All about Anchors.

all about anchors - anchoring for beginners

All about Anchors – A beginners Guide to Anchors and Anchoring.

If you’re an inexperienced boater, anchoring might seem a little intimidating at first. It can feel strange to drop a line into the water and hope for the best. If you’re really not confident worry not! I’ve put together some useful tips that should take the mystery out of anchoring and make it easy for anyone to understand.

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What is an anchor?

An anchor is a device, normally made of metal, used to connect a vessel to the bed of a body of water to prevent the craft from drifting due to wind or current. For millennia, sailors have deployed anchors on their boats. Some of the earliest anchors discovered were just simply large stones.

Why Use an Anchor?

Many new boat owners are reluctant to use an anchor because they don’t know how it works or what it is for. The purpose of an anchor in simplistic terms, is to keep your boat from drifting away. When you drop the anchor into the water, the added weight keeps the boat grounded, and you no longer drift.

Which Anchor should I choose?

Small boat anchors come in a variety of shapes and sizes but in the end, they all do the same job. There are several different styles of small boat anchor which all have their own advantages and disadvantages. It’s important to know what style of anchor is best suited for different seabed types and conditions. It is also worth noting that your proposed general cruising ground may impact on the style of anchor you choose.

The table below shows the major types of anchor.

TypeOther NamesInformationImage
GrapnelA grapnel anchor is a small anchor used for boats, designed for use in
shallow water and rocky bottoms where traditional anchors would be hard to
set or hold.
Plough or PlowDelta, CQRA plow anchor works by dragging a scoop-shaped weight across the seabed, creating furrows that resemble those found in a farmer’s field. This action causes the anchor to dig into the ground to a point where it is unlikely to dig in any further. It is said to be good in Sand and stiff Mud, Grass, and pebble. It is not so good in soft mud or clay. The CQR is a hinged Plow anchor.
ClawBruceThe claw anchor is shaped like a claw, hence it’s name. This anchor type is useful on uneven ground or near rocks, due to its shape it will catch both above. It can be used in a wide variety of water depths and seabeds but does not hold well in mud or clay.
SpadeSpade anchors were developed in the early 1990’s and differ from plough anchors in that they make use of a concave fluke. Excellent holding in almost all types of seabed.
FlukeDanforthThe Fluke anchor has strong holding power. When put under strain the flukes bury themselves very deeply. Best in sand or soft mud, but reduced or no holding in grass, rock, and clay. Can be difficult to set first time.
MushroomShaped like an inverted mushroom and best suited for use in protected inland waters with mud, silt or weedy bottoms.
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Seabed Types.

Admiralty charts use a standard set of symbols to indicate the nature of the seabed in shallow water.

There are generally six types of seabed to consider, all their names are pretty self explanatory.

What is “Anchor Scope”

Ok, you’ve heard the term “ Anchor Scope”, or just “scope” before but don’t have a clue what it means.
Firstly, when using an anchor on a boat, it would usually be attached to a chain or direct to a Rope. Or indeed, both. This is known as the “Rode”. This in turn would be attached to the boat or ship.


The “Scope” is basically the amount of “Rode” paid out in direct relation to the depth of water where you are anchoring. The generally accepted ideal minimum scope is 5:1 (5 to 1), which means that for every metre of depth you would pay out 5 metres of rode. Don’t forget to add the distance from the anchor roller to the water to this figure.
Ideally, although its not always possible, you would be looking at having a minimum 5:1 or 7:1 scope. The higher this ratio the more chance you have of the anchor doing its job.


It is quite common for more scope to be added in bad weather and indeed would be good practice to do so. However, you don’t want to be allowing such a large scope that your boat becomes a nuisance to others when its swinging on the anchor. It pays to be aware of where other people’s anchors might be in relation to their bows, the currents, tide and prevailing wind.

How to set the Anchor.

Using an anchor is this easy.

First things first, if needed, put a member of your crew up front ready to release the anchor. Don’t choose a spot so close to others that your boat might swing into them, or your anchor chain might foul someone else’s.
Choose your spot and try to stop the boat over this spot, taking into account the action of any wind, tide or currents. Always try to anchor heading into the wind or current. Look at the way other boats in the anchorage are laying, it’ll give you a very good clue.

Lower the anchor. (Don’t just throw it in).

Once it hits bottom, allow the boat to either drift downwind or motor very gently backwards whilst your crew pays out the minimum required amount of rode. Try not to pile the chain or rope up on top of the anchor when it is first dropped as this may stop the anchor setting.

When you have enough rode paid out, secure the rode temporarily, You do not want your hands or fingers near the chain or rope at this point as its likely to suddenly become very tight, without warning. And believe me, It can hurt. A LOT! Now motor gently backwards allowing the boat to drag the anchor along the seabed. If you have enough out, the rode should in an ideal world, be pulling horizontally on the anchor, which hopefully has the effect of digging it in.

DO NOT put on too much power, the idea is to dig the anchor in, not pull it out or take it for a bounce along the bottom. When the anchor has set it should effectively stop the boat from travelling backwards.

Now you can secure the rode in a more permanent fashion. It is advisable to add an anchor snubber (sometimes called an “Anchor Bridle”, to take the strain off the chain/windlass fixing point. This is often specially designed open hook, attached to a rope, which when hooked over a link in the anchor chain and secured off via a fairlead, to a cleat, then allows the chain to be slackened, allowing the bridle/snubber to take the strain on the cleats, not the windlass.

The alternative, if no hook is available, is to secure the end of your snubber to the chain using a “Rolling Hitch”. If tied properly it wont move and, unlike the hook method, shouldn’t fall off if the chain goes slack.

Dont forget to raise your Anchor Ball to alert any nearby vessels to the fact that you are at anchor. Also switch on your anchor light at night. (An all-round white light). These are both requirements of maritime regulations.

Remember to set your Anchor Alarm if you are in any doubt whatsoever. This needs to be done at the point you drop the anchor, NOT when you’ve paid out the rode and settled.

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Author: Tony

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