Monday, February 16, 2015

Garmin Minimum Retail Price (MRP) Policy

MRP Pricing - What It Means:

Within the last two years, Garmin instituted a Minimum Retail Price (MRP) policy that they apply to several products. The goal is to protect the retail pricing structure and preserve profit margins for dealers and installers. In sum, all dealers and installers are supposed to sell certain items at the exact same price. No discounts, free accessories, coupons or other gimmicks are permitted.

How MRP Pricing Affects You:

For retail customers, the best any dealer can offer is free shipping on some MRP items. Garmin will not allow dealers to pay your sales tax (if applicable), or provide any free accessories. You may be eligible for a trade-in allowance, depending on what you wish to trade. In essence, a dealer may offer to buy your outdated equipment from you as part of the transaction, but cannot advertise how much of a trade allowance is offered. Trades can be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

For service customers (installed units), installing dealers can use multiple methods to offer you a savings. Installers may offer some portion of the labor for free or at a discount, or other non-MRP products may be discounted. If you are having your new Garmin products installed, be sure to use an ABYC or Garmin Certified installer. This way you are eligible for a two-year, on-board warranty!

How does Garmin Monitor Pricing?

On occasion, Garmin will have a Secret Shopper place an order or get an estimate from a randomly selected dealer for a MRP product. If the transaction satisfies the MRP policy, all is good, and both Garmin and the dealer are happy. If the transaction does not satisfy the MRP policy, Garmin may penalize the dealer by denying product sales or support.

What You Should Watch Out For:

If you are purchasing a new Garmin product that is subject to their MRP policy, be prepared to pay the full retail price. If your dealer is willing to negotiate a lower price or throw in free accessories, you may benefit from the savings in the short term, but you will likely not be able to get product support from that same dealer in the future.


I am excited about the new products that Garmin continues to offer. Their innovation is unmatched in the industry. At the same time, inter-connectivity is very important. For years, Garmin has kept it simple with industry-standard networking protocols. Garmin's NMEA 2000 networks use standard Micro-C connectors, and are interchangeable with Maretron and other manufacturers connectors. Garmin's Ethernet networks use regular RJ45 connectors that you can install using a RJ45 crimp tool. Chartplotters use standard SD or Micro-SD memory cards that you can buy anywhere (keep in mind capacity limits).

I think Minimum Retail Pricing strategies are here to stay, and will prevent dealers in the industry from cutting each others throats. In an even MRP playing field, the dealer/installer that offers the best value - knowledge, skill, product availability, and customer service - will achieve success.

Happy Cruising!
Tim Allen

Monday, January 12, 2015

Who Needs Compass Binoculars?

Who Needs Binoculars with a Compass?

by Tim Allen

How many people have passed the binoculars to another person, only to repeatedly say "No, not there - there"?

We have all been there, done that. What a hassle! If you were passing binoculars with a built-in compass, you could tell the other person "Look to 243°," and they will see exactly what you saw.

Now let's take the old hand-bearing compass. Hold it at arm's length at eye level and ... you know the story. You focus on the compass dial and can't see the target you are lining up. Focus on the target and you can't see the compass dial. Enter the binoculars with the built-in compass. Now you can see the target and compass dial at the same time - clearly.

Compass binoculars are invaluable when sailing without radar, especially at night. A good set of compass binoculars do a great job of gathering light, and the illuminated compass dial allows you to track other vessels accurately.

At sea is not the only place for compass binoculars. Ever go bird watching with friends? Wouldn't it be great if you could just give the bearing to that rare falcon? Add a rangefinder reading and you can't miss!

Now that binoculars with a built-in compass are widely available, there is no reason not to have at least one set on board at all times.

Happy cruising!

Power Tools Off-Grid

Corded or Cordless Tools - Which are Better for Cruising?

by Tim Allen

Before we went cruising on our catamaran "Unbound," I shopped around and bought a set of cordless power tools to bring along. I thought this would be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Like many people, I had worked on projects away from convenient power. You know the projects - building the kids' gym set in the back yard, attaching a bracket to a wall from a ladder, hanging a mirror. Many of us have done these things.

One morning, after a couple weeks aboard "Unbound" I took on the project of mounting a GPS display near the helm. I needed to drill four holes. I grabbed my trusty cordless drill and ... it was dead. I plugged it into the charger and turned on the inverter. Fifteen minutes later the inverter control panel was yelling at me (with yellow and red lights) that the batteries were too low! Now to crank up an engine to charge the battery bank, so I can drill four holes.

According to the label on the drill's one-hour battery charger, it uses 65 watts at 120 VAC. The charger puts out 2 amps at 16 VDC. That's 32 watts, so the charging efficiency is less than 50%. Our Xantrex inverter/charger is about 90% efficient at supplying 120 VAC, so to charge the drill's battery for one hour uses about 6 amp-hours of house battery current.

Now let's look at drilling those holes with a regular, old-fashioned corded drill. My Milwaukee drill (in storage at the time) is rated at 3.5 amps at 120 VAC, under full load. Now, I was drilling fairly small holes through fiberglass, so lets say it would draw 2 amps (240 watts). Each hole took about 15 seconds to drill. That's one minute at 240 watts, at 90% inverter efficiency - 22.2 amps at 12 VDC. The total battery drain would have been only 0.37 amp-hours! That's only 6% of the power used for the cordless drill! And, I wouldn't have had to wait an hour to do the job.

If your getaway plans include a tool kit with cordless power tools - don't waste your money! Their batteries are almost never charged when you need them, so you have to run your inverter or generator for an hour to charge them up (if you remembered to get the fast charger) before you can get started with your project. A cord-type power tool is ready all the time, and you only need to run your inverter while you are using it. Corded tools also take up less space (no bulky batteries or chargers). Saves time and house battery amps!

True off-grid life is different! Whether on a boat or in an RV, or in a mountain cabin, electricity usage off-grid is totally different. The number three priority for any cruiser (after safety and water) is battery power. Without it we have no communications, navigation, lights - or engines!


Battery technology for power tools is constantly changing. The latest Lithium Ion batteries hold their charge for a very long time. With this in mind, cordless tools get a second chance on board. I love the power and consistent tool speed that the new batteries offer. However, I don't like the surprise when the battery is discharged - the tool just stops without warning!

The charging efficiency of Lithium Ion batteries is similar to the NiCd battery example above. If you are seriously pinching amp-hours, you may still want to use your corded tools.

Happy cruising!

Water - The Most Important Resource

Water - The Most Important Resource

by Tim Allen

After spending many months aboard "Unbound," we had come up with a series of lists: Must-have; Nice-to-have; and Really-cool-to-have. Top on the Must-have list was water independence.

While cruising in the Virgin Islands (mostly US and British) we had no troubles finding decent water. For $0.10-0.15 USD per gallon, we couldn't complain about a thing. Obtaining water from several different marinas was fairly simple, and a routine occurrence all over the islands. We would pull the big Cat up to the fuel dock and buy fuel and water at the same time, as well as pump our holding tank (another story). Of course, we didn't need much fuel, but it made the fuel attendant happy to not just be selling water. With a family of five on board, however, we found that we needed to tank up fairly frequently. After implementing some conservation practices and educating everyone about careful showering and dish-washing our water consumption was reduced to a reasonable compromise.

Then we sailed for the Spanish Virgin Islands. Here, the marinas were too small to accommodate our wide beam, so we were forced to haul water in jerry jugs. We found a fish market/gas station in Culebra that would allow us to fill our jugs for free, so we hauled water jugs every time we went ashore. Hauling water is a lot of work, so we increased water restrictions to conserve.

We topped off our tanks and stowed full jerry jugs of water in preparation for our long voyage to George Town, Great Exuma, Bahamas. While en route, we were successful at using very little water. Once in George Town, we found that we could get free reverse-osmosis water at the dinghy dock behind the Exuma Market. This is a fantastic service to cruisers, and there is often a line of people waiting to fill up. We spent a few weeks in George Town making friends and seeing the area. Meanwhile, my back started to hurt from hauling jugs everywhere I went.

We started our island hop up the Exuma chain to see some of the fantastic sights The Bahamas has to offer. To conserve water, our rule for everyone was "one fresh water shower per day." Now, being somewhat obsessive about salt water in the upholstery, we required a fresh water rinse after swimming. This became a problem. Now that we were away from easy access to water, but where there is spectacular snorkeling, we had to restrict our fun! This was a total BUMMER! Also, it is absolutely necessary to dive on the anchor after setting it, to be sure it is safely secured to the bottom. Chalk up one more shower. We ended up loosening our restrictions somewhat on showering, but soon put our water supply in jeopardy.

Once we arrived in the US, a reverse osmosis (RO) watermaker, also known as a desalinator, became a top priority for continued cruising. We found that while there is no purely economic justification for a watermaker based on the low cost per gallon we paid for water, the restriction on our freedom was unbearable. We had to have a watermaker or the Captain was getting off!

We chose to install an engine-driven modular unit for its output and space flexibility. Being equipped with two small diesel engines, a cruising catamaran is an ideal candidate for engine-driven accessories. We did not have a generator on board, and it made no sense to install a 12 volt watermaker and then run the engines anyway to charge the batteries.

Once the desalinator was installed, we celebrated by drinking the most expensive water we would ever see!

First Glass of RO Water

First Glass of Water: $6219.27
No more Jerry Jugs: PRICELESS!

We felt that if we associated the cost of the RO watermaker to the first glass of water, we wouldn't concern ourselves with the cost per gallon. From now on, the water we used would only cost us a little diesel fuel.

Happy cruising!

Battery Bank Sizing for Your Inverter

Battery Bank Sizing Notes

How to choose the ideal battery bank size for your inverter

by Tim Allen

The Battery Bank Sizing Guide from Xantrex is a very useful tool to determine the size of your inverter and battery bank. However, some additional information is always helpful. Here is what I have learned from personal experience:

  • Your inverter should be sized based on the total simultaneous load to be applied (including motor start loads)
  • Your battery bank should be sized based on your total daily amp-hour demands (inverter and DC loads)
  • Your battery bank should never be discharged by more than 50% of it's rated amp-hour capacity, or your batteries won't last long!
  • Your battery bank will be TOO SMALL!

My reason for this harsh assessment is based on the fact that static (unloaded) battery voltage is entirely different from dynamic (loaded) voltage. This is due to internal resistance of batteries, and the surface area of the plates. The voltage supplied by any battery is reduced as the current draw increases. Additionally, the amp-hour capacity of any battery drops as the current load increases.

There is one more important factor for battery bank sizing:

  • Your battery bank must be sized based on the maximum expected current draw, and depends on the battery type. The maximum charge/discharge rate for various deep-cycle battery types is:
    • Traditional lead-acid batteries: 20-25% of amp-hour capacity
    • Gel cell batteries: 30-35% of amp-hour capacity
    • AGM (absorbed glass mat) batteries: 35-40% of amp-hour capacity (check your cable sizes!)

As you can see, the battery type can make a big difference in battery bank sizing based on maximum current load. Try out our Marine Battery Load Calculator to help determine your ideal battery bank size.

A fully charged starting battery loaded at half its rated CCA capacity (load test current) will only put out about 9.7 VDC at 80°F. The voltage of a deep cycle battery will drop even more under similar load conditions. Keep in mind that most inverters will trip off to protect the batteries when their voltage drops to 10.5 V or less.

Xantrex provides a fine example of using a circular saw that uses 1500 watts of power. Their example indicates that the saw would only use 2 amp-hours at 12 volts if run for one minute. (Xantrex's example ignores the inefficiency of the inverter). The point made by Xantrex is that while the saw uses 1500 watts, the total run time is short, so it uses very few amp-hours. If your battery bank is sized based on using this current draw for just a few minutes at a time, you appear to be in good shape. This may not be the case.

My point is that the saw uses 1500 watts!

A 2000 watt inverter powering the circular saw will draw about 1667 watts (at 90% efficiency) from the battery bank. At 12 volts, the current draw is 139 amps. Using our Marine Battery Load Calculator, you would need a 700 amp-hour bank of deep-cycle flooded batteries! A battery bank with 400 amp-hours capacity doesn't stand a chance of supporting a 2000 watt inverter load without help, but it can be done.

Don't let me scare you away from an inverter just because the battery bank sizing can be complicated. A modestly sized battery bank will work great to power an inverter under most conditions. If you have an occasional need for high-wattage power, you can meet the current demand by simply running your engine - even if your alternator is not rated for the total current draw. The current supplied by your alternator will make your battery bank appear much larger to the inverter, and be enough to run a substantial load for a short time.

In the circular saw example above, your power supply (battery bank and alternator) needs to provide 139 amps of 12 volt DC current while the saw is running. This can be accomplished with a 400 amp-hour flooded battery bank assisted by a 60 amp alternator.

The lesson learned is that a large inverter is a very useful piece of equipment. Your battery bank does not need to be huge if your highest loads are only used occasionally. Base your battery bank size on the loads that will run on a regular basis.

Inverter Size

Max Amps @ 12V

Battery Bank Size

(Based on Inverter Current Load ONLY)
Flooded (Wet) Batteries GEL Batteries AGM Batteries
Batt Only Batt +100A Alt Batt Only Batt +100A Alt Batt Only Batt +100A Alt
3000 W 278 A 1390 A-H 890 A-H 1120 A-H 720 A-H 840 A-H 540 A-H
2500 W 231 A 1160 A-H 660 A-H 930 A-H 530 A-H 700 A-H 400 A-H
2000 W 185 A 930 A-H 430 A-H 740 A-H 340 A-H 560 A-H 260 A-H
1500 W 139 A 700 A-H 200 A-H 560 A-H 160 A-H 420 A-H 120 A-H

As you can clearly see from the table above, using your alternator to help your battery bank under peak loads makes a huge difference in the size of battery bank you need. Please note that the battery bank sizes above were calculated based on powering the INVERTER ONLY. Your battery bank size should be based on your total power usage and your charging schedule.

Happy cruising!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Basic Troubleshooting Guide for Watermakers

Your Watermaker is not making good product water anymore. What do you do?

If your water maker (or desalinator) is no longer making good water, there are several possible causes. I will try to break it down into logical troubleshooting steps for you, so you don't spend a lot of money replacing parts or membranes hunting for the solution.

Every desalinator needs to have an operating log of some sort. You don't have to record every time you use it, but it best practice to document the operating conditions when newly installed, at every seasonal startup, after cleaning chemicals are used, and whenever major components are replaced. This information is critical to understanding whether your system is performing as it should.

First of all, every seawater desalinator needs the following in order to function:
  • Filtered feed water, supplied under pressure
  • High-pressure pump
  • Reverse Osmosis (RO) membrane in a pressure vessel
  • Pressure regulator (back-pressure type or needle valve)
  • Pressure gauge to measure RO system pressure
Optional features that make operation and troubleshooting easier:
  • Flow meter for product water
  • Flow meter for feed water or brine (I prefer to measure feed water)
  • Pressure/vacuum gauge to measure feed water pressure
  • TDS meter to measure product water dissolved solids (mostly salt)
  • A method to separate the product flow in multi-membrane systems
  • Helpful, but rarely seen, is a pressure gauge on the feed inlet side of the pressure vessels
  • Thermometer to measure feed water temperature
  • Refractometer or high-concentration TDS meter to measure salinity of feed water

Check Your Calibrations

Before you assume that something is seriously wrong with your reverse osmosis system, make sure you check the calibration of your TDS meter, and inspect all pressure gauges and flow meters.

As the battery in a TDS meter fails, or the electrodes become fouled, the readings can change dramatically. Make sure the electrodes are clean, and the battery has plenty of juice in it. Borrow a handheld TDS meter from a neighbor and compare the reading you get with their's.

Inspect your pressure gauges for damage or bent pointers. Has the damping fluid drained out? Does the pointer move when you tap the gauge? Is there any leakage or rust around the fittings?

Inspect your flow meters for fouling and damage. A dirty flow meter will not be accurate. Most can be taken apart and cleaned. Be careful not to scratch the inside of the float chamber or bend the guide rod. Note that all flow meters that use a "floating" ball or slug need to be installed vertically, and they are read at the widest point of the float.

Check Your Product Water from Each Pressure Vessel

If you have more than one pressure vessel in your system, check the product water flow rate and TDS from each vessel. Typically, the first vessel in the set will yield more product flow at lower TDS than then next vessel. This is because the feed water for the second vessel is brine from the first vessel - lower flow and higher salinity.

Check Your Strainer, Pre-Filters and Boost Pump

High-pressure pumps require the feed water to be supplied under pressure to prevent cavitation. Make sure your sea strainer (you do have a dedicated thru-hull and strainer for your watermaker, right?) is clear, and the sediment filters are clean enough to allow good flow to the high-pressure pump.  Make sure your boost pump is working properly. This is why we strongly recommend a pressure/vacuum gauge between the last pre-filter and the high-pressure pump. Don't make your high-pressure pump "suck" the feed water, or it will soon "suck" at making pressure!

Check Your Feed (Source) Water

Feed Water Temperature

Before you send an email or make a phone call, you need to know what your feed water temperature and salinity are. A simple thermometer will tell you the feed water temperature.

Effect of Feed Water Temperature on Product Water:

  • Increasing Temperature:
    • Higher TDS
    • Higher product flow rate
  • Decreasing Temperature:
    • Lower TDS
    • Lower product flow rate
Feed water temperature can make a significant  impact on your product water flow rate. Reverse osmosis systems are rated based on feed water conditions of 32,000 ppm, 77° F, and operating at 800 psi. At 90° F, you can expect to be making approximately 25% more water, and at 48° F, you should expect 50% LESS!

Feed Water Salinity

Measuring the salinity of the feed water is quite simple with the right tool. The Boundless Outfitters Yacht Services department uses a refractometer to measure feed water salinity. A refractometer is a  simple-to-use device that uses light to measure the salinity. You just dip the end into the feed water source and hold it to the light. Look into the viewer and read the salinity directly. The reading will not be as precise as a high-concentration digital TDS meter, but at one tenth the cost, it is close enough for our purposes.

Effect of Feed Water Salinity on Product Water:

  • Increasing Salinity:
    • Higher TDS
    • Lower product flow rate
  • Decreasing Salinity:
    • Lower TDS
    • Higher product flow rate
Feed water salinity can make a significant impact on your product water flow rate. At 35,000 ppm, you can expect to be making approximately 10% less water, and at 25,000 ppm, you should expect 25% MORE!

If you are cruising and don't have access to a refractometer or high-concentration TDS meter, you can still get an approximate value for feed water TDS. It just requires a some simple math, and some careful measuring. You do need to have a handheld TDS meter for this.

Carefully measure 1/2 cup of feed water. Use a good measuring cup - the Pyrex types used for cooking are not very good, as the thick glass and printed markings make for inaccurate measurements. Molded plastic measuring cups have the markings molded in, so they are more accurate than the glass ones.

In a clean container (a 6 quart pan works well) add the 1/2 cup of feed water to one gallon of distilled water. Mix it well and let it sit for about five minutes. Then measure the salinity with your handheld TDS meter. Multiply the reading by 33 to get the approximate salinity of the feed water.

Check Your High-Pressure Pump

There are components inside your high-pressure pump that are susceptible to wear and tear. Valves and seals are critical elements for ensuring consistent flow and pressure. You should keep a manifold rebuild kit in your spare parts locker. Make sure there pump oil is at the proper level.

Your high-pressure pump should move the same amount of water regardless of the pressure it is producing, as long as it is within its design limits. Measure the feed flow rate with the system pressure at Zero (open your bypass valve, or back off the regulator fully). A feed or brine flow meter is great for this, but if you don't have one,  you can use the empty jug from the distilled water you just used for the last test. You will also need a stopwatch. Measure the time it takes to fill the jug from the overboard (brine) discharge of your watermaker.

Now, increase the pressure of your system to 800 psi (or whatever pressure is appropriate for your conditions). Measure the feed flow rate again. This is why I prefer to have a flow meter measuring feed water before it gets to the high-pressure pump. You just read it directly. This meter should never vary during operation. If you have a flow meter measuring brine discharge, you need to add this flow rate to the product water flow rate to get the total feed flow. I have seen many systems with brine flow meters, and most use different units from the product flow meters. Make sure you convert to consistent units before you add the product flow to the brine flow.

If you don't have a flow meter for feed or brine, you will need to get your jug and stopwatch out. Make sure the product water is being rejected back into the brine stream so you measure total flow.

If there is any difference between the feed flow rate at Zero pressure and the total flow rate at operating pressure, you will need to carefully inspect the high-pressure pump, motor and wiring, and repair as needed. Some small DC-powered watermakers may run slightly slower under load due to resistance in the wiring, and battery draw-down. Please keep this in mind while troubleshooting.

Check the Voltage at the High Pressure Pump

Over time, vibration and salt air can cause increased resistance in electrical connections. The results are reduced voltage for equipment, and temperature rise in electrical components. A further complication for motor circuits is that the current draw increases as well. This is because most electric motors use a constant amount of power (Watts). Since power consumption is the product of voltage and current (P = V x A), if the voltage goes down, the current goes up. Current is what causes heat to build up in areas of high resistance.

Ideally, the voltage measurement at the connections nearest the high-pressure pump motor should be at least 97% of the voltage at the power source in all running conditions. Worst case, the motor voltage should be no less than 90% of the source voltage. Reduced voltage causes motors to run slower, which reduces the flow rate of your high-pressure pump.

Effect of Feed Water Flow Rate on Product Water:

  • Increasing Flow Rate:
    • Lower TDS
    • Higher product flow rate
  • Decreasing Flow Rate:
    • Higher TDS
    • Lower product flow rate

Check Your Pressure Regulator

If your filters, pumps and all of your measuring equipment is in good working order, you can check your pressure regulator. Does the system pressure vary? Some systems use a "set it and forget it" pressure regulator arrangement. While running your system at operating pressure, adjust the regulator up and down (do not exceed 950 psi!), and watch the pressure gauge. Does it increase and decrease smoothly? Can you set it to any pressure and have it hold steady? Most regulators can be taken apart and inspected/cleaned.

Effect of Feed Pressure on Product Water:

  • Increasing Pressure:
    • Lower TDS
    • Higher product flow rate
  • Decreasing Pressure:
    • Higher TDS
    • Lower product flow rate

Check Your Pressure Vessels and Membrane Elements

Make sure all the plumbing is in good condition and free of leaks. A cracked or corroded end cap in your pressure vessel can cause leaks, and on rare occasions, brine contamination of the product water.

If you are having trouble with a new membrane, open up the pressure vessel and check the installation.
  • Verify that the brine seal is installed correctly
    • The brine seal prevents the feed water from bypassing the membrane
    • The sharp edge of the brine seal faces upstream (toward the feed inlet)
    • There should only be one brine seal
    • The brine seal can be at either end of the pressure vessel as long as it is facing the correct direction
  • Inspect the membrane product tubes for scratches or nicks
  • Inspect the o-rings, and replace as needed
  • Use proper o-ring lubricant for assembly
If the brine seal is not oriented correctly, feed water can bypass the membrane. This will reduce product flow rate and increase TDS.

Be very careful when changing the product water o-rings (the ones on the inside of the end plug, where the membrane product tube enters). If you scratch or nick the grove where the o-ring sits, you can create a path for brine to contaminate the product water.

Effects of Failures Inside Pressure Vessel:

  • End Plug Crack or Corrosion
    • Higher TDS
    • Higher product flow rate
    • Leaks
  • Brine Seal Damaged or Installed Backwards
    • Higher TDS
    • Lower product flow rate
  • Product Water O-ring or O-ring Groove Damage
    • Higher TDS
    • Higher product flow rate
  • Membrane Product Tube Damage
    • Higher TDS
    • Higher product flow rate
  • Membrane Failure
    • Higher TDS
    • Higher product flow rate


Reverse Osmosis Watermakers are complicated systems that require careful maintenance. Many cruising boaters are quick to blame the membranes if the product water flow is reduced, or TDS increases. As you can see from the above troubleshooting tips, there are several possible causes for reduced (or increased) product flow and increased TDS.

Happy Cruising!
Tim Allen

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dropping the Hook - Wrong Ways and Right Ways to Set Your Anchor

Anchoring: The Most Important Part of Boating

After purchasing our sailing catamaran, Unbound, out of a charter fleet in BVI, we spent many weeks enjoying the local fun and fare that the British Virgins have to offer. Our cruising carried us through the peak holiday season, between Christmas and New Year. We made shocking observation during that time - many boaters do not know how to properly anchor!

After observing this fact - charter boats dragging anchor everywhere, bumping into other charter boats and private yachts - we decided to watch the charter companies and their "checkout" process. We saw that the charter fleet captain would take a new charter guest on a sea trial, verifying that the captain knew enough to safely operate the charter boat. They would raise and lower sails, tack this way and that, start the engine, and use the VHF radio. Not once did we hear the clatter of a windlass, or see any mention of anchoring. In the BVI, charterers are encouraged to pick up one of the abundant public rental moorings.

Moorings in the BVI are great. There are lots of them in all the best hot spots and popular anchorages. That is until Christmas. It seems every boater and wannabe cruiser on the planet finds their way to the Caribbean for the holiday week. Available moorings are now scarce, and suitable anchorages fill up rapidly. This is where the fun begins. Overnight anchoring in the Caribbean is not the same as dropping your hook to have lunch off the Brewsters on a clear day in Boston Harbor.

During winter, Trade Winds blow pretty steadily and predictably throughout the Caribbean. At night, the winds change dramatically around mountainous islands. Differential cooling of the mountain slopes create lots of strong updrafts and downdrafts that translate to sometimes wildly shifting winds near shore. Improperly anchored yachts are at the mercy of these winds.

The Wrong Way

The "Dumper" (Very Common)

We have seen many boaters make this common error - dropping a pile of anchor chain or rode right on top of their anchor. Boaters simply place their bow over their chosen spot and dump anchor and chain. Sure, they have calculated how much chain or rode to lay out, and, hopefully, their rode is marked in some way so they know how much has been released. The problem with this method is that the pile of rode fouls the anchor, and chain may snag on an anchor fluke while the anchor is being set. This may hold for a while, but creates a dangerous opportunity for the anchor to trip, and likely have trouble resetting.

The "Short Story"

We have all seen this: A boater drops anchor and lets out just enough rode for the anchor to stop the boat from drifting. This is great in in 5 knots of wind from a windward shore. Not so great when the wind or tide shifts. The anchor will almost always trip and not reset.

The "Long Haul"

Some boaters are firm believers in the More is Better philosophy. They lay out lots of anchor rode - sometimes all of it - and create a problem for all the other boats in the anchorage. Keep in mind that the placement of your anchor roughly determines the center of a circle that your boat will swing in. You may think that 150 feet of chain is a good idea, but if every other boat in the anchorage is riding on 75 feet of chain or rope, you create a hazard when the wind or current shifts, because your boat will swing in a much larger arc than the rest.

The "Cowboy"

We saw a person on a small boat do this once: The boater took his little Danforth-style anchor by the chain, and whirled it around like a lasso. Then threw it in the general direction where he wanted the anchor. He immediately took up all the slack (no time for the anchor to dig in) and tied the rode to the bow cleat.

The Right Way

Select the Center of Your Anchor Circle

Carefully review the anchorage, and have an understanding of the wind and current changes that will take place while you are anchored. Boats with shallow keels and high windage (like powerboats) tend to align with the wind, whereas boats with deep keels and low windage tend to align with the current. Pay close attention to your neighbors and any underwater obstructions that may be within your swing circle.

When in Rome

Study the anchoring techniques of the boats that are near your selected spot. Are they using one anchor or two? Are some boats on moorings? Ideally, you want your boat to swing in a similar manner to the other boats in the anchorage. Do what they do, and you should be fine. Boaters with local experience are a great resource to learn the best way to keep your yacht secure at anchor.

Lay Your Rode Carefully

Don't be a "Dumper!" Approach your anchoring spot slowly, and stop the boat with the bow over where you intend to set your anchor. Lower your anchor until it just touches bottom, then allow the boat to slowly drift back while laying chain and rode. Pay out the rode at the same pace as the drift. Don't let one get ahead of the other! Your rode should drop almost straight down from the bow as you lay it out.

Use Proper Scope

Scope is the term used to refer to the ratio of the length of chain and rode to the distance from the bow roller to the bottom. For example, if the water is 10 feet deep, and your bow roller is 5 feet above the water, you will need to pay out 105 feet of chain and rode to achieve a 7:1 scope [(10 + 5) x 7 = 105 feet]. The amount of scope you need depends on the wind and current conditions, they type of bottom, and your ground tackle. Rope and chain rode requires more scope than all chain rode.

Set Your Anchor

Lay out some extra rode for setting your anchor. If you plan to ride your anchor at 5:1, lay out 6:1 or 7:1 for setting the anchor. Setting the anchor allows the flukes of your anchor dig in to the bottom. Sailboats can do this more quickly than powerboats, because sailboats can "back down" on the anchor. Powerboats must wait it out.


On a sailboat, once the boat's drift has taken up the slack in the rode, gently put your engine in reverse at idle. Line up a "range" using a two fixed points off to port or starboard, one further away than the other - a piling and a rock, a tree and a spot on the beach, a parked car and a building, etc. Watch your range points closely while the engine is in reverse. When they no longer appear to be getting closer to, or further from, one another, you have stopped moving. Your anchor is now set.


Since powerboats tend to create a lot of thrust in reverse, they must be patient and wait while wind and waves set the anchor. In calm conditions this can take more than an hour. It is best to set a waypoint on your chartplotter and watch for drift from this point.

After your anchor is set, haul in the rode until you are at the proper scope.

Secure Your Rode to a Bow Cleat

Your windlass is not designed to take the load of your boat riding on anchor. It is just designed to raise and lower it. Your anchor rode should be securely fixed to a cleat at your bow.

Tricks for All Chain Rode

Use a Snubber or Bridle

All chain rode is noisy when tied off on deck. As the boat gently swings at anchor due to wind and waves, the chain clatters as it shifts around in the bow roller. No big deal when you are having lunch, but this becomes quite annoying for someone trying to sleep in the v-berth!

A snubber is a short length (usually 10 to 15 feet) of nylon rope appropriately sized for anchor rode. At one end, a chain hook is spliced on. There are many types of chain hook available designed for this purpose. A bridle is similar, but involves a longer nylon rope with the chain hook in the middle.

Secure the hook to your anchor chain and the bitter end of the snubber or bridle to the bow cleat. Let out more chain until the snubber or bridle takes the load. Now sleep better!

Cut Down on Swinging

Some boats just seem to swing like crazy while anchored. Subtle changes in wind cause high windage boats to swing significantly, especially if the boat has a shallow keel. A trick we learned while cruising on our sailing catamaran was to lay out a lot more chain once the bridle was in place. When the boat is fairly settled in place, let out enough chain to make a pile on the bottom, right below the bow roller. You will be amazed how much this keeps the boat from swinging!


Your anchor and ground tackle are like the brakes on your car. They are the most important safety equipment! Whether you are just lazing about in a peaceful cove, or holding your yacht off a lee shore, proper anchoring technique is essential to safe boating. Your crew and guests, and your insurance company, will thank you.

Happy cruising,