Tips to Smooth Boat Anchoring

The first step in smooth boat anchoring is to select the proper anchor. In spite of claims to the contrary, there is no single boat anchor design that is best in all conditions. On most fishing and charter boats, the four anchor types you will find most are the Plow or Wing, Danforth or Pivoting Fluke, Bruce or Claw andScoop & Ring anchors. Anchors also must have something to attach them to the boat. This is called the anchor rode and may consist of line, chain or a combination of both.

The whole system of gear including anchor, anchor connector, rode, shackles etc. is called ground tackle. The amount of rode that you have out (scope) when at anchor depends generally on water depth and weather conditions. The deeper the water and the more severe the weather, the more rode you will put out. For recreational boaters, at a minimum you should have out 3 to 5 times (3 to 1 scope for day anchoring and up to 4 or 5 to 1 for overnight) the depth of the water. For example, if you measure water depth and it shows 100 feet and, you would multiply 100 feet by 3 to 5 to get the amount of rode to put out. 



    • Select an area that offers maximum shelter from wind, current, boat traffic etc. 
    • Pick a spot with swinging room in all directions. Should the wind change, your boat will swing bow to the wind or current, whichever is stronger.
    • Determine depth and bottom conditions and calculate the amount of rode you will put out.
    • If other boats are anchored in the area you select, ask the boat adjacent to the spot you select what scope they have out so that you can anchor in such a manner that you will not bump into the neighboring vessel.
    • Anchor with the same method used by nearby boats. If they are anchored bow and stern, you should too. If they are anchored with a single anchor from the bow, do not anchor bow and stern. Never anchor from the stern alone, this could cause the boat to swamp or capsize.
    • Stop your boat and lower your anchor until it lies on the bottom. This should be done up-wind or up-current from the spot you have selected. Slowly start to motor back, letting out the anchor rode. Backing down slowly will assure that the chain will not foul the anchor and prevent it from digging into the bottom.
    • When all the anchor line has been let out, back down on the anchor with engine in idle reverse to help set the anchor. (Be careful not to get the anchor line caught in your prop.)
    • While reversing on a set anchor, keep a hand on the anchor line. A dragging anchor will telegraph itself as it bumps along the bottom. An anchor that is set will not shake the line.
    • When the anchor is firmly set, look around for reference points in relation to the boat. You can sight over your compass to get the bearing of two different fixed points (house, rock, tower, etc. ) Over the next hour or so, make sure those reference points are in the same place. If not you’re probably dragging anchor. 
    • Begin anchor watch. Everyone should check occasionally to make sure you’re not drifting. 

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  • Retrieve the anchor by pulling or powering forward slowly until the anchor rode hangs vertically at the bow. 
  • Cleat the line as the boat moves slowly past the vertical. This will use the weight of the boat to free the anchor and protect you from being dragged over the bow. 
  • Once free, raise the anchor to the waterline. 


Below are some of the common problems encountered when setting anchor, and some descriptions of how to avoid them.

Wind Dragged Boat or a Wind Direction Change

This can occur even if you have the right anchor type and size. All it takes is for the anchor to be set not quite perfectly or for the bottom to be poor. Then, a bit of wind will start dragging the anchor. Or, the wind will change direction, causing the anchor to become dislodged. You need to use two anchors set in a V shape at the front of the boat. Then, even if one drags, the other is still tight. If you expect a really bad storm, use three anchors set like a V with an extra line straight out front.

Tight Anchorage

There are degrees of tightness in anchoring. If you have room for the boat to swing around without hitting anything, then you can just use a two anchor V, where the angle between the two anchors is fairly large (between 140 and 180 degrees, closer to 180 for less movement, but requiring larger anchors). This keeps the bow in one place, but allows the stern to swing around, keeping the wind head on (this is usually more comfortable for sleeping.) However, if there isn't room to turn the boat around, either due to other boats, the shore or underwater objects, then you need to set a V anchor set at the front, and an additional anchor at the back. This keeps the boat stationary, but tends to be less comfortable. An alternative, if the wind is coming from the stern, is to put the V anchors at the stern and a single anchor at the front. Sometimes you can use trees on land as one of the anchors.

Tide Lifted Anchor

If you set an anchor at low tide, giving it a reasonable amount of rode, even setting a second anchor, you can still be surprised to find yourself adrift. What happens is that the boat comes up on the tide (which can be as much as 14' or 4.5 m, but more typically around 3 ft or 1 m). This adds six times that length to the amount of rode you need, so 18 ft or 6 m more rode. It doesn't actually lift the anchor, just lets the angle decrease enough that the anchor doesn't hold. The trick to setting an anchor in tidal waters is to know how much extra rode high tide is going to need, or just add an extra 20-30 ft.

Another thing you should think about when anchoring at HIGH tide, is whether you will have enough depth at low tide. You don't (generally) want to ground yourself due to anchoring in too shallow water.