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Living Aboard: Sleep Tight with a Swell Bridle

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Get to Know The Swell Bridle

I was anchored off of Arthur’s Town on the north end of Cat Island in the Bahamas.  The winds were out of the east and the water was very calm; I made a burger on the grill and went to bed just after dark.

Slept like a rock – until around midnight, when some kind of nasty swell started coming out of the south.  But my bow was still pointed into the winds out of the east, and this caused me to roll back and forth, and quite violently too!  I can’t sleep like this!

Swell Bridle Diagram

So I pulled myself out of bed, stumbled out on deck, grabbed a length of 5/8″ nylon rode, made myself a swell bridle, and easily went back to sleep in the comfortable pitching movement that I had just created.

Picture Swell Bridle

Saoirse’s swell bridle in the British Virgin Islands.


Your bow always wants to point into the wind while at anchor.  If the swell is coming from a different direction than the wind, this will make the boat roll back and forth in the most damned uncomfortable motion ever!

If the swell and wind are more than 45-degrees off from each other, you will not sleep!

A swell bridle will point your bow into the swell, so that instead of rolling back and forth, the boat now pitches up and down.  The preferred motion for sleeping on a boat!

Just be careful when you set this up.  You’ll have increased windage and a potential for dragging, but you’ll be letting out more rode to counter this, and all of these things can create problems in a crowded anchorage or on a lee shore.


You’ll need a length of line for the bridle.  I use a 50′ length of 5/8″ 3-strand nylon line.  This type of line is strong but will also stretch a tad.  All of your anchor rode should have a little stretch to minimize the shock put on the cleats and bits.

You’ll also need a way of attaching this line to your main anchor rode.  You can use a line with a chain hook already on it, splice a chain hook on it yourself, or do what I do and that’s to tie a rolling hitch.  I don’t know why, but I seem to have more trust in my rolling hitches than I do hook hardware.

If your main anchor rode is rope and not chain, you’ll have to use a rolling hitch.

Rolling Hitch Diagram

Rolling Hitch. Wikimedia Commons/David J. Fred

Swell Bridle Diagram

When it comes time to make the swell bridle, attach the bridle line to your main anchor rode forward of the bow.  Then lead the bridle line back to the stern, making sure this line is outside of all stays, pulpits, and lifelines, on the side of the boat that will be to windward.  Bring it back to a winch and wrap it a few times around the winch.

Go back up to the bow and let out your main anchor rode.  An amount roughly equal to the length of your boat will work just fine.

Letting out anchor rode will also increase the scope (ratio of rode to water depth), and you’ll want more scope to counter the increased windage of the boat lying broadside to the wind.

Come on back to the stern and fine-tune your bow’s alignment into the wind by adjusting the length of the bridle line on the winch.

Some people will secure this line to a cleat instead of a winch, then adjust the bow’s alignment by adjusting the length of the main anchor rode.  But because of the way my boat is set up (big bobstay, heavy chain, no windlass), I’ve found it’s much easier and more precise for me to use the winch at the stern.  See the swell bridle diagram.

Adjusting a Swell Bridle

Practice making and adjusting one of these during the daytime so that your first time won’t be in the dark, naked, on a rolling boat, half asleep like it was for me in Arthur’s Town!


Is there a better way to avoid the swell other than staying on land?  If you have any suggestions, or questions about what I’ve written about here, please leave them below and I’ll get right back to you.


John Casey

Tuesday 30th of January 2018

Great post John. Something so easy to do, but I've yet to see anyone employ one this season.

John Peltier

Tuesday 30th of January 2018

So super easy to do and it makes such a huge difference in having a sleepless night or sleeping like a rock. I don't see a lot of people doing this either. Happy sailing!

Ed L

Monday 20th of June 2016

Question, was this procedure a trial and error or was the knowledge bestow upon your by and enlighten soul? I remember this technique from my landing craft coxswain school in the 70's

John Peltier

Thursday 30th of June 2016

It was actually something I read in a very helpful book called "The Gentleman's Guide to Passages South" by Bruce Van Sant. There was some trial and error with my specific setup but I learned the concept from his book.

Hubert Alacoque

Monday 15th of June 2015

Insightful, informative... Thank you. I'll use that knowledge.

John Peltier

Tuesday 7th of July 2015

You're welcome, Hubert. Hope it works out for you!