How Do Cargo ships anchor at sea?

Cargoships anchor at sea through the weight of the chain between the anchor and the ship. The anchor is only holding the chain in place. The heavy chains are the main force stopping the ships.

Why do cargo ships need to anchor?

Cargoships need to anchor if they need to wait a long time or emergency.


It is common for a cargo ship to wait a couple of days before it can get a berth, so it has to anchor. if the wait is short, the cargoship will not anchor.

Cargoship also anchors if it is foggy, or wait for tide or wait for the cargoes.


Cargoship will anchor if there is an emergency, such as an engine problem or other major issues on the ship.

How many anchors does a cargo ship have?

There is no limit to how many anchors a ship can have. Normally a ship carries several anchors of different sizes for different uses.

A cargo ship will carry 2~3 main anchors and several other anchors.

How big is the anchor on a cargo ship?

Most cargo ships are giant ships, especially container ships. Major carriers such as Maersk, MSC, and Evergreen tend to buy bigger ships to carry more containers to cut costs.

Some container ships are big and heavy than aircraft carriers, such as the Maersk triple E series mega containership. The ship itself is approximately 1312 feet long, and 194 feet wide.

The anchors for these mega-ships weigh between 5000~30,000 pounds. The metal chain attached to the vessel is about 1000-2000 feet long plus several feet of links. (based on

Do large cargo ships use anchors?

Cargoships will not anchor if there is a quay or wharf to tie up to. Cargoships do use anchors if they need to stop. It is not anchors that anchor the ship, it is the weight of the chain to hold the ship.

Some large ships might have small anchors compared to their weight and size. because anchors are not able to hold the ship but the length and weight of the chain. That’s why a small anchor might hold a big ship in place.

Do cargoships drop anchor in the middle of the ocean?

Ships do not drop anchor in the middle of the ocean. Usually cargoships anchor in waters 100~150 feet deep or less. It is rare to see a cargoship anchor in waters 200 feet deep.

The chain length has to be 5 or 7 times the depth of water to hold the ship in place.

For example, if a ship wants to anchor in water 100 feet deep then it needs to lay at least 500 feet chain to hold the ship. If it is windy and the water is rough the ship might need to lay 700 feet or 1000 feet anchor chain to stop the ship.

The depth a ship can anchor depends on the anchor chain’s length.

Can a ship anchor anywhere?

A ship can not anchor anywhere. Just like when we drive we have to park in a parking lot, we can not park on the highway or middle of traffic, same rule applies to ships. Ships also need to obey marine rules.

  • A ship can not anchor in a shipping lane.
  • A ship has to obey the harbor rule to anchor in a designed anchorage area.
  • Where a ship can anchor is also decided by its anchor chain or rope’s length. if a ship has a short anchor chain then it can not anchor in deep water.

What happens if a ship’s anchor gets stuck?

Ships anchors do get stuck sometimes. An anchor can not pull horizontally but break free for a vertical pull.

  • Usually, a ship will try different angles to release a stuck anchor.
  • Call a specialist to dive into the water to release the tangled anchor.
  • The worst scenario is to cut the anchor loose if really can not release the stuck anchor.

How deep can ships anchor?

How deep a ship can anchor depends on the length of the anchor chain or rope. Rope and chain are limited on board, so the normal depth an ocean ship would anchor is between 100~150 feet.

Ships will never anchor in the middle of the ocean not only because they do not have the length of an anchor chain but also because the slope is not suited for anchoring.

Ships are not able to anchor if the sea bottom is too steep.

Do anchors have to hit the bottom?

Yes, anchors have to touch the bottom in able to hold the ship not drift away.

You can not drop the anchor if it does not hit the bottom. There are many cables, and gas lines at the ocean bottom, your anchor could snag these lines and cause a major disaster.

If you are unsure whether your anchor can touch bottom or not and your main purpose is slowing down the ship then use your drift anchor. People also call drift anchor another name for sea anchor.

Your drift anchor will help to slow down the ship but not hold the ship in place.

Do ships drop anchor in a storm?

Most sea experts said NO. It is more dangerous to drop anchor than let the ship adrift during a storm.

When ships drop anchor in a storm that means it’s tied up during the storm. The ship can not change direction or move during big wind or waves, the ship probably sinks quickly.

Cargoships are heavy because of the cargo they carried. The weight helps the cargo ships to stable during a storm, but still not suggested to drop anchor in a storm unless the ship is in a harbor.

Experts recommend letting the ship be adrift or driving slowly during a storm. Turn around ships as the wind turns. Minimizing the damage caused by the big wind and big waves is the best strategy.

What is a shot when you drop an anchor?

” Shot” is a measurement used for the anchor chain, similar to Knot used for the ship’s speed.

1 short is about 90 feet long. Each short anchor chain is linked by a detachable link.

An ocean cargoship usually has 1000~2000 feet long anchor chain so it is about 11~22 short.

How do you lift an anchor?

An anchor can be lifted vertically. You can not raise an anchor horizontally.

When it is time to go, the ship will move slowly toward the anchor, picking up the chain little by little. When the ship is above the anchor position then pull the anchor vertically.

What does it mean when cargo ships are at anchor?

when cargo ships are at anchor means this ship is staying at a place and not going anywhere for some time.

Here is a detailed video to show how to release and collect anchor

Why can some cargo ships anchor for many days?

Cargo ships anchor for many days mostly because of port congestion or because cargo ship is overweight.

Port congestion

When the port is congested the ship has to wait for a berth

Large US ports such as Los Angeles, and Long beach are always congested. A ship has to wait several days to move into the anchorage area


When a cargo ship carries heavy cargo, the weight will make the ship stuck in the harbor, so sometimes the ship needs to offload some cargo before entering the harbor.

Offload may take a couple of days, thus when the cargo ship is anchored at the harbor probably several days already passed.

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