
🟠 To Reduce Drift: It controls the boat’s position in strong currents or winds.
🟠 While Fishing: It helps maintain a specific spot in deep water fishing.
🟠 Steering Issues: It assists in managing the boat when the steering system fails.
🟠 Emergency Stops: It aids in quick stops, such as engine failure.

The main function of a sea anchor or drogue system is to slow the boat down or keep it heading in a specific direction when conditions require. 

These devices act to provide drag, preventing the boat from swinging and slowing the boat’s forward momentum.

ing seas and will slow the vessel’s forward motion.ChatGPT

There are two main types of sea anchors:

🅰️ Sea AnchorA fabric device shaped like a parachute, deployed from the bow.Stops the boat from drifting and keeps the bow windward into the waves.
🅱️ DrogueA cone or series of cones deployed from the stern.Maintains the boat’s course in following seas and slows the vessel’s forward motion.

Both devices are designed to create drag and slow the boat’s movement.  

Sea anchors remove control from the crew. Drogues allow the crew to maintain control; the only effect is slowing the boat down. 

The events in which these devices are used include the following.

Now let’s look at all the scenarios of when to use a sea anchor in further detail. You might be interested in sea anchor sizing when it comes to these situations.

During Storms

When the captain wants to hold a position in moderate to high winds, a sea anchor or drogue will keep the vessel’s bow (sea anchor) head to the wind and waves (windward). In following seas, a drogue will slow the boat. 

A sea anchor (and drogue) is handy under these circumstances because they create drag in the opposite direction to which the current and waves run. 

To Reduce Drift

Drogues are efficient devices that slow the boat’s speed while the boat is underway. They are used in following seas, often where there is a danger of the boat speeding down big waves into the wave ahead of it.

Drogues are not designed to stop the boat, but they will keep the speed under control.

Small boats generally lose control and become involved in a life-threatening event during heavy weather because they are going too fast! 

A properly deployed drogue set at the first sign of bad weather may change the outcome.

Not only do they reduce the speed, but they also hold the stern into the waves, reducing the boat’s yawing motion.

While Fishing

If the prevailing wind pushes the boat too fast, it may prevent lighter baits or lures from reaching the bottom. It may even cause them to skip along the seafloor, making it difficult (or impossible)  for the fish to intercept and eat.

A correctly sized drogue (or series of drogues) can reduce the boat’s drift, consequently making the fishing experience much more enjoyable.

In some instances, you may want to make the boat travel sideways. An example is if you want to fish along the side of drop-offs against ridges or gutters that run 90 degrees to the current. 

A well-placed drogue mounted correctly can create sufficient conflict between the current and wind to achieve this.

If You Have Steering Issues

If you have an emergency and the steering fails (for whatever reason), sea anchors or drogues provide an excellent way to keep the boat heading stable and prevent it from turning beam on and broaching, pitchpoling, or flooding.

For Emergency Stops

If there is an emergency with the boat’s engine, a sea anchor will stop (or significantly slow) the vessel’s motion and prevent it from turning beam onto the waves. This will enable the boat to ride the rough seas more comfortably.

When you need to stop in open water that is too deep to use a ground anchor, a sea anchor offers an excellent substitute.

Types of sea anchors

There are two forms of sea anchors.

Parachute Sea Anchors

Parachute anchors are cone-shaped devices made from easily folded material. When deployed, they open up like a parachute and pull by the boat’s drift momentum.

Parachute anchors are deployed from the hull, and the drag they create (depending on their size) achieves two outcomes:

🟠 They will stop the boat (or slow it down.)
🟠 A sea anchor will keep the bow pointed windward. 

The effect of this is twofold:

1️⃣ The vessel can ride out a storm without tiring the crew.

2️⃣ Keeping the bow pointed windward removes any rolling action caused by the boat turning beam on, making it easier and more comfortable to hunker down in a heavy storm.

Drogue Sea Anchors

Drogues are devices (or a series of devices) that are deployed from the stern of the boat, and their primary function is to slow the boat down and keep the heading in line with the direction of the waves.

Drogues are very useful for controlling the boat at reduced speeds under the following conditions:

🟠 During a storm
🟠 A steering failure has occurred, and using the emergency rudder is not feasible.
🟠 During heavy following seas, when you want to keep the speed down.

🌊 How To Deploy A Sea Anchor

Don’t simply throw a sea anchor or drogue overboard. You must deploy the sea anchor properly, partly to ensure it works, but also to stay safe. 

The steps to follow are listed below.

1️⃣ Deploy the trip line and float first and ensure it drifts away from the boat.

2️⃣ In rough sea conditions, use the boat’s drift to let the rode out.

3️⃣ Carefully release the drift anchor and about 50 feet of rode (line) and snub the line (stop it from running out) with half a turn on the cleat. This will hold it until the parachute anchor opens.

4️⃣ Keep enough tension on the rode (this keeps the parachute anchor open), snubbing as necessary. Carefully play out the rest of the line.

5️⃣ If you are drift fishing and the conditions are calm, the scope (length of the line) can be shorter. Try starting with a fifteen-foot length and, if necessary, add ten-foot measurements until the tension is steady and comfortable.

6️⃣ When you are happy that it is deployed, attach the rode to a cleat (or a bridle if you are on a catamaran or trimaran)

7️⃣ Add guards to prevent the road from chafing, as necessary.

🛡️ Safety Considerations

The following basic safety precautions will help you deploy the sea anchor safely:

🟠 Practice deploying the equipment when it is calm, and you can learn without pressure.

🟠 Be sure to deploy the sea anchor before the waves rise. Trying to stand on the bow in fifty-foot waves is difficult. When you see a storm approaching, deploy it.

🟠 Ensure everyone stands clear and won’t get caught up in the rode.

For more thorough coverage of the safety considerations, read our full guide on sea anchor use.

🔑 Key Takeaways

A Sea Anchor and drogue are vital equipment that should be kept in a vessel that sails on open water.

🟠 A sea anchor will keep the boat pointing toward the waves.

🟠 A drogue slows the boat’s passage and makes it more controllable.

🟠 Before deploying “in anger,” practice placing the equipment out.

🟠 Deploy the devices in good time when you see an approaching storm. 

Sea anchors and drogues are critical life-saving appliances. Details of other safety devices can be found in our safety knowledge hub.

Nice to e-meet you. I’m Justin, a seasoned sailing journalist and communications pro with more than 25 years of extensive industry experience. And a track record of successfully promoting teams and events on the global stage.