How To Choose A Boat Anchor

Learn About Six Popular Anchor Types & Which Is Best For You.


Does your boat have an anchor? If so, is it of sufficient size and strength to hold your boat in place? Believe it or not, many boat owners decide on which anchor to buy based on convenience and storage space, but there is more to choosing an anchor than how handily it stores in the boat.

Anchors come in a variety of shapes and sizes, just like the boats they anchor. The reason why there are so many choices comes down to the weather, type of boat and size, as well as the bottom conditions where the anchor will be used.

Don’t be the guy who digs out the anchor from the storage compartment, tosses it overboard and discovers that it’s too small to hold the boat during an afternoon swim. Before you go, read a little further to understand what you need to know when buying a boat anchor.

Holding Power
It might make sense to choose an anchor based on the weight of the boat. However, anchors are rated by their holding power, or the amount of pull force the anchor must withstand to hold the boat in place. Holding power is formulated based on environmental factors, like wind speed. As a general rule, a holding power of 90 pounds is sufficient for safely anchoring a 20' boat in winds up to 20 mph. For the same wind speed a holding power of 125 pounds is adequate for a 25' boat. This is why anchors that rely strictly on their weight—such as a space-saving, plastic coated 10-pound mushroom anchor—are only capable of generating more than twice their weight in holding power. A 20' fiberglass bass boat using a 20-pound anchor will always drag if design is the only buying consideration.

Anchor Weight
Bigger is better when choosing anchor weight. You won’t need as much for holding the boat in a quiet cove, but you will need much more weight for an emergency situation in the wind. You can also carry two anchors of differing weights. A smaller “lunch hook” is adequate for short anchorages in calm water when you will be keeping watch on the anchor. You’ll also want to have a larger “working anchor” for overnight trips or when going ashore in gusty winds. Using two differing anchor styles can also be beneficial, especially with high-profile boats like pontoons.

Bottom Conditions
Holding power and weight are only as good as the anchor’s ability to penetrate the bottom. Anchors easily penetrate hard sand bottoms, which offer consistent holding power. You get less in mud, which the anchor must penetrate to reach a harder secondary bottom material. Anchor weight is more important than design in difficult grassy bottoms. 

Anchor Styles

Fluke Anchor Type

1 | Fluke Anchor

Danforth, or fluke-style anchors, are the top choice for most recreational boats with overall lengths of 30' or less. Fluke anchors provide sufficient holding power considering their small size. By design, they fold flat and are easy to stow in storage compartments. The anchor arm, or stock, buries itself after the pointed flukes dig into the bottom. For those reasons, fluke anchors are best in hard sand and mud. The flukes can’t penetrate rocky bottoms and are not recommended for slick, grassy bottoms. Loose mud or clay can foul the flukes and prevent bottom penetration.

Navy Anchor Type

2 | Navy Anchor

The Navy anchor gets the nod for filling in for what the fluke anchor lacks. Navy anchors have long stocks and distinct arks and flukes. They are ideal for heavy grass, weeds and rocky bottoms where one arm can take hold of a crevice. 

Grappling Anchor Type

3 | Folding Grappling Anchor

What grappling anchors lack in holding power they make up with size and design. They are compact and fold up for storage in small spaces. Grappling anchors are commonly used on jon boats, canoes, kayaks and aluminum skiffs.  

Plow Anchor Type

4 | Plow Anchor

The low center of gravity and self-righting geometry of a plow anchor mean it will set nearly immediately. When the current catches the plow, it buries itself for a solid hook. The plow’s shape allows it to reset easily should the wind or tide swing the boat. Plow anchors are well suited for rocky bottoms, weeds and grass, but they are not recommended for soft bottoms. This anchor’s high holding power makes it ideal for windy conditions on open water.

Claw Anchor Type

5 | Claw Anchor

Claw anchors have great holding power for their size. Modeled after oil-rig anchors in the turbulent North Sea, the downsized boating version sets effortlessly and holds in a variety of bottoms. Claw anchors are ideal for the windy conditions for which they are designed. They will hold no matter how much the boat swings around on the hook. Claw anchors are the obvious choice for large, open bodies of water. 

Mushroom Anchor Type

6 | Mushroom Anchor

Ideal for canoes, kayaks and jon boats, the mushroom anchor works best in soft bottoms, where it creates penetration based on suction. Makes a decent lunch hook anchor, but is not recommended as the primary anchor.   

Bonus: Anchor Lines & Shackles

Anchor line and dock line

Anchor Lines: Ropes & Chains

The anchor is only as good as the line used for connecting it to the boat. Never use ski rope or materials other than chain or lines that are designed for attachment to anchors. Choose anchor lines the same way you do the anchor—according to boat size, type and weight. Three-strand twisted nylon can retain holding power amid the constant tugging of the anchor line. Choose chain for rocky or coral bottoms, and connect it to a longer length of nylon line back to the boat. The chain adds weight while the short length will make it easier to pull up. Use one foot of chain for each foot of boat length. Before you head out, you also need to know how much anchor line you need. Use a ratio of 7:1, or 7 feet of line for every foot of anticipated water depth. For example, you would need 70 feet of anchor line in 10 feet of water. Make sure the anchor and line are attached to each other using adequate hardware.


Anchor Shackle

Anchor Shackles

Anchor shackles do the trick of coupling an anchor to a line, and are available in standard and straight configurations.


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