Buoyed retrieval line

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Deployment of retrieval line and buoy.

In normal conditions anchors are easily recovered using the rode. However, it is not unusual for anchors to become caught on underwater objects such as rock, coral, cables, or even sunken wrecks. When fouled on such an object, the anchor may be difficult or impossible to retrieve by simply pulling on the rode. Attempting to free the anchor by way of large applications of force in an attempt to dislodge the anchor can then result in equipment failures and the possible complete loss of the anchor or rode.

A new generation anchor such as a Rocna may present other retrieval challenges, particularly if it is over-sized, if it has been subjected to strong forces (e.g. if it is very well buried in hard clay). One solution which all but guarantees successful and easier retrieval is a buoyed retrieval line.

The line and buoy

Retrieval line and buoy ready to deploy.
Short retrieval line with small submerged buoy.
Anchored on rock with anchor at risk of fouling.

A small buoy or other flotation device is connected to the appropriate attachment point on the anchor using a light rope. If attempts to retrieve the anchor in a normal fashion fail, the buoy instead may be picked up from the surface, and the anchor lifted out 'backward' clear of its fouling obstacle using the retrieval line.


Any sinking rope of adequate strength can be used. Do not use floating rope, or the slack will collect at the surface near the buoy and present a risk for propellers. The retrieval line must go down to the anchor anyway, so the rationale behind floating dinghy painters does not apply.

The rope should be of a length that is slightly greater than the depth of the water at high tide, which will keep the buoy as close as possible to the location of the anchor. It is also feasible to use a short length of line with a smaller float, which then presents a suspended shackle or similar immediately above the anchor. This requires diving to reach, whereupon a second line is attached when needed, but the buoy is kept out of the way of other boaters.

A small but quality shackle should be used to attach the line to the anchor, preferably with a spliced eye in the rope; tying the rope directly to the hole in the anchor will introduce chafe problems, particularly with galvanized anchors.


The buoy need only be a small floating item capable of being easily retrieved from the boat's deck, e.g. by a boat-hook. The line should be attached to it in a manner such that it is fairly easy to detach without tools, in order that the line may quickly be transferred to a cleat or winch.

It may be a good idea to flag the buoy to increase its visibility, and also to mark on it clearly a warning to other boaters that it is not a mooring buoy.

Dedicated systems

Buoys are available which contain an integrated self-retrieving line; in other words, the line is rolled up into the buoy by a tensioner mechanism, which dynamically keeps the line length equal to that of the depth.

Attaching to the anchor

Attaching a retrieval line to a Rocna.


Rocna-icon.png The topic of this section refers to an aspect of the Rocna anchor which the Rocna User's Guide deals with.

To view the User's Guide in multiple languages, click here: Rocna User's Guides

The Rocna has a dedicated hole designed for a retrieval line in the heel of the fluke. The roll-bar may also be used (and can often be grappled from the surface if a line was not attached before deployment), but the position of the dedicated hole is slightly superior.

Other anchors

Most anchors have a dedicated attachment point in an obvious location. In general the point should be strong enough to withstand the force necessary to free the anchor.

Other uses

Buoyed retrieval lines have other advantages. A surface buoy will alert other mariners to the location of your anchor – unfortunately a problem in some areas, where less astute boaters could assume it is a mooring buoy which they have the right to make use of. (For this reason, it is suggested your buoy is clearly marked with an appropriate warning.) In any case, the buoy will communicate roughly where your anchor is set, and also give some idea of your vessel's likely swinging circle.

If you are using one, in an emergency you may abandon your anchor and rode temporarily, and return later under controlled conditions knowing it will be easy to find.