Choosing an Anchor for your Boat

Having the right anchor can be a question of life and death. Choosing an anchor can be challenging, though – there are many designs available these days. In this article, I try to give general guidelines to things you should keep in mind when you make your choice.

Surely, the price of a good anchor can often be a reason for sailors to go for a particular one – however, money really shouldn’t be too much of a matter. Appropriate anchors can be a crucial factor for your safety and well-being on sea. But what exactly constitutes a good anchor?

This is question I can’t answer with certainty in an online tutorial; it depends on two variable circumstances:

1.) The type of boat you are sailing

2.) The seabed you will use for your anchorage

Looking at the type of boat first, I can say that most dinghies don’t really need an anchor at all. In my experience, most daysailors don’t have anchors on their dinghies, but you might feel safer if you carry one when you are sailing on sea. In case an emergency occurs, for example, if you get caught in an unexpected tidal torrent, you can stop your dinghy from drifting off by using an anchor.

Dinghy versus Cruiser Anchors

Generally, you will use anchors that are light and easy to carry. A simple, foldable anchor might be a good idea for dinghies. It doesn’t take much space and can be used with an anchor warp, so there’s no need for a heavy chain. Look into grapnels, they are specifically designed for dinghies and small yachts.

The anchor flukes of a folding anchor can be “locked” away, which is also a advantage for safety reasons if you sail a small dinghy. Talk to people from your area and check what anchors they found suitable for their needs and the local seabed.

If you are looking for an anchor for a cruiser, it’s a completely different matter. Without a question you will need an anchor, in fact, most cruisers carry two: a primary or bower anchor and a secondary anchor, also called kedge.

Cruisers use the kedge for “short” stays under good weather conditions. The bower anchor is generally more “solid” and used for “proper” anchorage. What type of anchor you will choose should depend on the kind of seabed of the area you will sail. For offshore sailing, you should always stick with a heavy anchor.

Differnet anchors for different needs

Looking into different types of seabed, one can distinguish between “soft” ones constituted of shingle or sand and “hard” ones like rock. Common anchors for soft seabeds are the Bügel, Bruce, Britanny, CQR, Danforth or Delta. For a hard seabed, a classic Fisherman’s Anchor will be appropriate.

Take some time to look into different types and how suitable they are for your needs. There are plenty of reviews available in sailing magazines that deal with different types and producers. It’s the sort of nerdy thing sailors love to talk about. You will find different indexes used to determine the properties of a particular anchor.

A common feature for comparisons is based on penetration values. Penetration basically depends on the pressure on the tip and the angle in which the anchor penetrates the seabed. Other reviews the holding surface area of an anchor. Whatever they compare, keep in mind that there is no such thing as the perfect anchor – but there will be an anchor that suits best the specific needs that your boat and your sailing habits define.

Further Reading

Back to "gear"

Parts of a Boat

Wikipedia on Anchors

DMOZ on Anchors for Sailing