Updated November 27, 2020.
Most people enjoy being on boats. The smell of the water, the feel of the wind in your hair, and being around people you enjoy. It can make for a fun day. But at the end of the day, when you pull the boat back to shore, you will have to make sure that your boat stays in place. This is the job of boat anchors.
There are a number of different types of boat anchors including the claw, plow, mushroom, kedge, fluke, grapnel, and more. Using the correct anchor for your boat is essential for safety and effectiveness.
Before we begin, I’ll start by saying that anchors can be confusing. They have names that don’t really describe them, there are a lot of figures and information associated with them that may or may not change how well it performs for your particular situation, and – let’s face it – most of the online guides about anchors are not helpful unless you’re already somewhat experienced with them. With this in mind, before we get into the different types of anchors, I would like to first go over some anchor basics.
Boat Anchors 101
Before You Can Anchor Like boats, anchors come in all different shapes and sizes. Before you can even begin thinking about what kind of anchor you will need, you will need to have some basic knowledge.
1. Your Boat
You will need to know some basic information about your boat. Primarily, the most important elements are the size and weight of your boat. As an example, a ten thousand pound yacht will need a different anchor than a twenty-foot fishing boat.
2. Your Destination
Where are you setting your anchor? Is it a rocky bottom coastline or a sandy-bottomed river? This will also change the type of anchor you will need.
3. Your Weather
Setting your anchor down when the weather is calm and you have no worries of a storm approaching is one thing. It is a much different task than setting your anchor down in bad weather. This will also heavily influence the type of anchor you will need to use.
The best thing to remember about anchors is that bigger is usually better. This comes into play in case of emergencies, when freak weather happens and you have nothing else holding your boat in place but that anchor. If this happens, you will be happy you got the biggest anchor your boat could safely hold onboard without sinking when your anchor does not lose its grip or its holding power.
It is highly recommended that your boat has an anchor. The boat anchor should have the size and strength needed to hold it in place for an extended period. This is also important in case you decide to stop overnight. Or you run into an emergency, such as running out of gas.
Safety in numbers is as true in anchoring as it is in most other places. It is a recommended practice to have two different anchors of different types if you have space, as this will give you the most versatility in the most types of water body bottoms.
As with everything, it is always best to plan ahead. If you can, consult maps and charts of your destination. This will help you narrow down places you can safely anchor if you are staying for an extended time, or if you are just visiting. Have a few different spots in mind that will probably be ideal for you to set your anchor down. Be aware of your surroundings and of the weather, as these can change and might mean you have to change your locations or plans accordingly.
Anchoring has a glossary of terms associated with it that you will need to be familiar with to be able to make an educated and informed decision about what exactly you need.
1. Holding Power
This is how anchors are rated, and it is almost exactly what it sounds like. Holding power is the anchor’s ability to hold a certain weight. Generally, these will be rated based on the size of the boat they are designed for. For instance, an anchor designed for boats up to twenty-seven feet might have a holding power of six hundred pounds.
2. Ground Tackle
The ground tackle is the whole kit and caboodle for the anchor – the anchor, the chain, the line, and everything in between. This is the anchor itself and all of the equipment you need to be able to anchor yourself.
3. Working Anchor
This is your regular, everyday anchor. If you have only a single anchor on your boat, this will likely be the only one you have. It should be able to support your boat if light storms or winds come in if tides rise and in most average situations. This is the anchor you can set down and not worry about your boat drifting off, even if you are not on it or if your whole crew has gone to sleep.
4. Lunch Hook
This is an “easy-weather” anchor, which is generally smaller than the working anchor. This one is useful if you’re only stopping for a moment and your crew is still able to keep an eye on everything. You would not want to set your lunch-hook down in anything other than calm weather and waters.
5. Storm Anchor
This is the anchor for when it has really hit the fan. Storms unlike any you have ever seen before are coming in, waves are crashing, and everything has gone to hell in a matter of moments. This is the anchor you set down in this case. It will generally be strong enough to withstand just about anything thrown at it and, by extension, is likely to be your heaviest anchor. Not everyone will need one of these, and most commonly they are reserved for vessels that anchor in open water often.
Boat Anchor Materials
Boat anchors can be made from a few different metals, each with their own positive and negative qualities. Generally, you will see these made of galvanized metal, stainless steel, or aluminum.
1. Galvanized Metals
Galvanized metals (usually it’s steel) are relatively inexpensive and very strong. The metals are also waterproof as long as the galvanization holds up. The downside to that is the galvanization does wear off. Also, if you are worried about the cosmetic appeal, galvanized metals are not as attractive as some of the other options.
2. Stainless steel
Stainless steel is like galvanized steel’s big brother. It is corrosion resistant and does not rely on a coating to be this way, so you do not have to worry about it losing its corrosion-resistant properties. It is also just as strong as galvanized steel. While it is the more cosmetically appealing option, the finish can be damaged due to the very nature and purpose of the anchor.
Aluminum is a bit of a newcomer to the world of boat anchors. It is a lightweight metal, meaning that you will often get an equal holding power to a steel anchor with a lower anchor weight. However, it costs significantly more than a steel anchor.
Types of Boat Anchors
Claw anchors are a popular choice amongst recreational boaters – one of the most popular in the market, as a matter of fact. This design was originally known as the Bruce anchor thanks to their original creators, the Bruce Anchoring Company. Many imitations have come along since their patent lapsed in the early 2000s.
This type of anchor has a good general-purpose design. It sometimes has a difficult time penetrating harder surfaces like clay or tightly packed rocks, but with most water body bottoms – be it sand, dirt, coral, or grass – it will dig in with ease. Because it has three tines, it is easier to set and reset than many other designs. Its unique shape also allows it to pivot a full three hundred sixty degrees without breaking its hold.
One of the major downsides to this style of anchors is that the claw has a lower holding power per pound, which means that you will likely need a heavier anchor than you would of another design.
Among blue water cruisers, the plow anchor remains a popular choice even though it is one of the oldest anchor styles on the market. These are available either with a hinge (known as the CQR) or without the hinge (referred to as the Delta). The plow is also commonly the standard boat anchor installed by manufacturers and, by extension, is likely the most popular anchor on the market.
Plow anchors work by “digging in” to the surface when it is dropped into the water and then pulled. Because of this, plow anchors are not as effective on the soft or loose ground because they can be pulled right out with enough force. Even with this downside in mind, however, these types of boat anchors are responsive to the wind and tide changes.
Another trait of the plow anchor is that they are rarely found in weights under twenty-five pounds, which means that often they will be a heavier anchor than another that might be able to perform equally well for your vessel.
Fluke anchors, also known as “Danforth” anchors, work by using flukes on each side of the anchor to dig in and bury both itself and part of the anchor line. These are common on smaller recreational boats because they are relatively light for the amount of holding power they can muster, but can come in weights ranging from two pounds to two hundred pounds.
Because fluke anchors rely on burying themselves from their impact on the water body’s bottom, these types of boat anchors prove to be almost entirely ineffective on harder surfaces like rock or coral. Their best place to be used is on mud or sandy bottoms, where the fluke anchor will be able to show just how effective it is. Fortunately, most bottoms are made up of these materials. Even those boaters who do not use these as a primary anchor often have a fluke anchor as a secondary or stern anchor.
This is not an anchor type you will see very often outside of very large ships, as they rely primarily on their weight to hold the vessel in place – which means you will need a heavy kedge anchor for it to be effective. This is the more “traditional” or stereotypical style of anchor you will see, with a long stock and two or more fluke arms projecting from the stock.
Kedge anchors, also called “navy” anchors, work by digging one of the fluke arms into a crevice below. Unlike many other types of anchors, these actually do not bury both of their flukes into the bottom, but rather bury one and leave the other exposed. Because of this, loose surfaces are not ideal for these types of anchors as they will not be able to adequately dig in to provide their full holding power.
Yes, mushroom anchors get their name from their shape. They look something like upside-down mushrooms. These are used extensively for permanent moorings, such as buoys and beacons.
At the beginning of setting these anchors in place, the most effective material for them to be dropped on is a softer substance such as sand or dirt. This allows the small indent on the “cap” of the mushroom anchor to create a powerful suction link. Over time, as sediment builds up around them, they can create a very strong holding power.
Mushroom anchors are generally not appropriate for temporary holding, except for on smaller watercraft. This is because the largest part of their holding power is developed over time, rather than all at once as is the case with most boat anchors.
Grapnel boat anchors are popular amongst fishermen and in the smallest vessels such as canoes and dinghies. These will most often be made of either bent rebar or some kind of galvanized metal. Generally, the ones made of galvanized metals fold up to a very compact form and are easy to stow on a smaller boat. These are generally going to be your most inexpensive anchor but may not have much-holding power.
Grapnels work best in bottoms where they have something to grip on to, like a large rock or outcropping below. This is where all of their holding power comes from. This can also work against the boat’s occupants as it can make the anchor difficult to retrieve. It is also generally accepted that grapnels can make to be good lunch hooks, but for anything more permanent than that they will fall short of their intended goal.
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