Can You Drop Anchor In The Middle Of The Ocean?

Can You Drop Anchor In The Middle Of The Ocean? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Beth York

June 15, 2022

What do sailors do at night when they need to sleep while crossing an ocean? Can you drop anchor in the middle of the ocean?  The answer to that is ‘no’.  

Anchoring in the middle of the ocean is not possible due to the depth.  In order to maintain good holding, you want at least 7 times more line out than there is water underneath your boat.  The ocean is thousands of feet deep in the middle and the line needed to anchor there would fill a cargo ship.  

There are alternatives to anchoring in the middle of the ocean, however.  There are different types of sea anchors that you can deploy to slow your vessels drift, or help it stay positioned within the waves.  Also, there is a sail position called ‘heave-to’ or ‘heaving-to’ which keeps your boat riding comfortable on the waves while not traveling very quickly.

Most sailors crossing oceans do not stop traveling a night.  A crewed vessel will take turns being at watch, keeping an eye out for debris in the water and other ships.  A solo sailor may cat nap throughout the night, waking regularly to check for ships, or sleep through the night and rely on their electronics to alert them to any dangers ahead.  

The deepest water that I have ever anchored in was 300ft while deckhanding on halibut fishing charters in Alaska.  We would let out a scope of 900 ft which is only a ratio of 1:3. This amount of scope was suitable since we were only anchoring temporarily. I had to pull in that 900 ft of line by hand and it left me with really strong arms which I could hardly move after the job was done.  I can’t imagine anyone trying to pull in all the line that it would take to anchor in the middle of the ocean.  It would be impossible.


Table of contents

Alternatives To Anchoring

Sea Anchors And Storm Drogues

Instead of relying on an anchor, most sailors will use a sea anchor or a storm drogue to keep their boat in a certain position on the ocean.  These alternatives are deployed during bad weather when it’s unsafe for crew to be steering the boat.  

A sea anchor or storm drogue will be placed into the water which will keep the boat from taking the waves from the side.  A sea anchor is deployed from the bow, while a storm drogue is deployed from the stern.  A sea anchor is parachute shaped, while a storm drogue is cone shaped.  

This image from helps clarify:


Heaving To

There is a simple way to slow your boats movement through the water when sleep is required, or during foul weather.  It’s called ‘heaving-to’. By backwinding the forward sail and locking the rudder toward the wind, the boat will ride at a 45 degree angle into the wind and waves.  A reefed main may also be used depending on the intensity of the wind.

While this sounds somewhat complicated, it becomes easy with a little practice.  Sailors will heave to while waiting out an unfavorable wind direction, when the conditions require crew to be safely below decks, or when a solo sailor needs to catch some rest.  

Check out this image from


Keeping Watch

According to the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs), "every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.”.  Generally, sailboats are crewed by a couple who share in the keeping watch throughout their ocean crossing.  

Sailors crossing the ocean solo will find it impossible to keep watch ‘at all times’.  To manage the risk involved with sleeping, they will set an alarm to go off every 20 minutes so they can scan the horizon for ships.  Some brave souls will simply trust their electronics to rouse them if a ship enters their proximity.  

With modern cargo ships being the speedy bohemeths that they are, it only takes about 15 minutes for a ship to reach your location from first being spotted.  If no one is keeping watch onboard the sailboat, a collision could occur and the cargo ship may never have been aware that the smaller boat was ever in its path.  

Improper lookout is the second highest contributing factor for accidents right behind operator inattention.  It’s extremely important that, whenever possible, there is a crew member keeping watch.  It is the easiest way to ensure the safety of all aboard.  However, when you’re crossing an ocean alone, it’s inevitable that you will need sleep in order to effectively and safely travel across the ocean.  Sleeping instead of keeping watch becomes an acceptable risk once fatigue sets in.  

Anchoring Exceptions

Now, although it is generally impossible to anchor in the middle of the ocean, there are a few gem locations out there where it does get shallow enough to drop the hook.  

Minerva Reefs are two submerged atolls south of Fiji and Tonga in the Pacific Ocean.  When anchoring up within the atolls at high tide, there is no land visible in any direction.  It gives one the feeling of anchoring in the middle of the ocean and can be quite an experience!  

A little closer to home we find the Great Bahamas Bank which is a shallow area amid the Bahamanian islands.  Anchoring overnight on the bank is common among cruisers when the weather is calm.  I’ve anchored up there several times myself and it’s surreal.  On the surface, there is no land visible in any direction and the solitude is palpable.  The water is crystal clear and roughly 12ft deep across most of the bank.  

Can You Drop Anchor In The Middle Of The Ocean?
Beth York

Beth York

Beth lives on board her 1983 30ft S2 sailboat with her husband, 6 year-old son, and her two fur babies. She has been sailing and boating for most of her life. Beth has been blessed to experience cruising in the Great Lakes, the Bahamas, and in Alaska. She loves to travel and adores living on her tiny boat with her family.

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