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How to Choose an Anchor for Your Boat

Start by Understanding the Basic Types of Anchors


Anchor backlit by setting sun.
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Choosing the right anchor for a sailboat is very important for anyone who owns a boat and ever anchors. The wrong anchor may not set or may set but later drag, risking damage to the boat and injury to those on it.

But sailors disagree about the "best" anchor probably more than about any other piece of boat equipment, in part because their personal anchoring experiences vary considerably. In addition, different anchors have different advantages and disadvantages for different bottom characteristics. A boat owner planning to get a new anchor must consider many factors.

Considerations for Anchor Choice

  • Characteristics of the bottom where you usually anchor or may anchor in the future: sand, mud, weedy, rocky, etc.
  • Size and other characteristics of the boat
  • Only anchor for boat vs. a second or third backup anchor
  • Choice of anchor rode: chain, rope, or a combination
  • Anchor storage options on the boat: a bow roller, a rail hanger, a bow anchor locker, a cockpit locker or other storage area (for second or third anchors)
  • Electric or manual windlass to raise the anchor vs. manual lifting
  • Cost (some newer designs are considerably more expensive)

Some of these factors limit the choice of anchors for certain boats. A mid-size cruiser with an electric windlass and hefty bow roller may use a heavy claw anchor on an all-chain rode for the primary anchor in most bottom situations but keep a lighter Danforth anchor stowed flat in a locker for secondary use. A small cruiser without a windlass or a bow roller may carry only a Danforth-type anchor in a bow anchor locker, atop a coil of lighter nylon rode. Serious cruisers may have as many as three back-up anchors of different types and sizes. With a current or big wind they may routinely set two anchors, while additional anchors have value in case they drag in a storm or for other uses such as kedging off if the boat goes aground.

Types of Anchors

Following is an overview comparison of types of anchors to get started making the best choice for a particular boat and circumstances. The final decision should also be based on detailed anchor reviews and tests as well as talking to other sailors with anchoring experience in the intended area.

  • Plow anchors, such as the CQR and Delta anchors, are generally effective as general-purpose anchors for sand, thick mud, and weedy bottoms, sometimes rocky areas. They are large and fairly heavy and usually stowed in a bow roller. The newer Delta is said to set more easily than the classic CQR with its hinged shank.

  • Scoop anchors, such as the Spade, Rocna, and Manson anchors, are similar to plow anchors (but with an inverse fluke angle) and are similarly effective as a general-purpose anchor in a variety of bottoms. They also are also difficult to store anywhere but in a bow roller. The Rocna and Manson anchors have a circular roll bar to help them align the point of the flukes with the bottom to set more quickly.

  • Claw anchors, like the Bruce anchor, are popular in mid-size cruising boats for weedy or rocky bottoms but may not hold as well in soft sand or mud. Like plow and scoop anchors they must be stored on a bow roller.

  • Danforth-type anchors with flat, pivoting flukes, including the Fortress and generic brands, are much lighter than other types and generally set well in sand or mud but may not dig into a weedy or rocky bottom. They can be hung from a bow pulpit rail or easily stowed in a flat anchor locker or, as secondary anchor, belowdecks; some models can be dissembled for easier stowage. Because they are lightweight, they are often used as a kedge anchor carried out in a dinghy.

  • The classic fisherman's anchor (of the familiar tattoo shape) is best for rock or coral but must be very heavy to hold well because the flukes are so small. It is stowed dissembled. Some sailors still carry the fisherman as a backup storm anchor.

  • Mushroom anchors are not a useful boat anchor except for the very small mushrooms sometimes used in inflatable dinghies to avoid carrying an anchor with sharp flukes; they are for temporary use only such as on a beach. Very large, heavy mushroom anchors are used for permanent moorings in some areas where they sink or can be set into soft mud.

Anchoring Technique

Good anchoring technique is very important regardless of the type of anchor you use. All anchors must be set - not merely dropped over the bow - because their holding power depends on the flukes digging into the bottom, not their weight.

Although you want your anchor to dig in well and hold in place, you also want it to break free and come up when you're ready to move on. This can be problematic at times. Just as when setting the anchor you need good technique to safely retrieve the anchor. If you have reason to suspect the anchor may foul on something on the bottom, you can use a trip line to make it easier to get it up later. And finally, you can add a device like the AnchorRescue to your anchor to avoid losing it if it does hook something and refuse to come up.

Other Articles about Anchoring

How to Use an Anchor Trip Line
How to Retrieve an Anchor
The Rocna Anchor vs the Classic CQR
My Anchor Watch App for Android
Use AnchorRescue to Prevent Losing a Fouled Anchor

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