How to Anchor a Boat

One of the basic skills everyone should know when they own or drive a boat is how to anchor the boat. Whether you are anchoring to fish or anchoring to sit and relax or because you have engine trouble, anchoring a boat is an important skill to know. After reading this article, you should be able to follow 7 steps to anchor your boat.

Anchor Types

There are two types of anchors that are often used on small to medium size boats. These two types are Danforth and plow anchors. Be sure to match the size of the anchor to the size of the boat. Don’t think that buying a bigger anchor will solve all anchoring problems. A bigger anchor can often be hard to store and may not be needed. Also, be sure to use your anchor manufacturer guide to know the appropriate size for the boat. The guide will also give you diagrams on how to anchor the boat with that particular anchor.


The Danforth anchor is also called a fluke anchor. This anchor is ideal for a hard, sandy, or muddy bottom. If you plan to anchor in grassy areas, a Danforth anchor is not the anchor for you. It will get grass stuck in it and not catch in the grass. Some positive aspects of the Danforth anchor is that it can fold flat and easy to store. It is lightweight and easy to handle. 


The plow anchor is also called a claw anchor. This is the preferred anchor for professional captains. Especially captains that charter fishing trips. These are more common for heavier boats. A couple of negative aspects of this anchor is that it doesn’t fold, is heavier than the fluke, and can be difficult to store. A couple of positive aspects is that it holds well on most bottoms and resets itself if it is windy.

Ideally, both types of anchors should have some sort of trip line to retrieve your anchor if it gets stuck. You can use a reef trip to break free and pull the anchor up. Zip times, fishing line, and even wire will work sufficiently. 

How to Anchor a Boat

Now that you are aware of the two different types of anchors commonly used on small to medium sized boats, let’s look at the seven steps in anchoring a boat. 

Step 1: Determine Water Depth

Knowing the water depth allows you to know how much scope is needed on the anchor. You can figure out the water depth by using electronics built into your boat. If you don’t have electronics, you can use a rope, marked line, or a float and sinker to measure the water depth.

Step 2: Calculate Anchor Scope

Anchor scope is the amount of rope needed on the anchor. This amount varies according to the wind and water conditions. It is set up in a ratio- Feet of line: Feet of water. Some captains say you need 7:1 scope, others say 3:1 scope.

What we have found to be the best is dependent on wind and water conditions. If the water is calm and there is little wind a ratio of 3:1 is sufficient. If it is windy and the water is rough, we think 5:1 is sufficient. So what this means is if you are in 10 feet of water and there is no wind with little water movement, you will need 30 feet of scope of rope. If you are in 10 feet of water and it is windy and the water is rough, you will need 50 feet of scope of rope.

Now that you know how to find water depth and how to calculate anchor scope, we will move on to Step 3 which is lower the anchor.

Step 3: Lower Anchor

It is very important to be cautious and aware of your surroundings while you are lowering your anchor. Never throw the anchor overboard, the anchor could come back and hit you or hit your boat, causing damage. Lift the anchor over the side of the boat and lower it down carefully into the water, keep the rope away from your feet. Once the anchor hits the bottom of the water, tie the rope off into a figure 8 and end with a lock. Always tie your boat to the bow and never tie it to the stern.

Step 4: Ensure There is No Drag

After you lower the anchor into the water and it has hit the bottom, ensure there is no drag. This can be done by focusing on landmarks or using onboard electronics to monitor movement. You will know the anchor is tight because the nose of the boat will go into the wind. 

Step 5: Reset the Anchor 

If your anchor doesn’t set, reset the anchor. Retrieve the anchor hand over hand and drop again, use caution and keep the rope away from your feet. Let the boat nose move toward the wind to set the anchor

Step 6: Retrieve the Anchor

When you are ready to move to the next spot, you will need to retrieve the anchor. This is another step that it is extremely important to use caution and be aware of your surroundings. Have someone drive the boat over to the top of the anchor. Use universal hand signals to signal to the driver the direction of the anchor. Once you get to the anchor, notify the driver to stop. 

When you retrieve the anchor, use a hand over hand motion. Place the rope in front of your feet, but on or behind your feet. This will help prevent a tripping hazard or getting caught in the rope if you drop the anchor.  Use your whole body to lift the anchor, not just your back. This will also prevent injury. Hopefully the anchor will just pop and you can lift the anchor out and over the gunnel.

This step is where a reef trip would come in handy. If your anchor doesn’t just pop, you may need to pop the reef trip in order to retrieve the anchor. This trip will allow you to pull the anchor from the back of the anchor instead of the front. 

Step 7: Secure the Anchor

Now that the anchor is back in the boat, you need to secure the anchor. Many boats have a compartment for the anchor that is convenient for securing the anchor. If your boat does not have one of these compartments, be sure to secure the anchor on the floor of the boat, not on an elevated surface. This will help prevent the anchor from causing damage to the fiberglass. 

Common Mistakes

Now that you know the steps of anchoring a boat, let’s look at some of the common mistakes made while anchoring a boat.

First, a common mistake made by new boaters is that they pull the rope out of the hatch and lay it upside down on the bow. They pull the rope from the bottom of the pile instead of the top and this causes them to try to untangle the anchor as it is being lowered into the water. If you will pull the rope from the top of the pile, you are less likely to get knots and it is safer to lower the anchor into the water. 

The second common mistake made is they throw the anchor over the side of the boat instead of easing it down. We mentioned this earlier. Easily lowering the anchor over the side of the boat will prevent damage to yourself and the boat. When lowering or retrieving the anchor, the boater doesn’t pay attention to the rope. This is a common mistake and it can be life threatening. If the boater doesn’t pay attention to the rope and the rope gets caught around his/her feet, the anchor can pull the boater overboard. Paying attention to the rope as you lower or retrieve the anchor is very important.

Finally, when retrieving the anchor, the boater doesn’t have someone to help. We mentioned the importance of having a driver while you retrieve the anchor. It makes retrieving easier and safer. 

Chain on the Anchor

The final concept we’d like to mention about anchoring a boat is the importance of the chain on the anchor. Many new boaters like to tie their anchor with a rope and no chain. This is very ineffective. Using chains on the anchor is multi purposeful.

First, the weight and length of the chain helps keep the plane angle of the anchor even with the boat and keeps the chain parallel to the ground.

The other purpose of the chain is to keep the rope from getting damaged. When rope is attached to the anchor, it can chafe on rocks, reefs, and other hard surfaces. This can cause fraying which will eventually make your rope break and make your anchor fall off.

Using about a boat length of chain on your anchor before using rope is a good practice and will help anchor your boat more securely.


Hopefully this article taught you how to anchor your boat and gave you some concepts to keep in mind while anchoring. It is always best to check the manufacturer anchor guidelines as well as your boating guidelines to ensure safe and secure anchoring.


The founder of Catch and Fillet, “Chum Charlie”, has been writing articles within the fishing community for over 9 years. He got his nickname due to his preference for chumming while he is fishing. Chumming is a common practice that is used in the ocean to lure various types of fish to the boat. Chum can consist of various fish parts that attract fish due to its overbearing odor.

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