Monday, October 23, 2017

Anchors Aweigh!

April 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 


anchors aweigh 1

Nothing sounds as satisfying to a sailor as the splash of an anchor. I consider it the ultimate nautical security blanket. However, without the right anchor for the job at hand, security quickly turns to anxiety.

The first seaman to set sail thousands of years ago likely attached the heaviest stone he could lift to a vine and heaved it overboard. Anchor designs have changed a lot since then, though no one’s developed a single universal anchor suitable for every recreational boater. Today, there are dozens of high-tech designs covering the variables seagoers encounter such as the weight of the vessel, air resistance from cabins and rigging, and the type of seabed.

Advice for new boaters includes, “Know your local waters.” That doesn’t just mean learning about currents, winds, tides, and obstructions — boaters must know what type of bottom exists (sand, mud, clay, shells, kelp, etc.), whether that bottom is jagged or compacted, and its maximum depth at highest tide. Don’t be puzzled if you discover you boat over varied terrain — some anchors are designed for multiple conditions or you’ll need to carry an alternative anchor as well.

If you boat in an area that’s mostly sand and/or mud, the Danforth (also referred to as a pivoting fluke) anchor provides remarkable holding power. Its twin long sharp flukes dig quickly and deeply, yet its relatively light weight makes it easy to handle and stow. It is also more moderate in price than much of the other specialized (and exotic) stuff on the market.

Plow and scoop (claw) anchors have a single fluke; their design allows a boat to make a full circle around the set anchor and they hold well in many different bottom conditions, making them a good choice for areas that have soil transitions.

It’s not the weight of the anchor but its holding power that counts, and each anchor manufacturer claims superiority. Ask your marina or fellow boaters what type and brand they recommend, then head to a marine store with knowledgeable personnel. Yes, there are charts correlating anchor size and rode diameter to boat length, but treat the chart as a guideline as you also relate the weight of your boat including passengers and resistance (sailboats and power craft with flying bridges exert more pull than runabouts). If in doubt, err on the side of bigger is better, but always keep in mind where your anchor resides when not in use.

Popular anchor rodes (the line and chain attaching the anchor) for smaller craft are usually three-strand nylon. If you have the space and can handle the extra weight of chain, use at least six feet of chain instead of just nylon rope, as it keeps the anchor flat on the bottom. Add an anchor shackle, a critical piece of equipment. Buy grade B galvanized, not stainless steel.

As to that second anchor I mentioned, many experienced blue water sailors carry a yachtsman (also known as the fisherman or Herreshoff). They swear it is the best under all conditions, especially rock and grass, but it is a space hog. Traditionally, the stock was permanently attached to the shank at a 90-degree angle to the flukes, making it too large for chain lockers and a danger to those with bare feet. I’ve had a Luke yachtsman aboard for 30 years; it has a detachable stock so that all the parts store flat together. If no other options are available, a folding/grapnel anchor is good for small craft and dinghies.

Now that you’ve done the homework and bought the best anchor for your boat, take the time to secure that anchor thoroughly. More than one boater has sent an anchor to a watery grave because it wasn’t  secured!

Click Here For A Sidebar Story About Setting and Retrieving an Anchor

By William C. Winslow

The author is the Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the all-volunteer, non-military arm of the Coast Guard, teaching boating safety education and conducting search and rescue operations. Visit to join the Auxiliary or for class information.


Anchor Talk

By Alan Sorum

Close up of old English dictionary page with word anchor

Ground Tackle. An anchor and the gear attached to it is called ground tackle. Ground tackle encourages an anchor to hold on the bottom, absorb shock loads, and hold a boat securely without failing.

Anchor Rode, Chain, and Line. The connection from the boat to the anchor is the anchor rode. The anchor chain is joined with an anchor line that forms the greater proportion of the rode.

Rode Length and Scope. Water depth, bottom conditions, and weather determine the rode length or scope needed to secure a vessel. The longer the rode, the closer an anchor stock will lay parallel to the bottom, making the anchor less likely to drag. The length of rode used to anchor a boat is known as scope and is expressed as a ratio.

Stock and Flukes. An effective rode is formed from a combination of chain and line. Fastening an initial length of chain to an anchor helps keep the anchor’s stock parallel to the bottom, which keeps its flukes engaged with the bottom. The stock is the long arm of the anchor that has the flukes on one end and a connecting point for the rode on the other.


is Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and a freelance writer for marine publications. His work has appeared in Sailing, Wooden Boat, and Good Old Boat; he is also the author of Cat Boat Tales.

Comments are closed.