Parachute Sea Anchors - How to Survive the Storm

When weather conditions deteriorate or when equipment fails, a challenging voyage can soon be turned into a nightmare for any mariner. This article looks at how sea anchors can help your boat and crew survive the storm.

Parachute Sea Anchor

Most vessels will have life jackets, liferafts, distress flares, and EPIRBs on board - all invaluable safety equipment to aid survival should the worst happen. Yet too few boat owners carry one of the most useful devices for actually preventing disaster - a Parachute Sea Anchor.

Most boats have a higher freeboard at the bow and so the wind normally has more effect on drift than the current. It is therefore typical for the bow of a boat to be blown 'off the wind', presenting the side of the vessel to the storm.

Aside from the extreme discomfort for the crew of a heavy rolling boat, a large or vertical wave could then smash into the side of a vessel in this vulnerable position, either rolling it or causing considerable damage. Laying a boat beam on to the sea is therefore always high risk.

How Parachute Sea Anchors Work

Parachute sea anchors are the best known way of preventing this risk, and work by offering a high bow to the oncoming waves and wind - and their performance is unequalled.

Drift is another major consideration. If you are navigating a passage and need to rest, you still have to try and stay on course. And if you are in distress and awaiting help, you really need to remain in the position you first reported.

According to Sir Robin Knox Johnston: "When a boat is hove to, she will always drift downwind, though she may crab a bit sideways as well. The speed of the drift depends on the proportion of a boat's wetted surface, as opposed to the topside proportion that is exposed to the wind."

"Some boats will drift quickly. I have experienced 72 miles of drift in 24 hours when simply hove to. If a boat does not drift, searchers can pinpoint its position. If it drifts 72 miles, that means it is then somewhere in 5,184 square miles of ocean, a needle in a haystack!"

"Parachute sea anchors really do make sense. Rather than drift with the wind, you drift with the current (even upwind subject to the current direction) and only at a snails pace of around half a knot wind-affected drift".

Why is 'Bow to the Wind' Important?

Generally, regardless of the sea and weather conditions, parachute sea anchors keep the bow to wind, eliminating the risk of broaches and capsizes, reducing rolling and improving the wellbeing of everyone on board. In a survival situation, it is a certainty that the following will happen among your crew:

  • Seasickness
  • Cold
  • Hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Tiredness
  • Fear

With a parachute sea anchor correctly deployed, the vessel will settle, become quieter and more stable. Your crew can then rest, eat, sleep and make sound decisions that are not driven by fear. How many people have abandoned a boat, maybe perished in the process, and yet the boat is still afloat days or possibly weeks later?

It is highly probable that of the 24 boats that sank in the ill-fated 1979 Fastnet Race tragedy, and of the 48 boats that were rescued by helicopters and trawlers in the 1998 Sydney Hobart Race, many would not have sunk nor would as many rescues have been necessary, had the boats carried and deployed suitably sized parachute sea anchors to control the situation before conditions overtook them.

To see the range of parachute sea anchors now available, click here or for further technical advice, contact the Safety Marine technical team on or call +44 (0)2380 226300


The Beacon Logo

For the latest marine safety news each month, regulation changes and invaluable practical safety advice, simply submit your email address.