Anchoring a Sailboat

A Sailors Blog – Sailing Barcelona

Anchoring a Sailboat

Unless you are far offshore you are going to need to park your boat. Your options are to go to a dock, pick up a mooring, or drop a hook.

For us, dropping anchor is most preferable so that means you need to know how to anchor well. This article is intended to provide information about the different types of anchor that are available to aid a good few hours sleep in an idyllic bay.

Just like driving, knowing how to stop the car is the most important thing to understand. Possessing good knowledge on how different anchors perform, should not just be learnt but practiced. Gambling with your family and friends safety, and your expensive yacht on sharp looking rocks, or other people’s boats should never be an option.

This is not going to be an article that covers every single anchor available. So whilst I look to cover a lot of good info to make informed choices, every boat, sailor, sea/river bottom, wind and tidal conditions are different, so consult manufacturers of the equipment and other sailors with similar boats or local people to gain a better understanding of your own circumstances and anchoring conditions, to keep your sailing trips alive. A lot can be learned from what others have experienced as well.

There are more types of anchors available to use than anyone will have a chance to try out unless you’re employed to conduct anchor tests. Nowadays modern anchors are a far cry away from the heavy objects such as stone, used many years ago. These modern day anchors are much lighter and are designed to dig in deeper the harder the boat pulls, using principles of physics and advanced engineering.

There are several types of anchor available to you:
  • The classics that act as hooks
  • Those that scoop
  • Claw shaped anchors
  • Those with flukes
  • Anchors that act as ploughs
The Traditional Hook/Fisherman’s Anchor

There are Grapnels that come with many hooks, and then there is the Fisherman anchor also known as the Admiralty Pattern. The Fisherman anchor is an ancient non-burying anchor design used for hundreds of years aboard all kinds of vessels around the world. Good for penetrating sea beds with rocks, kelp or weed, it has now become more popular as a tattoo or garden ornament, but is still a good ‘rock’ anchor.

Good Features:
  • Sturdy and stable
  • Holds on rock, kelp and weed
Alternative Things To Note:
  • Where will you stow it, and how will you handle it?
  • The pointed flukes could chaff or break an anchor line.
  • It doesn’t hold against dragging on a flat bottom
The Scoop Anchor

Scoop type anchors are a true design advance that perform very well indeed in nearly all cases. They are available in aluminium and galvanized steel. The aluminium versions may become weak but still perform well. The Raya version has an adjustable angle to suit soft and hard bottoms. The spade is a top performing anchor since its inception during the 1990’s. In theory and practice, the harder you pull, the deeper they dig to keep your sailing trip on track. There are a few types of Scoop anchor that come with a roll bar that will flip back into their working position even if dropped onto their backs. The only thing is that the shape of the roll bar scoop anchor can be flatter, compromising efficiency.

Good Features:
  • Will dig deep for excellent holding power
  • Resists dragging
  • Easy to stow on the bow
  • Will set into most bottoms
Alternative Things To Note:
  • They are very expensive
  • Could be difficult to retrieve with a manual windlass
  • They will bring up some of the seabed
Claw Anchors

This is a dainty looking anchor from the 1970’s that will set easily in a variety of conditions and bottoms, apart from weed. However though just because it sets well doesn’t mean it won’t drag if the wind picks up. Some of these are lightweight and you should buy the heaviest you can afford to keep a good piece of mind.

Good features:
  • Sets in most bottom types
  • Sets quickly
  • Reliable due to being a one piece construction
Alternative Things To Note:
  • It has a low drag value
  • Could catch on rocks and is bad in weed
Fluke Anchors

These kinds of anchor come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are a popular second anchor for a lot of boats in the Mediterranean. They can be bought fairly cheaply in comparison to others and stowed easily due to the folding head. Fortress and Guardian make light weight aluminium Fluke anchors giving you a healthy bang for your buck when it comes to holding power versus financial outlay. Danforth produces Fluke anchors since the 1940’s and are made in galvanized steel giving a high performance.

Good Features:
  • A good performer in soft sea beds
  • Stows easily
  • Great holding to weight ratio
  • Aluminium is non-corrosive
  • Not so expensive as most others
Alternative Things To Note:
  • Not as good on hard or shellfish seabeds
  • Can be flimsy and bend
  • Moving parts can fail or jam especially on the aluminium versions
  • On a breakout they may not reset themselves
The Plough Anchor

This has been and still is a very popular anchor with great versatility from the 1940’s. Most people will know of the CQR types available, and the many different versions can come with slots down the shaft so that the anchor line becomes the trip line when passed over for easier removal. Holes in the head can offer a trip line to be attached for easy removal. Convex shapes are available and even bubbles have been placed in the head, designed for first time setting. The versatility means it can be a good choice for sailors that take their sailing trips to many different anchoring points in many different conditions. The designs with a pin between the head and shaft allow the anchor to remain set fast, even if the wind or tide change their direction a bit. This is a moving part though and older types should be checked for wear and possible failure. Beware of cheap Chinese knock offs with this type of anchor. It’s worth bearing in mind though that even after all the good points about this type of anchor, a plough is designed to plough. Buy a big heavy one.

Good Features:
  • Will stabilize itself very well
  • On a breakout it will reset itself
  • High performance in most hard seabeds
Alternative Things To Note:
  • Must be checked for wear and tear of the swivel head
  • Will “pough” in soft mud
  • Heavy to bring up manually

Endnote On Anchor Types And Selection:

Your family, friends and the boat are important, so don’t go cheap or limit yourself with cheap imitations. For your anchor choice it isn’t just about buying the heaviest one you can afford. It should be based on design and holding power, what does it have to resist, and in what conditions?

Two main factors determine an anchor’s holding power, set and hold, the surface area and the depth of seabed above it. Many tests have been performed by yachting monthly, practical sailor and west marine, but there are so many variables involved. It is very hard to simulate real world conditions, but they do try to be as fair as possible.

Anchor rode also played a significant part in which anchor will performed better during the tests. A generally high performing Scoop/Spade anchor will not perform as well as a fortress anchor, with a scope of 3:1, but will at 5:1.

There is a huge difference between an anchor for a dinghy, or a 50ft catamaran in 50 knots of wind and changeable sea conditions.

We have invested in a spade scoop anchor for the bow, because it is the best performer for our Rival 38 sailing around the Mediterranean Sea. For the stern we use a Fortress Fluke anchor, and have kept the Plough anchor for just in case we have a hard sea bed or need 2 anchors from the bow when conditions pick up.

Due diligence is the best of all luck so, anchor as though you plan to stay for weeks, even if you’re intending to leave in an hour!

Happy Hooking, for the rest of your Sailing Trips!

Anchoring a Sailboat