Keep your boat from drifting at the beach with picnic anchor

Keep your boat from drifting by backing down

By Dave Osmolski

Last fall, I was on the beach enjoying a swim and watching the other boats passing. Before long a very new, very expensive center console boat at least 35 feet with three 300-horsepower engines came up to the beach. The captain and his crew—wife, daughters and granddaughters—wanted to swim and walk on the beach. There’s lots of beach on Pine Island, and on a weekday, before the snowbirds descend, there’s more than enough for all.

As I watched, the captain pulled close to shore bow first. He had a plough-type anchor deployed from the bow and was looking for a place to anchor. As I watched him drop the anchor straight down and tie it off, I commented to my wife how amazing it was that folks had enough money to buy an exquisite boat with all that power but didn’t have enough time to learn how to use it properly.

Long story short, his crew soon tired of swimming and walked up to the beach. He left the boat, came over, introduced himself and began a conversation. I was looking out to the water, and he had his back to the water. The tide was coming in. There was a light offshore wind, and sure enough, his boat began to drift away from the beach. Before it went too far, I told him it was adrift, and he waded then swam to the boat to retrieve it.

Knowing how to anchor your vessel is every bit as important as knowing how to drive and dock it. This is especially true at the beach. In my years at the beaches of southwest Florida’s barrier islands, I have seen three boats filled to the gunnels with sand and shells. These boats had evidently been run bow first onto the beach. I almost suffered the same fate by foolishly going on to the beach bow first to pick up a passenger—just for a minute, you understand. Boats were just not designed to go stern into the waves. Not even for a minute. Especially in the shallows off the beach.

Back down on the beach

If you love going to the beach, the proper sequence is to choose your spot and back down on the beach slowly. When you feel you are close enough (for me, 20 or 30 yards is close enough), deploy the bow anchor, set it and let out enough rode to put you in water deep enough for your lower unit or prop, but shallow enough so you can wade to the beach, and close enough that you can carry your chairs and umbrellas.

Anchoring this way keeps the bow pointed into the waves, allowing it to ride smoothly up and over even some pretty rough seas. Be aware though that in many anchorages a current parallel to the shore may cause your boat to drift sideways into water that’s over your head. This makes retrieving the gear you took out to the beach difficult.

Use a picnic anchor

You can overcome this sideways drift by using a picnic anchor. Smaller than your main bow anchor, a picnic anchor is attached to a 75–100-foot nylon rode. (Mine is three-eighths inch, three-strand nylon rode with an eye splice on the bitter end.) Attach the picnic anchor to your boat’s stern, carry it to the beach and set it in the sand. This will keep your bow headed into the waves and the stern in water shallow enough to comfortably carry your gear to and from the beach.

Consider adding a picnic anchor to your boat if you don’t already have one. I use mine as my main bow anchor while tarpon fishing. When I hook up, I have a fender with my boat name on it attached to the bitter end of the rode that I toss overboard so I can follow the fish until I land it. Afterward, I return and retrieve the fender, anchor and rode. Double duty!

If you haven’t already, take America’s Boating Club’s Anchoring Seminar. It can save you as well as your vessel.


David H. Osmolski of Charlotte Power Squadron/27 has been repairing boats since high school when his first boat, a canvas-covered canoe with cedar ribs, leaked in gallons per minute and required constant repair.

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