Drogues & sea anchors in storms. Do you need one?

Sailors always avoid buying equipment they do not wanna use.

When a strong gale hits the fan and you are trying everything to beat the bad sea conditions, sea anchors and drogues becomes a good option. Not always. Still, they are not always easy to use and there are some objectors between the sailors. In this brief article, we will introduce you to the problematics and answer some questions. Like how drogues works, advancements in its technology, sizing and costs, how can you sink ship with it, how it works on multihulls etc.  

Remember, every safety or bad condition equipment is worth a consideration, some kind of storm anchor by all means. Just to “lie ahull” a wait for the storm to end is famous tactics, but it also the one which took most numbers of souls

How its gonna save my boat’s ass in a hell of a weather

Big waves means that your boat will be changing its orientation quickly and in dangerous ways. Sometimes a storm sails are helping to establish a course and boats position according to one particular way. Sea anchors or sea drogues are helping to fix the boat’s position to one way against the waves . There is a difference between sea anchor and drogue. Not in just design, but please realise that those two things are not doing the same thing! 

Sea anchor

Designed to stop and fix bow to the waves. Good choice when you wanna heave-to for taking the rest. When the sea anchor fills up it is meant to hold the position (relatively). It is not designed to be dragged. You can fix your sea anchor to bow or stern, depending on the situation. There have to be wide range or diameter for the boat to fill the sea anchor and effectively stop movement. If a diameter is not established, the waves will be flowing “wrong way” aroung the rudder causing damage. Since the sea anchor is filled and on the place, you can do nothing, just wait with mates in the boat. 

A drogue

Modern drogues looks like many sea anchors on rope fixed to the bow or stern. The anchors are much smaller than one sea anchor described above. The main goal is to drag whole long drogue by quite stable course with speed 4-7 knots after braking with drogue’s towing force. When the heading is unstable or speed to slow, the drogue does not working properly or become entangled. Deployment of several meters long drogue can be difficult for the helmsman such as for the crew. 

It is too late to order during a big squall

Hold your black Friday manners when obtaining a drogue. There are many manufacturers and producers with different designs, materials and price ranges. Sizing is utmost important thing to think about. 

There are a lot of producers, with their own tweaking of well know designs. Always discuss the sizing with the manufacturer or seller. Take in mind, that sea anchor and drogue are not the same. The main difference is not just design, but tactics for sailing with any of them. Most sellers offers this in the same category basket. You will probably need to google both of them, unless you want to see pictures of narcotics. Just word “drogue” alone is not processed properly without other maritime keywords. 

Modern drogues costs

A sea anchor can be obtained from some like 20 dollars. You can await skipping on the waterline issues and short service life with those cheap-ones. With proper offshore sea anchor count with 500,  or more that 1000 USD easily. Depends on your boat, brand and quality. Sometimes, products offered as sea anchors are just re-branded parachutes from aero manufacturing. The design is quite the same, principles are the same. But salty water and wind are not.
An example of modern sea anchor product is the Seabrake from Australian vendor Burke Marine. On their promo picture, they are featuring several situation for their product to use. Thumbs up for the usage as a spare bosuns chair!
Price range for the Seabrake starts on 295 USD (for 3-10.8m boats) up to 876 USD (for 23-29 meters long ships).
It is more likely to get a sea anchor by secondhand way than drogue. You can find some “like-a-new” offerings on the web. When buying a drogue the price is similar like in sea anchor’s case. It is worth to buy a new drogue. The main choice is medium-pull or low-pull drogue. Low-pull models are practical because they can be used in noncritical situations easily (showed above). It is a good option which targeting comfort problems during unpleasant squalls. It is looks familiar to sea anchor and is deployed on stern. The most known and used are medium-pull drogues. Designed by Donald Jordan for the Coast Guard’s ships. The products are differing by materials and some tweaks designed by manufacturers. This is proper series drogue as described above.
Count on with costs for ropes or chains. The price depends on your boat size and type. There are huge price-tag differences between products. Cheap sea anchors can work, but for offshore sailing we advice: Do not buy a cheap sea anchor! The same advice is valid for the drogues. Rather think about making your own by yourself than buying cheap stuff. In case you consider yourself as a McGiver of the crew (or Brian from Delos), there are lot of resources for making your own drogue. At the end of article you can find our youtube playlist dedicated to the topic. A wise idea in this case is to test your DIY gadget several times before considering it seaworthy. Maybe it won’t work and you will have to buy proper drogue, but you can train the procedure with crew-mates at least. Do not use any of them in critical situation if you are not knowledgeable about the usage. 

Cons, proper sizing and other things to learn

Proper sizing and design are just a tip of an iceberg. Application of a drogue during the storm needs cooperation between crew and helmsman. In bad case it gets entangled before starting to work. You should make some training and simulations. That an easy thing to say!  It is nice to train your mates step-by-step to deploy drogue, but you do know wanna find that proper conditions on purpose. Some drills during bad weather will definitely help. Some skippers claims that it brings more problems to deploy the drogue than visible effect. Wrong deployment can be very dangerous. Think about the forces applied on your boat by these devices! Skippers mistakes can lead even to pitchpoling hull during a storm. Educate yourself and the crew before using uncommon equipment. 

On this video, you can find proper advices for using the drogues. It takes 30 minutes, so maybe save it for later. Be aware, that using and installing drogue is always difficult task because you do it only in really rough conditions. This is the main reason why using drogues is not always advised. But that is not a valid argument isn’t it?


No cash? Here’s the idea how to do your own drogue

There is an option to make a drogue yourself. There are several theories for making it seaworthy and effective. This database looks like a biblical source of knowledge for drogues. Besides advices for DIY drogues, there are many posts wrote by sailors after some situation. The Victor Shane’s drag device database is useful also for deployment tips. Multihull owners could find their answers too. It completely free. It is a good idea to make reports about your drogue in use. You need to now how strong is the pull of your own gadget. You can report finding to Victor Shane’s database and become helpful for the community. 

This sailing channel shows untraditional way with their untraditional old tyre fenders. It looks be to working, everything is described. Some budget  sailors would like to watch it just for that beautiful tyre fender. In compare with technological race in modern designs, this seems like a obscure afford. Guys from Sailing Emerald Steel channel claims it works. Check their video:


Fight the sea by all means

The common statement is: “Buy it, if you plan to attend hard conditions”. We think that hard situation can came anywhere, even in most peaceful places of sea. Think about your tactics, procedures and equipment for the worst cases. You will gain healthy kind of self-confidence if you practice. We prepared a playlist of youtube videos from other creators related to the topic. Check it if you are interested.  Kraken’s advice is buy or make a proper drogue, test and drill deployment with crew during semi-harsh weather, deploy if necessary while taking the tactics in mind. Do not count on it as a miraculous helper. 


Useful resources and videos to check about the drogues:
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