Anchoring in the Columbia River

Graphic from the US Army Corps of Engineers on how to anchor properly and know exactly how much chain and line are required.

The Columbia River can be one of the most thrilling and inspiring places to boat and fish, but it also has a reputation of being one of the deadliest.  Here are some tips to stay safe when boating on the Columbia River:

Choose an anchor that fits your boat and the boating conditions.

  • The plow-style anchor is good for most boats and gets its holding power by plowing into bottom sediments.
  • The fluke-style anchor (referred to as a Danforth) is similar to the plow style but is more lightweight.  It is also good for most boats and gets its holding power from its pointed flukes digging into the bottom sediments.
  • The mushroom anchor gets its holding power by sinking into the bottom sediments.  It should not be used to anchor boats larger than a small canoe, rowboat, small sailboat, or inflatable boat since the holding power is weak.  You should never depend on a mushroom anchor to hold your boat in rough water or weather.

Prepare your anchor before setting out:

  • Attach 7-8 feet of galvanized chain to the anchor. The chain aids in setting the anchor by lowering the angle of the pull as the chain sinks and lies on the bottom.  It will also help prevent abrasion of the anchor line from sand or rock on the bottom.  Most anchors grip by digging into the bottom when the line is pulled horizontally.  Any upward pull may break the anchor loose.
  • Be sure the anchor line is strong and long enough to anchor your boat.  A good rule of thumb is that the length of the line should be at least 7-10 times the depth of the water where you’re setting anchor.
  • Since an anchor can be a safety device in an emergency situation, store the anchor and its lines in an accessible area.  If the engine breaks down, you may need to anchor quickly to avoid drifting aground.

Follow these steps to anchor your boat:

  1. Select an area to anchor with plenty of room.  Ideally, it should be a well-protected area with adequate water depth and a sandy or muddy bottom.
  2. Head slowly into the wind or current into a position upwind or up-current of where you actually want to end up.
  3. When you are at that position, stop the boat and slowly lower the anchor from the bow -to the bottom.  NEVER ANCHOR FROM THE STERN because this can cause the boat to swamp (flood with water).  The square stern may be hit by waves, and water will splash into the boat.   The motor’s weight will add to this problem.
  4. Slowly back the boat away downwind or down-current.  Let out about 7-10 times as much anchor line as the depth of the water, depending on the wind strength and wave size.  Tie off the line around a bow cleat, and pull on the anchor line to make sure the anchor is set.
  5. After anchoring, take visual sightings of onshore objects or buoys in the water to help you know where your boat is positioned.  While at anchor, re-check these sightings frequently to make sure the anchor is not dragging.
  6. Periodically check connecting knots on your anchor line.  When possible, use splices instead of knots.  Knots weaken a line more than splices.

Follow these steps to retrieve your anchor:

  1. Move the boat directly over the anchor while pulling in the line.  Pulling the anchor straight up should break it free from the bottom.
  2. If the anchor is stuck, turn your boat in a large circle while keeping the anchor line pulled tight.
  3. When the anchor breaks loose, stop the boat and retrieve the anchor.  Never drag the anchor behind the boat.

It’s shaping up to be another fantastic year to go fishing for steelhead, salmon and sturgeon.  Be sure to know the fishing regulations and have all of the proper equipment on your boat to stay safe…especially a properly fitting life jacket.

*Graphic property of the US Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District.

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