Boating Guides; Choosing an Anchor

Unlike the hit song from the 70’s, the last thing you want to do is ‘Drift Away’ after setting your anchor. A bit of planning and the right equipment will make setting the hook a secure experience.

Anchor Styles

A smaller boat needs a smaller anchor and a bigger boat needs a bigger anchor, right? This is not always the case, as size is an important consideration, but not the only one. Our experience has shown that the style of anchor has a greater bearing on its holding power than mere bulk.

When deciding on an appropriate anchor, take the following into consideration;
•    Size of boat
•    Bottom structure
•    Sea and weather conditions

Considering at the various styles, think about where most of your anchoring will take place. Will it be a lazy afternoon at a quiet, inland bay or for days on end alongside a more exposed Caribbean island? Either way, take into account the bottom conditions to determine the corresponding style.

For small runabouts to larger cruisers, the most popular choices are;
•    Claw or Bruce. Designed for mud bottom.
•    Danforth. Best suited to a sand bottom, as the sharp flukes will dig in with tremendous holding power. Can also be used in a mud bottom, but may be more difficult to break free than a plow when retrieving.
•    Delta or Plow. As the name implies, this anchor is designed to work its way into the bottom, much like a farmers plow. Good all-around anchor in many conditions, including weeds.
•    Scoop Style (Spade, Rocna). These are relative newcomers to the scene and report fast setting with superior holding power. Down side is that they may be more difficult to retrieve and bring up lots of mud/weeds when set in those sea floor conditions.

We generally boat where the bottom is mud or sand and use a delta style anchor as our main, with a smaller Danforth as a backup or stern anchor. Our inflatable dingy has limited storage, making a folding grapnel style or mushroom anchor feasible choices. Although small and easy to store, these compact units are best suited to short term use only.

Anchor Construction

Most anchors are forged from steel with a galvanized coating to prevent rust, as they are relatively strong and reasonably priced. This mass production material is the most common used and we have never had an issue with this type of construction. Although more expensive, stainless steel anchors are another choice as they offer considerably more strength and can be polished to a high gloss shine. Think of it as having both ‘bling’ and ‘brawn’ for your bow ;-)

 Rope or Chain?

Now that an anchor has been selected, we need to secure it to the boat. Use an anchor shackle to connect the anchor to the rode or chain. A piece of stainless steel locking wire should be run through the removable pin and tied around the shackle to avoid it turning out from vibration. No stainless wire on board? For a short term solution, a common zip tie can be used in a pinch, but is more susceptible to deterioration from use or UV damage.

The anchor rode (or line) is the next common element, produced from rope, chain or combination of both.

The advantages of an all rope anchor rode is its light weight and ability to stretch. The three common rope configurations are; traditional ‘twisted’ line, ‘single braid’ or ‘double braided’ line. Nylon is the preferable material, having the desirable characteristics of good elasticity and resistance to UV light.  Another choice is Polyester, which is not quite as strong as nylon, but has better abrasion resistance and more UV resistant. The disadvantage of all rope is that it is considerably more susceptible to chafing and deterioration than chain.

More Chain = More Weight

Going with all chain will offer more weight, tending to improve the angle at which the anchor sets on the bottom. Chain is also preferable when anchoring in coral or rocky bottoms to reduce chafing that might otherwise occur on an all rope line. The disadvantage of going with all chain is that in very windy conditions the chain may go tight, with no slack or give. This could cause the anchor to break loose or damage deck fittings. Introducing a separate snubber line close to the deck would help relieve that strain.

Our choice matches that of many cruising boaters; a rope/chain combination, which gives us the benefits of both materials. Whichever way you go, be sure to have a ratio of at least ten times the length of rode to the depth of water you will be anchoring in – having even more on hand is advisable.


The ‘First Mate’ on our boat loves the convenience of our mechanical windlass, which hoists the anchor up and down at the flick of a switch. Windlasses come with specific chain or rope sizes that they can work with, so match the rode to the unit you will be using.

It’s important to keep in mind that when using a windlass and the anchor has been set, it is imperative to take the load off of it, as it is not designed to bear the force generated by the boat’s weight. We have seen a fellow boater’s windlass that was damaged beyond repair when it was not properly tied off on a windy day. To avoid this yourself, relieve the windlass by attaching the rode directly to a cleat, or use a chain lock for an all chain rode. A mooring snubber will further reduce the strain on both the rode & boat.

Whatever your choice in hardware, once anchored it is vital to keep an eye on everything, checking periodically to make sure you are maintaining your anchorage. Changes in wind direction or speed, current or wave action can all affect the anchor’s hold, so be sure to be aware of these changes and adjust accordingly.

With a sound anchoring solution, you can relax to a ‘Peaceful, Easy Feeling’.

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