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Which Anchor Is Right For You?

There are a plethora of types and brands to choose from. Here's a guide to help you select the best one for your needs.

All anchors are designed to hold your boat in place by using the weight of the anchor, hooking the bottom, burying into the bottom, or a combination of all three. That said, choosing the right one relies on a number of considerations, from the style and size of your boat to the type of bottom you'll be anchoring in (e.g., mud, grass, sand, rock), as well as wind and water conditions you expect to encounter.

While an anchor's weight is important, even more so is its holding power. A modern, well-designed lightweight anchor can provide significantly more holding power than a heavy, older model that relies more on weight than design. Here's a list of common anchor types, uses, and pros and cons.

Fisherman

Fishermans anchor illustration

Narrow fluke, hook-type anchor relying on weight as much as how deep the flukes dig in. The traditional or fisherman's anchor (also called yachtsman anchor) is a good example.

Pros:

  • Versatile choice for a wide variety of bottoms depending on the width of its flukes: Narrow flukes best for rock, coral, grass, hard sand. Wider flukes (often called Herreshoff anchors) better in medium to hard sand and clay bottoms

Cons:

  • Doesn't perform well in soft sand or mud
  • Awkward to stow, though modern take-apart versions make stowage easier
  • Can trip with current/wind reversal
  • The "lazy" fluke can foul the rode during tide or current shifts

Fluke

Fluke anchor illustration

Burying-style anchor relying on broad flukes rather than weight for holding power. Traditional Danforth anchors and newer Fortress Marine anchors are ­popular examples.

Pros:

  • Large flukes hold well in clay, mud, sand
  • A pipe-like stock keeps anchor from twisting and pulling out as boat shifts
  • Lighter design is attractive. Popular choice for boats with dedicated anchor locker (bow riders, midsize and larger fishing boats), or those with ample on-deck storage or bow roller

Cons:

  • Less effective in rock and grass
  • Can be difficult to retrieve once fully buried
  • If direction of pull goes past 180 degrees, it likely will break free (and usually reset itself in the new direction)
  • Awkward to stow on deck with lots of angles to snag lines and toes

Plow

Plow anchor illustration

A stockless, single-point anchor named after its shape, which resembles a farming plow. Either a hinged or solid shank. Popular examples: CQR (a name derived from "secure"), Rocna, Delta, and Manson Supreme.

Pros:

  • Performs well in sand, stiff mud, shell, mud/gray clay
  • Many consider it the ideal overall anchor for vessels larger than 30 feet. Not the best in any one type of bottom, holds well in all
  • Easiest to stow and deploy on boats with bow roller and dedicated anchor locker

Cons:

  • Holding can be marginal in bottoms with moderate to heavy grass.

Claw

Lewma claw anchor

While similar to the plow, instead of single-point penetration, claw anchors have a scoop design. Bruce and Lewmar are good examples.

Pros:

  • Performs well in varied bottoms (sand, mud, light grass, etc.)

Cons:

  • Not ideal for rocky bottoms
  • Due to size and weight, claws are more easily stowed and deployed on boats with bow roller and dedicated anchor locker

Grapnel

Grappnel anchor illustration

Similar to those nifty clawed hooks ninjas use to climb palace walls in the dead of night, grapnel anchors typically have at least four large arms or flukes. Spike or "grabber" anchors (a variation of the grapnel) typically have five or more shorter, fixed spikes or prongs attached to a centrally weighed shaft or base.

Pros:

  • Popular choice for smaller craft (e.g., dinghies, kayaks, PWCs.) due to light weight and ease of stowing. Most have folding arms and can be tucked away
  • Works best on rocky or weedy bottoms where arms have something to hook
  • Particularly useful in heavy vegetation where one or more flukes can penetrate the bottom while the outside ones hook into the vegetation

Cons:

  • Poor performer in sand and mud
  • Considered only a temporary anchoring solution

Box

Box anchor

With its shape-derived name, the box anchor is a square unit with eight angled flukes (four per side, two each at front and back) providing holding power by maximizing surface area contact with the bottom. Once deployed, the anchor's scoop design allows the narrow panels to set cookie cutter-like into muddy bottoms.

Pros:

  • Popular with pontoon owners, it requires no chain, sets quickly, retrieves easily, folds flat for storage
  • Easier to use than many other anchor styles when deployed. Harder to handle and stow onboard

Cons:

  • Not good for long-term anchoring. When anchoring in areas subject to strong current, high wind, or waves, it can tip forward releasing the back "teeth," reducing holding power.

Mushroom

Mushroom anchor illustration

Named for its shape, resembling an upside-down mushroom, the holding power comes from the weight and the bottom suction generated once buried. Often used as mooring anchors. Models designed as boat anchors (vice moorings) will have holes or slits in the circular bowl or "cap" area to help release this suction and make retrieval easier.

Pros:

  • Works best in silt or muddy bottoms
  • Ideal for canoes, jon boats, other small craft

Cons:

  • Not good for bottoms where it will have trouble burying itself (rock, weeds, hard sand)

River

River anchor

Derived from the mushroom anchor and similar in shape, it has broad flukes rather than a simple bowl-shaped mushroom cap. These flukes (with rounded, rather than pointed ends) allow the anchor to grab, hold, and penetrate the bottom better than regular mushrooms.

Pros:

  • Works well in soft bottoms, but in a pinch can give decent service on rougher bottoms (e.g., weeds, rock)
  • Like the mushroom, good for use aboard canoes, jon boats, similar small craft

Cons:

  • Not suitable for larger boats
  • Not suitable for extreme or long-term anchoring. Should only be used for short-term anchoring under moderate conditions

Anchor Pole

PowerPole anchor

This flexible "spike" lets you silently "spud down" over your favorite shallow-water anchorage (8 feet or less). It's deployed via a folding hydraulic arm. One anchor pole can hold you in place, but installing two allows you to temporarily position the boat regardless of prevailing wind and current directions.

Pros:

  • Typically found on bass boats. Can be installed on most any fishing boat anchoring in shallow waters

Cons:

  • Not suitable for extreme or long-term anchoring. Should be used short-term under moderate conditions only

Author

Frank Lanier

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine

Frank Lanier is a marine surveyor with over 30 years of experience in the marine and diving industry. He holds a 100GT master's license, and has captained and maintained many different types of vessels.