Drogues and Sea Anchors: Heavy Weather Help

A vessel is said to be “pooped” when a heavy sea breaks over the stern. This usually happens in a following sea in heavy wind. As a result of “pooping,” a vessel can turn broadside to the sea, as its rudder has little or no effect in those conditions.

How do we control our boats in a following sea accompanied by heavy wind? Worse yet, what would we do in that situation if we lost all power? At the whim of the wind and the wave action, we risk broaching (turning broadside to the sea) and rolling over.

In heavy weather, there are two very helpful approaches that you can take to steady your vessel. You could use a “drogue” or a “sea anchor.” One will reduce yaw (fishtailing) and help you maintain a steady heading in a following sea. The other will keep your bow into the weather when you are adrift. Both will help to keep you upright and afloat.

The drogue and the sea anchor are often confused with one another. They do have a few things in common. They are both tossed overboard and secured with a line. They both help you to avoid broaching by maintaining a favorable orientation to the weather. That is, either by helping to keep the wind and wave action directly ahead of you or directly behind you.

A drogue is a cone of canvass (or other fabric) which uses a metal ring to keep the wide end open. A bridle of three or more legs attaches the ring to a towing line. The towing line is secured to the stern of your vessel. The narrow end of the drogue has a small opening, allowing a small flow of water through it.

This arrangement puts a “drag” on your vessel in order to minimize yaw, keeping your vessel on a steady heading in a following sea. A tripping line is attached to the narrow end, which when pulled, collapses the drogue to prepare for bringing it aboard.

A drogue is used when your vessel is making headway. A sea anchor is used when your vessel is adrift and at the mercy of the wind, current and wave action. It would be safe to say that a sea anchor is 180 degrees out from a drogue, because a sea anchor is deployed from the bow of a vessel. It anchors your vessel to the sea, which is sometimes your only option in extreme depths.

A drogue can be used a sea anchor, however, any type of gear that can be attached to a line from the bow may suffice.  The object is to provide something from which the bow will be “anchored” due to the “drag” that the sea anchor provides. As the wind and wave action attempt to overwhelm your vessel, the sea anchor’s taut line keeps your bow into the weather.

A drogue or a sea anchor can make an unpleasant experience more bearable. It’s wise to be prepared!

Until next time, we wish you clear skies, fair winds and calm seas!


World Wide Marine Training, LLC, is a U.S. Coast Guard Approved facility authorized to give examinations for captain’s licenses up to Master 200 Tons, Able Seaman up to Unlimited, STCW Basic Training, Radar, ARPA and other Endorsements. Please visit www.worldwidemarinetraining.com or call toll-free 866-249-2135.