Anchors Aweigh

What Type of Anchor to Use?

There really is no definitive answer to that question and it's one of the most debated subjects among boaters. The fact is that there is no one anchor that is ideal for every bottom type and in every kind of condition a boater might encounter. Like all things boating, it's a compromise. There are some anchors that work better in a variety of bottoms and others that have very specific uses. Choose the one you will use based on your cruising area.

The Plow is the most common anchor on the majority of cruising boats. It is one of the most versatile anchors that can be used in a variety of bottom types. It does very well in sand or rock bottoms. It has been the mainstay of local and long-distance cruisers for decades because of its good holding power. It will set quickly in most bottom types and will reset in normal wind and current shifts. The plow may not do well in heavy grass and weed or in a very soft bottom. Some, like the CQR, are hinged, and others, like the Delta, may have a solid shank. The hinged model allows the shank to pivot as conditions change, without breaking the anchor out.

The Claw is very similar in performance to the plow. The unique design allows for lighter weight, and the scoop shape can let the boat swing 360 degrees without breaking out in average conditions. The claw will almost always land on the bottom in the right position to begin digging in immediately. Because of the scoop design, it can become filled with mud or clay and have difficulty resetting in sudden wind shifts. The claw does not do well in grass or weed and offers less holding-power-to-weight ratio. For this reason, they should be oversized.

The Danforth is another very popular anchor for many boaters. It's well known for its light weight, but extreme holding power. This anchor performs best in hard sand or mud and will bury the flukes deep enough to make it difficult to retrieve. The downside of these anchors is that they don't do well in very soft bottoms, clay, grass or rocky areas. They are known for not resetting well and dragging in sudden shifts during windy conditions or in soft bottoms. The Danforth is often carried as a secondary anchor. 

The "Fisherman" or Herreshoff anchor has been around for centuries. Commercial watermen swear by these anchors in storm conditions. They should be oversized and can be difficult to store, deploy and retrieve on a small cruising boat. Newer styles allow them to be disassembled for storage since these anchors are not recommended for daily use. It's very easy to foul the anchor rode in the anchor itself. Because of the weight needed to make this anchor effective, some type of windlass is a must, and the anchor will have to be raised on to the deck for stowage. 

The Grapnel is probably more suited for small boats, dinghies, canoes or kayaks. Unless they are the folding type, stowing is difficult. They are very light weight and are good in rock or coral. Under these conditions, they can be hard to retrieve without a trip line if they find a good spot to hook. The small flukes or "tines" of the grapnel don't have enough surface area to allow for good holding in most other bottom types. The grapnel is more often used to recover lines and other equipment dropped overboard and may be a good addition to your anchor inventory.

The New Generation, or new design, anchors are a welcome addition to any boater's arsenal. Most of the new generation have the same characteristic design. The pointed scoop is designed to quickly dig in to most any bottom type and the roll bar to assist with the correct setting attitude. These anchors are proving to be the most diverse and have excellent holding power for their weight. The new generation anchors do much better in grass and weed than many of the more traditional anchors. Although much more recent on the anchoring scene, they are proving to be superior in many ways. However, they are considerably more expensive.

As you can see, the choices are as plentiful and varied as the anchorages you will encounter. Generally speaking, most folks carry a couple of different types of anchors. What may work well for you on the way down the coast anchoring in mud may not work so well in the sand and coral rock in the Bahamas. Find a couple of anchors that are versatile and work well with your boat, rode and method of stowage. You need to be able to access them and deploy them quickly when necessary. The right anchor for the bottom, when set properly and securely, can make all the difference for a good nights' sleep.

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