Apart from a lifejacket and a bilge pump, the anchor is perhaps the most important device to have on hand when boating or sailing. It is a life safety device, an emergency device, and a comfort device all in one. You can’t park your boat like you can your car, so you’ll have to use an anchor from time to time, if you want to stay in the same general area.
The type of anchor you use can vary a lot, depending on the size and type of boat, the location of the boat, and the type of bottom material you’ll be anchoring into. Generally, it’s best to have an anchor on hand that will be effective in the widest variety of environments you’re likely to be encountering. But it some cases, you may want to have multiple anchors on board that can be used in different circumstances.
In this article, we’ll look at the various types of anchors, and zoom in on which ones are most effective in which environments and use cases.
Now don’t drift off, we’re just getting to the good stuff!
What is an Anchor?
- Pop Quiz: Name that Anchor
An anchor is a device attached to boats with a chain or rope to help the vessel stay in place. Almost universally made of metal, anchors vary in their design depending on the type of boat you have and the area you plan to use it in.
Types of Surfaces an Anchor Works With
When selecting an anchor to use, it’s important to consider the surface you plan to secure it in.
Mud tends to be very thin which can pose a problem if you don’t use the right anchor. A mud anchor usually needs to be tilted to a 32-degree angle in order to fully secure itself to the ground.
Sand is one of the most common surfaces an anchor needs to work with. Because it’s so soft, it’s easy for anchors to secure themselves into it.
Rocks can hold an anchor well, but it’s important to have a sharp anchor that can dig in between them. A plow-shape anchor is best for a rocky surface as it quickly pokes into the rocks.
Grass is a challenging surface to use an anchor in. This is because the anchor might twist itself into roots rather than into the ground. Because of this, it’s important to use an anchor that can cut through roots and grass.
Some surfaces might be made of clay. Clay is very difficult for some anchors to attach to because it’s so compact. Due to this, there are special anchors designed specifically to be used in clay and feature extremely sharp tines that pierce through the ground.
Coral is a pretty similar material to anchor into as rock. For the most part, anchors that work well in rock will work well in coral.
Types of Anchors
You’ll find a vast selection of anchor types available for you to use.
The box anchor is a relatively new design that works quite well in a wide variety of conditions. It is a solid general-purpose anchor, and while it can be quite sizable when opened for anchoring, it folds up into a surprisingly small area when it’s time to store.
One of the big advantages of the box anchor is that it is exceptionally easy to set and retrieve. It attaches quickly in most soil types, including rocky soils. You often don’t have to move much at all for your box anchor to secure. And when it’s time to retrieve, it pops out of its hold quite quickly.
Most box anchors come with a cover bag, and can be easily stored away after use.
Best For General Use for medium or large boats
Also known as a fluke anchor, the Danforth anchor features two flat triangular grooves on the edge of it. This anchor is very lightweight and works well in mud and sand. The two fluke prongs attach quite well in muddy and sandy bottoms — which are by far the most commonly encountered types of ground. The Danforth is easy to work with, and easy to stow, making it a great general purpose anchor.
However, it functions poorly in rocky, grassy, or coral conditions
If you only want to have a single anchor on your boat that will work in a wide variety of circumstances, the Danforth fluke anchor is probably the one you’re looking for.
Best for Mud, Sand, Best all-around
Hinged Plow Anchor CQR
The hinged plow anchor, also known as the CQR Anchor (think “secure”), is designed to be used for heavy boats. It’s quite durable and tough. The bottom of the anchor features a sharp flat plow edge which helps it to cut through grass, rocks, and mud. Hinged plow anchors are usually made of steel, with many made in stainless.
These plow anchors are among the most common anchor types around, and are often supplied with boats when purchased. They work well in grass and muddy conditions, but don’t perform great in rocky environments. They are less compact than Danforth anchors, but they do function with most bow rollers. Not bad for a starter anchor.
Best for grass, mud, general-purpose use
A fisherman anchor, commonly made by brands like Rocna or Mantus, features a sharp triangular bottom that has a small handle forged into the top of it. It can be used in all surfaces and helps to keep your boat not only secure to the ground. This design prevents the anchor from moving around due to heavy wind. A fisherman anchor is made of steel and can be used for overnight trips.
When it comes to anchoring in rocky, corally conditions, it’s hard to be the fisherman anchor. The shape and design of these anchors makes them easy to set, and particularly strong in rocky conditions. Even if you don’t use this one all the time, it can be helpful to have a fisherman’s anchor around when you need it.
Best for Rocks, Coral
Like the Box anchor above, the Vulcan is a relatively new design for an anchor, in this case by Rocna. The Vulcan anchor has specialized fluke with a ballast that is designed to keep the anchor upright without needing an extra-wide fluke. This design allows the Vulcan anchor to function pretty well with all types of bows and does not interfere with bow pulpits or protrusions.
Addtionally, it functions nicely with most bow rollers.
Best for general use, sandy and muddy conditions.
Also known as the Bruce anchor, the claw anchor is designed to do heavy-duty work and is often used on large boats. It features one sharp piece in the middle that is surrounded by two curved edges. This design helps it to quickly secure itself to various surfaces, including clay.
While it can be very heavy, a claw anchor makes sure to keep your boat secure even during high tide and strong wind.
Claw anchors are multi-purpose anchors. They are generally considered slightly worse than Danforth anchors at attaching to muddy or sandy bottoms, but slightly better at attaching to rocky bottoms. They don’t store as easily as Danforth anchors, though play nicely with bow rollers.
Best for General Conditions with more rock/coral than typical
The stockless anchor was one of the first anchor designs in the world. It’s known for its strong grip and doesn’t tend to be as heavy as other models. A stockless anchor features two flukes curving off its sides and a socket in the middle which helps it to sink. On the bottom of this socket are small palms which help the anchor to secure itself to the ground.
Best For Huge Boats. Not commonly used in recreational boats
A grapnel anchor looks a lot like a grappling hook, and you could probably use one to storm a castle in a Peter Jackson film.
These lunch anchors feature typically 4-5 tines that grip to various surfaces on the bottom. They work pretty well in rocky conditions, but also will hold decently in mud and grassy conditions.
Grapnel anchors usually fold up into a small space, and are quite compact and convenient to work with and store.
Best for small boats as a lunch anchor. Works well in rocky conditions
This type of anchor is designed to be used in sand or very fine surfaces. A mushroom anchor looks like a mushroom as it has a long rod connected to a circular bottom. This circular bottom works as a suction cup which helps the anchor to stay secure wherever it is placed. Eventually, sand can cover the top of the mushroom anchor helping to keep it fastened to the ground even more.
These work great for small boats as a “lunch anchor”. They’re not designed for strong holding, but will keep a small craft in place for a time in calm winds. They’re super convenient, compact, and easy to work with. They’re commonly sold with a vinyl coating.
Best for small boats in muddy or sandy ground
Common Anchor Materials
Anchors can be made of many different materials. Below are three of the most common.
Anchors are traditionally made of steel. This is because steel tends to be very durable and economical. Steel anchors are also coated in zinc which helps to prevent them from rusting. The galvanized finish can wear off over time, which will slowly degrade the anchor.
Stainless steel isn’t just for appliances! It’s also often used on anchors, as well as other bits of boat trim. Of course, stainless steel is quite expensive, relative to galvanized steel, and many other materials. However, stainless doesn’t perform any better than less expensive options.
If you’re looking for looks, it’s hard to beat stainless steel on the deck of the boat. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But keep in mind that the stainless finish can get scratched and beaten up over time.
Another material anchors are constructed of is aluminum. While it is very lightweight, aluminum anchors aren’t the strongest compared to steel. They also tend to be on the expensive side. Aluminum anchors are pretty easy to maneuver and work with, though.
When you’re not at the dock, you’ll need an anchor to secure your craft. These devices are crucial to have on hand for any boat. They help to keep the vessel secure and prevent it from floating away, and are especially important in hazardous conditions.
Pick a good anchor for your boat (or multiples!) and you can feel comfortable that you’ll be able to deal with whatever conditions you face.