The incident

The vessel was ordered to stem bunkers at a port anchorage with a charted depth of about 90 metres. When approaching the anchorage, the master had the conn on the bridge assisted by the OOW and the chief officer was on station at the forward end of the vessel accompanied by other deck crew. Weather conditions were favourable with light winds and negligible current. In preparation for anchoring, the master instructed the chief officer to walk out the port anchor until two shackles of cable (55 metres) were in the water and then to apply the windlass brake pending further instructions. When the master had determined that the vessel was in the required position, he ordered the chief officer to let go the anchor until eight shackles were in the water and then to hold on with the windlass brake. Two minutes later, the chief officer alerted the bridge that the running out of the cable could not be controlled with the windlass brake and soon afterward reported that the full length of the cable had been lost.


In such deep water, the anchor should not have been let go in this manner from the windlass brake but instead walked out all the way in gear and under the control of the windlass motor until the required length of cable was paid out. During this operation, the master must also ensure that the motion of the bow relative to the ground is kept to a minimum. In this case, the vessel was fortunate that other damage was limited to the anchor bitter end and windlass brake fittings as the violent uncontrolled running out of the cable will expose crew in the vicinity to great danger.

Furthermore, local authorities will frequently direct that lost anchors and cables are retrieved by the vessel owners which may involve significant difficulty and expense. This is just one of numerous incidents involving vessels losing anchors and cables attributable to either incorrect practice or equipment deficiencies.


Lessons learned

  • Anchoring a vessel requires to be very carefully planned taking into account the prevailing and forecast weather, current, depth of water, proximity of other vessels, navigational hazards and the capability of the anchoring machinery
  • In deep water, anchors should not be let go in freefall but paid out under the control of the windlass motor
  • The planned anchoring manoeuvre should to be discussed at the pre-arrival briefing and include the anchoring team
  • Good training and crew resource management would have empowered the OOW and chief officer to query the master’s decision making and perhaps enable alternative action to be considered