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What is a Sea Anchor?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2016
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A sea anchor is a useful and sometimes vital piece of boat equipment. Unlike regular anchors, sea anchors do not sink to the bottom to hold a ship in place, but rather use the power of the water to provide drag and steady the boat. Sea anchors are widely used by sailors on many different types of craft; fishermen, pleasure cruisers, and even kayakers can all benefit from a sea anchor of some kind.

Sea anchors work by allowing a fabric-based rig to catch water as the boat travels, in effect slowing down the boat. By placing the anchor at specific angles to the boat, sailors can take advantage of the drag to keep the boat on the proper course, even if steering systems or engines fail. The anchor is attached to a flexible line or rope, which is fastened to the boat. Some models may also feature a secondary line that allows the anchor to be easily towed back in, which is particularly important in larger anchors that can get easily weighed down by the water.

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One excellent benefit to a sea anchor is its flexible design. Commercially available sea anchors are often made of parachute material, which gained popularity during World War II as a superior fabric for the purpose of creating drag. While sea anchors can be purchased, they are also easy to rig from available materials in case of emergency. Sailcloth fastened to a wooden frame can easily function as a sea anchor if a commercial version in unavailable.

The most vital use of sea anchors occurs when seas are high and storms or winds cause emergency conditions. Although a skilled sailor can manage to steer the boat correctly in these conditions, a sea anchor can steady the boat against rocking seas and roaring winds, allowing the sailors to concentrate on repairs and safety precautions. Trying to steer a ship through a storm can be exhausting work; by properly using sea anchors, the helmsman can conserve energy.

Sea anchors are also used to prevent or slow drift. Fishermen often use the device for this purpose, in order to best take advantage of large schools of fish in a single location. By slowing the ship's drift with an anchor, fishermen can conserve fuel and keep the engines off while working. For trips that require overnight rests at sea, a sea anchor can also slow drift to keep the ship in a relatively stable position. In case of engine or instrument failure, slowing drift can also help rescuers easily locate the boat by the last known coordinates.

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