Anchor buoys/balls


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Dick
Dick
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Hi all,
I wrote this for another forum, but it might be of interest:
Hi all,
There are times when anchor buoys are wise: such as reports that an anchorage is littered with debris from industry, shipping or old moorings etc. And we all have likely heard a description of how an anchor buoy can (or did) save the day. If an anchor buoy set-up is adequately designed and deployed, and the anchor becomes fouled, the anchor is likely easy to pull out backwards. A less compelling, but often used additional argument for anchor buoys is that they tell other later arrivals where your anchor lays.
The following is initially a warning, but also an attempt to talk skippers out of using anchor buoys on a habitual basis when anchoring: primarily, but not exclusively, as there are events that occur in the use of anchor buoys which can hold dangers to the deploying vessel and to others around: events that, in the habitual use of anchor buoys, are in the category of “when” they will occur, not “if”. (This writing can serve, as well, perhaps, as a warning to those sharing an anchorage with an anchor-buoyed boat.)
This attempt will suggest 2 considerations: first; an appeal to self-interest: anchor buoys hold significant, and often overlooked or un-anticipated, dangers for the mother vessel and for vessels anchored nearby. And, second, an appeal to consideration of wider cruising community interests: the un-neighborly aspects of an anchor buoy in many anchorages.
The dangers and the appeal to self-interest. (All the following events I know to have taken place as I have been in anchorages where they have occurred and witnessed their unfolding. In one instance the deploying boat was quite fortunate to only sustain cosmetic damage and only a minor injury to crew.) *
1.    In calm conditions (or in a tidal current which changes directions), your boat may drift over the anchor buoy during the night getting the buoy caught in your prop (or rudder). This is certainly a problem if your engine is needed (or activated) and is much more of a problem if the wind comes up as you will then be “anchored” by your anchor buoy on your prop which will: trip your anchor (as it was designed to do) and allow you to go walk-about dragging your tethered anchor backwards. Things can go from bad to worse if the initial response, as is likely, is to start the engine to regain control. Now you have a drifting boat with a prop wrap or worse. Having a second anchor easily deployed can allow time to sort out the mess. Anchor buoys are most confidently deployed on nights where there is a continuous breeze from one direction keeping all anchored boats “honest” to their original configuration.
2.    Another unfortunate scenario occurs when the wind direction shifts and another anchored boat, while originally well away from your boat, may change its position and, because your anchor buoy is fixed and the other boat is moving, may get the buoy stuck in its prop or rudder and trip your anchor (or, again, get a prop wrap if the engine is activated) . (A variation on this is when the wind picks up and skippers let out more rode, again changing the original configuration of the anchorage.)
3.    Lastly, another vessel comes in and picks up your anchor buoy and ties off of thinking it is a mooring ball. (When this occurred, after the skipper had secured his boat to the “mooring”/ anchor ball, he went below. Pretty quickly, the anchor was tripped and the two boats drifted together. Most of the anchorage was apprised of this event by the raised and angry voices, turning the event into an audience “entertainment” for the entire anchorage. Dis-entangling was a logistical problem, but not a dangerous challenge, in this light air dragging entanglement where there was lots of room: there was no damage or injury.
The following is more pointed to consideration for the cruising community aspects of an anchor ball:
1.    It is clear that one expects boats, anchoring later, to pick a spot to drop their anchor where they will not swing into your boat and that they need to plan ahead for a possible change in wind direction during the night. When an anchor buoy is deployed, later anchoring boats must not only plan ahead for wind changes that will cause both boats to swing free around their anchors avoiding each other, but also plan not to swing over the anchor buoy which is not going to swing/move as it is in a fixed position. Anchor buoyed boats basically take up twice the space in an anchorage of an anchored boat without an anchor buoy. In many anchorages, this matters not at all as the anchorage is big and/or there are few boats. Just recently, I was in Gore Bay, in what I would consider a fairly sizable anchorage, and there were 4 boats of the 6 or seven, with anchor balls. Casual observation seemed to indicate that later arrivals, over the days I observed, were forced to anchor farther out than they might have chosen otherwise and that the anchorage area was compressed by these 4 boats with anchor balls. The skipper I chatted with said that the bottom in this anchorage was clear of debris and that he deployed an anchor buoy as a matter of habit.
2.    Another boat, coming in at night and worrying only about spotting and avoiding the anchored boats, gets the anchor ball caught in its prop or rudder.
3.    An often-stated reason for an anchor buoy is to facilitate recovery of a fouled anchor. It certainly happens, but in my experience, it is quite rare. I have lived aboard for most of the last 20 years and move around a lot, so I have many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of anchoring experiences. Maybe once every 4 years I hear reports of a problematic anchorage where anchors foul and I use an anchor ball (and have never have needed it but slept better knowing it was there in an anchorage reported foul). I have had a fouled anchor a number of times and was always able to retrieve by trying various strategies until one worked (the most likely to succeed is to let out lots of rode in the direction opposite of initial deployment) and I have never had to dive or abandon an anchor.* (The most common reason to foul an anchor is to drag it around an anchorage hoping it “catches”: if the initial dropping does not set, then up anchor and try another spot.)
4.    Another reason is to show others where your anchor lies. As mentioned above, usually it is quite clear about where another boats anchor resides: or one can ask if the skipper is on board.
And finally, anchor buoys are fussy: both I deployment and recovery. I like to be ready to up anchor and move the boat with a minimum of fuss such as a midnight fire drill of some sort. Having to deal with an anchor ball and its attendant line would just add a further complication. In general, I think it safest to keep all procedures simple and straightforward and deploying an anchor ball (judging line length to depth and tides etc.) is not simple and nor is retrieving: not hard for sure, but not simple.
And, most powerful to my mind in the appeal, is that there is no compelling reason for an anchor buoy. There is, in my experience, the very low likelihood of someone needing to pull their anchor up backwards and the, also low in my experience, amount of new information conveyed to others about where one’s anchor resides: it is usually pretty easy to figure out. (And one can often ask the other boat, how much rode and in which direction?) So, in summary, the “reward” (see note below) in habitual anchor buoy deployment is largely not experienced in everyday cruising life and is far out-weighed by the “ante”: the potential consequences and un-neighborliness to other cruisers.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
*In risk assessment, I pay attention to what I call the “ante”: the potential consequences. These can range from the trivial to boat loss and injury. Then the degree of risk (ante) is assessed next to the reward: the benefit of the practice
**I have a suggestion for those worried about a fouled anchor which I will put on the discussion page shortly.


Simon Currin
Simon Currin
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Thanks Dick. We very rarely use an anchor buoy but when we do we minimise the risk of a slack line near the prop by running the riser through a block under the buoy and weighting the loose end with a counterbalance so that all lines are kept taught and near vertical throughout the tidal range.
Simon
Dick
Dick
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Simon Currin - 12 Jul 2022
Thanks Dick. We very rarely use an anchor buoy but when we do we minimise the risk of a slack line near the prop by running the riser through a block under the buoy and weighting the loose end with a counterbalance so that all lines are kept taught and near vertical throughout the tidal range. Simon

Hi Simon,
That is a wise technique and will certainly help the anchor buoy from wandering very far from the area just above the anchor and keep slack line out of mischief, but if the boat is still wandering about in a calm, there is the danger of the float finding the prop. But, your best protection, is your choice to only use an anchor buoy when indicated: which is, as you say, rarely. Bad luck can happen to any of us, but one is courting bad luck when the use of an anchor ball is habitual.
My best, Dick
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