Boat Anchors How To Anchor A Boat

Boat reflection
Boat reflection (Photo credit: Jesper Hauge)

If you’re like me, you figure anchoring your boat is just a matter of throwing the anchor overboard and letting it sink to the bottom. “Splash” and it’s done. Well, not exactly, there is a little science to boat anchors and anchoring properly.

Anchoring a boat depends on factors like the wind, the type of boat, and the lake bottom.

It’s also important to have the right anchor. Over the years I have accumulated an assortment of boat anchors, some good some not so good, depending on the situation. Here are a few of the anchors I found in the shed this morning.
"boat anchors"
A boat anchor is indispensible if your boat engine breaks down, particularly if it is windy. Having an anchor will allow you to hold the boat in position until you get it going again or help arrives. Anchoring will keep you from blowing into the rocks or shallow water.

A good boat anchor is also nice to have if you just want to stop your boat somewhere, maybe in a quiet cove on your lake and enjoy a warm afternoon.

Properly equipped boat anchors and line consists of an anchor, a piece of chain between the anchor and the line and the line or anchor rope.

In nautical terms the three together are called “ground tackle” although in my world it’s usually referred to as the %$%$#-anchor, as in “Throw the %$%$#-anchor over before we drift into those @#@-&*%# rocks!!”

How Long Is Your Rode?

For larger boats, the boat anchors should have a piece of chain attached to it with shackles, which is then attached to the anchor rope. This part is called the “rode”.

The depth of the water will determine how much “rode” you need, but typically it is 7-10 times the water depth for proper anchoring. Remember, it is not the weight of the anchor as much as the drag of the anchor that holds you.

Not enough length to your line and the boat will lift the anchor from the bottom and you will drift, more line, or rode, and the anchor will hook into the bottom, holding you.

Anchor Weight

Speaking of anchor weight, it is not as important as you might think. Heavier boat anchors will not necessarily work any better than lightweight boat anchors, it depends on the design. It is not so much the weight as it is the design of the anchor that matters.

Anchor Line

Naturally your anchor line should be strong enough to hold your boat, a good rule of thumb is 3/8″ diameter nylon line for boats up to 20 feet and to 1/2″ nylon line for boats 20 to 30 feet in length. I use 3/8″ inch line for my 20 foot pontoon boat and so far no issues.

The wind or water currents can move your boat around, so when you anchor, be prepared for that. An offshore wind may be holding you nicely, but if the wind comes around, it could turn your boat around and allow you to drift up onto the rocks or shore. Ensure you have enough rode to keep you off shore no matter which way the wind blows.

How Much Anchor Rode To Use

Determine how much anchor line(rode) you need, remember, 7-10 times the depth of the water is the usual rule of thumb. If you are anchoring in a quiet cove that is 10 feet deep, you will need at least 70 feet of anchor line or rode.

“The Annapolis Book of Seamanship,” recommends at least six to 10 feet of chain accompany every anchor rode, although on small boats used in inland waters I personally don’t think a lot of chain is necessary and I doubt many folks have chain on their inland water boat anchor unless it is a pretty big boat.

How To Anchor Your Boat

Move your boat into position upwind of where you want to anchor before you “lower” the anchor. As you lower the anchor and play out the line you will drift back into the place you wanted to be anchored.

It’s important to say “lower” the anchor, don’t just fire it overboard and hope for the best. Lower it carefully and slowly and from the bow of the boat, not the stern or the sides.

When the anchor reaches the lake bottom, give a tug on the line to set it in the bottom. Once it grabs you can tie it off to the bow of the boat at the proper length to hold the boat in position.

Note: Make sure your anchor is securly fastened to your rode or line, and make sure the end of the line is fastened to your boat before you lower the anchor. I have seen anchors thrown overboard without the line attached on several occasions, done it myself too…yup…..

Take note of your position. If you are anchoring along the shoreline or in a river, use a tree or rock as a marker, occasionally checking will tell you if you are dragging the anchor and moving. Your boat may drag the anchor slowly and unless you have noted your original position you may not notice you are moving.

Types Of Boat Anchors

There are various anchor styles and designs available but essentially they consist of three types, Danforth, Mushroom or Plow.

Danforth Anchors

A Danforth Anchor also sometimes called a “fluke anchor” has flukes that pivot back and forth which help the anchor to dig into the lake bottom and take hold, these are good boat anchors for muddy bottoms.

Mushroom Boat Anchors

Mushroom Anchor are good for small boats, such as canoes and inflatables used in soft muddy bottom lakes and rivers.

I personally don’t have much use for one of these as the weight required for my boats make them impractical. However, for some uses, they are OK, small boats and not too much wind or current.

Plow Boat Anchors

Plow Anchor is a good all around anchor that lands sideways on the bottom and then buries itself in the bottom when the line is pulled.

These types of boat anchors are good for most situations especially soft muddy bottoms to weeds and grass. However, if your lake is particularly muddy they may ‘plow’ through the bottom allowing your boat to move and on rocky bottom lakes they can sometimes be difficult to ‘set’ as they bounce over the rocks.

Grapnel Boat Anchors

There are all kinds of boat anchors and names for anchors but essentially they are all based on one of the three designs I mentioned, Danforth, Mushroom and Plow. For example you may hear folks referring to a Grapnel Anchor which is really a type of danforth or fluke anchor with more flukes.

Usually the flukes fold up for storage. This is the type of anchor I use on our boats and have found them to be quite good for holding the boat in the lake and holding my 14 foot aluminum boat in the river for fishing.
"grapnel boat anchor"

Anchor Weight

Weight plays a role in choosing boat anchors, but not as much as you might think, actually it is design and size that matters. The size of the anchor in terms of measurements are more important, bigger is usually better because they have more surface area to grab the bottom.

As a rule of thumb choose a bigger anchor as opposed to a smaller heavier anchor. I have seen lightweight fluke anchors that work much better than heavier mushroom style anchors. But don’t over do it, you probably don’t need a 30 pound anchor to hold your cottage boat.

A heavy anchor may only make dealing with it more difficult, especially if your first mate is a wimpy little guy like me with chicken arms. A properly designed anchor for your bottom type is what is important, you want to choose an anchor that will dig into your particular lake bottom for a good hold.

As with most things, it pays to talk to your cottage neighbors and local boaters to find out what kind of anchor they use. Experience pays off and on most lakes folks will have an idea of the best type of anchor for the lake bottom and the types of boats used on your particular lake. Besides, it’s nice to talk to your cottage neighbors.

“Anchors Away Me Hearties!!” That’s pirate lingo for…um…I dunno what it means, but it’s fun to say in a raspy, tough pirate voice. All I need is a parrot and an eye-patch.


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