HomeLinksContact Advertise    All You need to know about Sea Anchors, Parachute Anchors & Drogues









“Maitenes II in the Fastnet race—an account of her ill-fated passage last summer” By L. Luard

Sea Anchor Basics And Why
You Should Carry One
appearing in Sport Fishing Magazine


The idea of using a submerged cloth
“bag” to slow the drifting speed of a
boat and to keep its bow into the wind has been around for centuries. The first such sea anchors were generally cone-shaped and made from heavy canvas. Then, around the end of World War II,
it was discovered that parachutes, with their “dome” shape created more water resistance with a given amount of material than did cone-shaped sea anchors.

For years, actual military surplus parachutes were widely used as sea anchors by commercial and recreational boaters and fishermen. But the parachutes, not designed to function under such loads, quickly deteriorated and sometimes simply blew apart while in use. Additionally, they were difficult to deploy and repack and far bigger than necessary for many boats. Today, several companies --- Para-Tech engineering and Newport Beach’s Fiorentino Para Anchors are widely recognized as the best --- built tough,
light, compact, easy-to-use sea anchors based on the parachute design.

Cone-shaped canvas or nylon drag devices – generally referred to now as “drift socks”  -- are also still manufactured, but they’re intended mainly for fishing application  and protected waters. Most lack the strength and “holding Power” necessary for emergency or heavy-weather offshore use.  As a rule, they’re less expensive than true sea anchors, but since sea anchors can function as fishing aids, as emergency safety measures, and as a means of keeping a boat relatively stationary during a nighttime layover, the added utility easily outweighs the added cost.


Light, tough, and easily deployed, modern parachute-style sea anchors, can serve not only to control drift speed for fishing purposes, but also to hold a vessel's bow into the seas and keep it relatively stationary during emergency situations and nighttime layovers offshore.  Photo courtesy Fiorentino Para-Anchor. 

Three Primary Uses
The most obvious fishing application for a sea anchor is slowing wind-induced drift while bottom-fishing for halibut or rockfish.  On windy days when it’s difficult to hold bottom with your bait, this can be a huge advantage, as a sea anchor can reduce drift speed as much as 90 percent.  Deploying a sea anchor while fishing a kelp paddy or fishing along a kelp line, dropoff, or other type of basically linear structure on a windy day can also allow you to spend more time fishing and less time repositioning the boat. 

A less well-known use of a sea anchor is to actually speed up the drift.  In instances when the wind and current are moving in opposing directions and making it difficult to cover ground while drift-fishing --- which happens frequently near the mouth of bays and harbors --- a parachute sea anchor can actually pull a boat along with the current.

For laying-over for a night offshore, a sea anchor is useful in terms of ease, comfort, and safety.  If you end your afternoon on a ripping albacore bite, for example, or a paddy loaded with dorado, a sea anchor can keep you from drifting too far away overnight. It’s also significantly safer to spend the night more or less stationary than it is to drift aimlessly.  And finally, deploying a sea anchor off the bow can make sleeping much more comfortable buy holding the bow into the seas and keeping the boat from rocking in the trough. 

Likewise, in the event of an engine failure in rough weather, deploying a parachute sea anchor off the bow will serve to hold the bow into the seas --- the smoothest and safest attitude for most powerboats. It will also slow your drift, making it easier for rescuers to locate you should you lose communications ability after an initial distress call.  Lastly should you be unfortunate enough to lose power near a lee shore, a sea anchor can substantially increase the amount of time you have to work with before potentially going  aground. 

Even without an engine failure, a parachute sea anchor can be a very good thing to have in extremely rough conditions.  While helmsman can generally keep a boat headed into the seas ---and out of danger of rolling or swamping --- with power and rudder, this can quickly become exhausting.  A sea anchor can give the helmsman a rest and/or time to attend to other things like pumping operations or repairs.  Otherwise, someone must remain constantly at the wheel. Additionally, using power to keep a boat from falling off the wind uses fuel.  That may or may not be a critical issue, but in some instances, the fuel used to maneuver in heavy weather could be fuel that was necessary to get back home. 

Moreover, especially in smaller boats, bare steerageway --- the minimum speed necessary to steer the boat  ---  into a stiff wind can be as much as six or eight knots, which may be dangerously fast for conditions.  I’m speaking form personal experience here; caught offshore in a sudden 35-knot blow on the Cortez in an 18-foot skiff, we found we had maintain six to seven knots to keep the bow into the wind.  Several times, that resulted in the whole boat – and the prop  --- becoming sickeningly airborne, but we feared that if we slowed or attempted to turn either way we’d be rolled by a breaking wave.  With a sea anchor deployed, on the other hand, the boat is actually moving in the same direction as the wind and waves although its bow is facing the seas --- something virtually impossible to achieve under power. 

Rigging Concerns
Deploying a sea anchor for fishing use requires little more than tying a line to the attachment point where the shrouds come together, tossing the anchor over board, paying out some line, and cleating it off. The rode --- the line connecting sea anchor to boat  -- can be fairly short, since seas aren’t likely to be especially rough. Plus, a short rode makes deployment and retrieval quicker and easier.  Deploying a parachute sea anchor for fishing purposes is like tossing out the “lunch hook” ---  you needn’t worry a lot about it because the consequences are small if something goes wrong. 

Properly rigging a sea anchor for more “serious” use --- spending a night offshore or holding position in a distress situation --- is a bit more complex.  To begin with, rode length is much more critical. Generally speaking, the rougher the seas, the longer the rode. A longer length of nylon rode stretches to protect both the boat and the sea anchor from  the substantial forces created by wind and waves. Too short a rode can also lead to a “bungee cord” effect where the rode comes tight and then goes slack as the boat “bounces” back toward the sea anchor.  This “bounce” is not only uncomfortable, but it’s also hard on lines, cleats, and the anchor itself. 

Both Fiorentino and Para-Tech recommend a minimum of 10 feet of rode per foot of boat length for storm conditions. For overnight layovers, a shorter rode is acceptable, although it’s always better to err on the long side rather than the short. Rode diameter depends upon boat size, sea anchor size, and type of use, and rode can be of twisted or braided nylon line.  Natural fiber line should never be used as rode for either sea anchors or ground tackle, since it lacks the necessary stretch and shock – absorbing qualities. 

Additionally, when using longer rodes and/or larger sea anchors, a “trip line” becomes a necessity. This is a length of line attached to the “top” of the dome of the anchor and used for retrieval. Pulling on the sea anchor from the “top” collapses the dome so that the anchor can be easily moved through the water. Trip lines are very handy even for fair- weather fishing use, but absolutely necessary in heavier weather.

There are two types of trip lines: “partial” and “full.”  A full trip line is longer than the main rode and runs from the top of the anchor all the way back to the boat, where it’s secured but left slack. When it’s time to retrieve the sea anchor, simply pick up the end of the trip line and pull the anchor to the boat. Partial trip lines are shorter than the main rode and are not secured to the boat. Instead, they terminate in a float. To retrieve the sea anchor, you must motor to the float and pick it up before you can collapse the sea anchor. The partial trip line is easier to handle and less likely to become fouled with the main rode, but it’s harder to retrieve—especially without power.

Another function of the trip line is to keep the sea anchor from sinking too deep. To function properly, parachute sea anchors must be weighted with either integrated weights, external weights, or a section of chain at the end of the rode (Fiorentino anchors have sewn-in weights; Para-Tech recommends a section of chain). Under load, a sea anchor will remain near the surface even when properly weighted, but when the rode goes slack for any reason, the sea anchor will sink. Fixing a float to the trip line 20 or 25 feet from the sea anchor will prevent it from sinking beyond that depth.

Finally, catamarans must be attached to the rode by a “bridle” – a ‘V’ of line attached to the forward end of each hull and converging into the main rode. Many experts also advocate the use of a bridle with monohull powerboats. A bridle attached symmetrically across the bow can reduce yaw – side to side motion. A bridle attached at the bow and to a spring or aft cleat on the windward side can be used to adjust the boat’s attitude to the seas. Often, a boat riding with her bow at a 10- to 45-degree angle to the seas is safer and more comfortable than one with her bow directly into the seas.

Both Fiorentino and Para-Tech run excellent websites (Para-Anchor.com
and SeaAnchor.com, respectively) that discuss sizing, rigging, and use of sea anchors in much greater detail than we have space for here. Each company also sells two separate lines of anchors (the Coastal and Offshore by Fiorentino and the Sea Anchor and Boat Brakes by Para-Tech) as well as rode, trip lines, floats, hardware, etc. Direct on the web.







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