How to anchor a boat

  • Found In: Boating Tips, Fishing Tips

How to anchor a boat

When you’re dropping down the anchor, a lot can go wrong…

Your hand or leg could get stuck in the rope and you could get pulled overboard…

You could drop the anchor on your deck and be in for an expensive repair job…

You could not tie the anchor on your boat correctly and lose your anchor…

And those are just a few of the things that could go wrong!

Bottom line is, when it comes to anchoring your boat, you need to know what you’re doing.

So we’ve got Salt Strong fishing coach Capt. Mark “Hollywood” Johnson from Florida Keys Fun Fishing to drop some knowledge on us about boat anchors.

In this video you’ll learn:

  • Why boat anchors need chains (and what happens if they don’t have one)
  • The top mistakes newbies make when they deploy their anchors
  • Two popular types of anchors (and which one Capt. Johnson uses for his fleet of boats)
  • The formula for knowing how much rope you need in every depth of water for every condition
  • The top mistakes newbies make when they pull up their anchors
  • And much more!

Watch the video below.

(P.S. want to catch more fish while you’re out on the water? Check out our Insider Club here.)

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Two Popular Types Of Anchors

How to anchor a boat

Two of the most popular types of anchors are the danforth anchors and the snowplow, or claw anchors.

The danforth anchor is best for hard bottom, but not as good for grassy bottom because it can often get clogged with grass and not catch.

On the other hand, the snowplow anchor works well for both bottoms.

However, one thing to remember is that with the snowplow, it’s important to use a reef trip (see the video at 6:20 for more information on reef trips).

Getting The Anchor To Stick

When it comes to getting the anchor to stick, there are two things to keep in mind:

  1. Always use a chain
  2. Have enough scope

Many inexperienced boaters don’t have a chain on their anchor and wonder why their anchor often doesn’t catch.

The weight of the chain decreases the angle of the anchor relative to the boat.

It lets the anchor lie closer to the bottom, which is what allows it to catch.

If it’s sticking straight up, it will have a much tougher time catching.

Another thing that decreases the angle of the anchor relative to the boat is the scope, or the amount of rope let out.

A good rule of thumb is that for calm conditions, you need to have three feet of rope for every one foot of depth.

So if you’re in 10 feet of water, you’ll need 30 feet of rope.

If you’re in windy conditions, or an area where there is a lot of current, you’ll need five feet of rope for every one foot of depth.

So if you’re in 10 feet of water, you’ll need 50 feet of rope.

This will help ensure the anchor sticks to the bottom.

Dropping The Anchor

Capt. Mark sees two big mistakes when it comes to droppping an anchor:

  1. The rope is being pulled from the bottom of the coil, or from a rets nest
  2. Throwing the anchor overboard

If your anchor line is not in a nice coil with the rope closest to the anchor on top of the coil, you could be setting yourself up for failure.

This is how knots happen, which can lead to bad news if you’re trying to undo a knot while the anchor is trying to stick to the bottom.

The other mistake is that people try to throw their anchors overboard.

If you drop it, or don’t throw the anchor far enough and it lands on your boat, you could be in for some expensive repairs to your boat.

Instead, when you’re dropping the anchor, you want to lower the anchor overboard and then let the line out, being careful to keep it away from your feet.

Finally, when you have enough scope, be sure to tie your boat off to the cleat and remember to always finish it off with a lock.

Pulling Up The Anchor

How to anchor a boat

The final step in properly anchoring your boat is pulling the anchor up.

When you’re pulling up the anchor, make sure to have a partner drive the boat to above where the anchor is while you pull in the rope and coil it on the deck.

Once you get to the anchor, start pulling the anchor up by using your arms and legs (and not just your back).

If it pops off the bottom easily, great!

But if not, tie the anchor to the cleat, put the boat in gear, and use the boat’s motor to pop it off (your back will thank you).

Pull the anchor up, and once it comes to the surface, swing it out and over the side of the boat.


How to anchor a boat

So there you go!

That’s how you safely and properly drop down an anchor.

Have any questions about anchoring your boat?

Let us know in the comments below!

And if you know someone who needs help anchoring their boat, be sure to TAG or SHARE this with them!

P.S. Want more tips like this from Capt. Mark and the Salt Strong coaches to help you catch more fish and find the best fishing spots (and get discounts on fishing gear!)? Join our Insider Club here.

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  • Weekly “spot dissection” videos that walk you through all the best spots in certain areas
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  • Everything you need to start catching fish more consistently (regardless if you fish out of a boat, kayak, or land).

Three ways to set an anchor.

One anchor is good, so two should be better, right? But how you deploy two sets of ground tackle depends on your situation and a number of variables, including the wind, water depth, sea state, and other boats in the area. For example, do you set both off the bow, or one off the bow and the other off the stern?

How to anchor a boat

1. Bahamian Moor
One way to limit the amount of swinging a boat does when at anchor is to use the Bahamian moor, which basically consists of two widely spaced anchors off the bow. Start by anchoring into the current, and then backing down to set the first hook. Continue reversing to twice the distance you ultimately plan to use for your rode. Drop the second anchor directly down-current from the first; make sure it’s set, and then position yourself halfway between the two. On some boats, it might be easier to use a stern cleat to set the second anchor because it keeps the rode away from the propellers. Once the second anchor is set, you can then transfer the line to the bow. The biggest concern with establishing a Bahamian moor is slack on the lines because that can lead to fouling one of the rodes in the boat’s running gear.

How to anchor a boat

2. Not Quite Beached
My boat has two outboard motors with the water pickups on the bottom of the lower units instead of higher up on the legs. As a result, I don’t like to beach the boat. When I head to the popular sandbar on Sebago Lake, I back in so the bow can ride over incoming boat wakes. I set the anchor to put the boat in a position where the kids and I can hop off easily. Then I drive a Slide Anchor ($69.99, spike-style anchor into the sand at the shore to secure the stern line. This technique would also be good for watersports tow boats with fixed running gear.

How to anchor a boat

3. Double Anchoring
Another approach to anchoring just off the beach is most easily accomplished with a crew. Have a crew member drop the bow anchor offshore, positioned to allow the boat to be where you want it when it’s moored. He or she then pays out rode as you slowly idle bow first into shore, setting that anchor, but ­continuing on. Next, shut off the motors and raise the drive or outboard. Have the crew either drop the bow anchor or jump off and plant the bow anchor by hand. You pull the boat into the desired position by adjusting the length of the forward rode. Your crew adjusts the anchor on the beach and secures the boat in place by tightening the second rode.

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How To Moor A Boat

While out and about on your personal watercraft, there comes a time when you need to “park” your boat. There are a handful of ways to do this, all of which are considered mooring. If you’re new to boating, however, then it is vital that you learn how to moor a boat the right way.

What Exactly Is Mooring?

Mooring is both a noun and a verb. A mooring is a fixed structure that you can secure your vessel to, such as a buoy or a wharf. Jetties, quays, and piers are also included in this category. The ropes, chains, or anchors you use are also considered moorings.

As a verb, it is the action of mooring your boat using these structures and tools. Mooring is a popular way to park your boat long-term as well as a more financially viable option. However, there are a few risks you should know about beforehand.

Considering today’s power boat prices, it’s worth knowing when to moor and when to simply dock. More so, improper mooring can cause severe damage to your vessel as well as any ships nearby. Even with the best of insurance, that’s a hassle most cannot afford.

Types of Mooring

Different moorings are designed for various types of weather and water conditions. Take the simple concrete block, for instance. This type offers the least hold but comes in handy on calm waters for short periods of time. Then there’s the helical anchor, which is screwed into the ocean floor and meant to keep your vessel safe during the toughest of storms.

Knowing which type of mooring to use in varying situations is essential to protecting your investment. Luckily, the differences don’t require a degree to understand. Think of moorings on a scale from light to heavy, or weakest to strongest. Specifically, you need to know the weight of the anchor.

The Anchor

Lighter vessels in calmer waters benefit from Danforth anchors, which dig into the bottom of hard sand and mud to hold recreational vessels. Massive navy vessels utilize a Kedge or Navy anchor for the immense weight it provides while cruising vessels use plow-style anchors for their versatility.

The most common type of mooring anchor is the mushroom, which can weigh up to several thousand pounds. Their shape also creates an added suction to the bottom of the sea floor, so long as it is soft. These are usually attached to buoys.

When learning how to moor a boat, the type of anchor you use is step one. How these anchors dig into the seabed, and their weight are vital to keeping your vessel secure. The price of a quality anchor suited to your usual boating waters should always be factored into the cost of your ship, which you can determine with a boat payment calculator.

The Gear

Equally as important to the anchor you use is the gear you connect your vessel with. That starts with galvanized chain in two forms: heavy and lightweight. The heavy chain connects to the anchor via a galvanized shackle and rests on the ocean floor. Its length is equal to 1.5 times the water’s depth, adding a significant amount of weight to the mooring.

The lightweight chain connects to the heavier chain with a swivel shackle. This chain is lifted by a buoy in most cases, allowing the motion of the water to rock the chain but not your boat. The light chain’s length is equal to the maximum depth of the water you’re in.

Next is the buoy itself, which absorbs motion from the waves and wind while bringing your chain to the surface. You don’t always need a buoy, but using one is highly recommended when mooring for the safety of your ship.

Finally, there’s a mooring pennant. This rope is made from three-strand nylon and connects your boat’s hitch to the buoy. Pennants are made from various materials for different purposes, as well. Double-braid polyester provides extra strength, Dyneema line is used in high-performance situations like commercial fishing, and stainless-steel wire is a budget-friendly alternative.

Regardless of which you choose to use, make sure it has a chafe-resistant coating. Chafing can cause your line to break with wear and tear, but it can also cause damage to your boat when the line rubs against the sides.

Remember to keep the connection to your hitch and the buoy relatively short, too. If the pennant is too long, you risk it whipping around in inclement weather and damaging parts of your ship. Smaller boats, for instance, risk damaging their new or used outboard motors with too long of a pennant connection.

Mooring: Step by Step

Now that you know the types of anchor and gear you need for varying conditions, here’s how to moor a boat one step at a time.

• Check the characteristics of the ocean bottom.

• Leave room for other boats above the water and their moorings below.

• Secure your pennant and toss overboard.

• Head into the direction of the wind or current.

• Reduce speed, reverse the engine, then lower the anchor.

• Check the sturdiness of the anchor once it reaches the bottom.

• Double-check your pennant’s connection to your cleat/hitch.

• Turn on the proper lights at night or display the proper signals during the day.

It’s helpful to use two immediate bearings, as well. Place them off the front and back end of your ship, allowing you to see if your boat is dragging the anchor or staying put. Plenty of boating enthusiasts moor to enjoy a day out on the water. So, this simple step allows you to ensure your safety, the boat’s, and anyone sailing with you.

Keep in mind that, in completely calm water with a lightweight boat, a chain or rope tied to something like a cinder block will do just fine in shallow waters. Non-commercial fishers use this method when possible to save cost and time. However, most ocean moorings require far more strength to keep your boat at bay.

A Note About Weather

When severe storms are on the horizon, mooring your boat isn’t always the wisest decision. Strong enough winds and current can drag your boat along with its moorings to shore. In other cases, your boat may end up wrecking into someone else’s.

While it isn’t always an option, store your boat on dry land or at a secure dock whenever possible to avoid these and other damages. Knowing how to moor a boat is highly essential to any enthusiast’s passion, but knowing when to call it a day and leave the water is even more vital. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to As an affiliate, this website earns from qualifying purchases.

Anchoring is a valuable technique that can open new doors to you on the water. If you learn how to properly anchor, you can take your passengers on even more adventures!

However, if you are new to boating, what if you do not know how to set up a boat anchor?

If you’ve been asking this question, we’re here to help show you the proper technique for boat anchoring!

Let’s get started so that you can take your new skills to the water.

How to set up a boat anchor?

Whether you want to toss your ranchor into the water so that you can enjoy lunch on the beach or a quick swim with the kids, or you want to sleep out on the water, you need to know how to properly anchor so that you can stay safe.

Not all anchoring situations are created equal, and there is substantial skill and knowledge required to anchor in different scenarios.

Keep these tips in mind, and you will be well-prepared to anchor.

Take the time to learn the proper techniques before you hit the water so that you can be ready for whatever comes!

To set up your boat anchor, think about the conditions where you find yourself.

How long is the distance from your boat to the bottom? Is your anchor suited for the bottom type that you want to anchor into?

Do you have the proper anchor chain and rope?

All of these factors come into play and affect the success of your anchoring.

Before you drop anchor, decide on the scope that you will use.

As you get more accustomed to boating and the specific area where you want to drop anchor, you will develop a good instinct for this.

However, until that point, plan on using an 8:1 ratio of scope to water depth.

You may need a longer scope at times, but this should cover most scenarios.

Also, before you drop anchor, consider the bottom conditions.

You need to pair your anchor with bottom conditions where it will work well.

If you do not, you may have trouble getting a firm hold, or you may damage your anchor.

Always read the manufacturer’s instructions about how to use your anchor and follow their guidelines to set the odds in your favor.

Also, make sure that your anchor is properly sized for your boat. For example, if you have a small boat, you can use a much smaller ancor than if you were running a commercial yacht.

If you properly size your anchor, you will save yourself a lot of frustration.

Once you have properly set up your anchor, you’re ready to move on to the anchoring process!

What is the proper technique for boat anchoring?

When you are ready to drop your anchor, you want to be sure to follow the proper technique for the situation.

While you may think that anchoring is as simple as throwing the anchor over the side of your boat, this is generally not the case unless you find yourself in the most basic of scenarios.

For medium and large boats, the way that you anchor is incredibly important.

In fact, your technique usually determines the success, or lack thereof, of your efforts.

The proper technique for anchoring calls for you to rely upon your engine.

Make it an active player in your anchoring process!

When you want to anchor, ease off the throttle enough for your boat or come to a stop.

Place your boat over the location where you want the anchor to bury itself into the bottom.

This will give you maximum control over your anchor placement.

Sometimes you may be able to live with quite a bit of variation in your anchor location, but other times you will need to be extremely accurate.

So, always follow best anchoring practices so that you can hone your skills for those crucial moments.

Once you release the anchor, turn the engine back on and slowly move your boat into the direction of the wind and current.

Don’t rush the process. A slow pace will help your anchor set and avoid bouncing.

Move an equal distance to that of your scope, but don’t worry about placing your boat where you want to reside once you are anchored.

If the water is rough, you can allow the boat to drift back to see where you will actually be once you’re anchored.

This is also helpful if you are new to boating.

It can help you get your bearings without going through the entire anchoring process.

Once you have released a length of rode that is roughly equal to your scope, snub the cleat, and test your anchor hold.

If you are worried that the anchor is not set, you can put your boat into reverse at this point to test it.

However, if the anchor is not set, or if it has a weak hold, this can cause it to pull out, and you run the risk of breaking a hold that would have been on its way to setting.

This is a total judgement call, and you will improve your decision making skills as you gain anchoring and boating experience.

When you are sure that the anchor is set, it’s time to secure your line to protect your equipment and to make the boat safe for passengers.

At this point, cleat off your anchor and secure the line using chocks. This will save your above water equipment from beating against the lien.

Travel Tips

How to anchor a boat

Properly anchored, your boat won’t end up drifting onto the beach. (Photo: anchored image by Pix by Marti from )

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Properly anchoring a fishing boat, particularly when you are in open waters, may be essential to your fishing success. A properly anchored fishing boat will ride over the waves, without being pulled under by them—this is called “being in step with the sea.” A fishing boat so anchored will be able to stay in place through the morning and evening changes of current that occur because of the changes in the water’s temperature, and will ride in place should small seas build in a freshening breeze.

Step 1

Make your approach to your proposed anchoring location into the predominant element. If the wind is overtaking the sea, head into the wind. If the sea—waves or current—is overtaking the wind, head into the sea.

Step 2

Reduce your speed to bare steerageway: you should approach your anchorage at the slowest speed at which you can maintain headway and control the boat. Clear away the anchor, making sure that neither the anchor nor the anchor line is tangled, or wrapped around anyone’s leg or arm or a seat.

Step 3

When your bow reaches the point where you wish to drop anchor, reverse the engine until your forward motion stops. Lower the anchor over the bow of the boat—do not drop it.

Step 4

When the anchor touches bottom, allow five to seven times the depth of the water (based on the depth reading from your fish finder or fathometer; this is called the “scope” of your anchor) to pay out over the bow. Tie the anchor line off to a cleat or other fixture on the bow.

Step 5

Reverse the motor to pull on the anchor, both to test it and to set the anchor in the bottom. If the anchor drags (slips without holding), raise and reset the anchor.

  • Throwing or dropping the anchor doesn’t allow the anchor to settle on the bottom efficiently.
  • Keep hands, arms and legs out of any loops of the anchor line. Should the line tighten around you, you can easily be drawn overboard.
  • Dropping anchor in an area where there are coral heads may be illegal.

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to As an affiliate, this website earns from qualifying purchases.

Enjoying a night on your boat is thrilling, and it really helps connect you to the water.

Spending the night on your boat is a beautiful experience, but you need to know how to anchor a boat overnight to enjoy this safely – especially if you intend to sleep on your boat.

To properly anchor your boat overnight, follow these simple tips.

If you learn the basics, you can enjoy spending the night on your boat without any worries about your safety.


Anchoring is more complicated than the simple act of setting your anchor in the water.

Before you can think about dropping anchor, you must first consider the location where you will anchor for the night.

This is a key planning step that you should never overlook. So, how do you choose the best location to anchor overnight?

Choose a location that is free from other boats; select uncrowded areas.

Also, steer clear of passageways and common connection routes.

Anchor in an area out of heavy wind and rough water.


Consider the scope, or the ratio between the anchor rode that you will release and the depth of the water.

If you misjudge this ratio, you may not have enough length, and your anchor will not be able to properly set.

If you drop anchor without enough length, you will not make a good connection with the bottom, and your anchor is more likely to move during the night.

This can lead to many dangerous situations, especially if you are asleep.

While there is not a required scope, you can use a 5:1 scope ratio as a good rule.

By keeping an extra length of rode, you set the odds in your favor that you will have plenty of length to set anchor.

Basically, a higher scope increases your anchoring power, which in turn increases your security when you anchor overnight.

Why is this the case?

A higher scope allows the anchor to set horizontally, which gives it a stronger hold to the bottom.

The stronger the hold of the anchor, the more secure the anchor is set.

Bottom conditions

Once you determine that the bottom is a suitable depth, consider the bottom conditions and their affect your ability to anchor.

Match the bottom conditions to the type of anchor that you intend to use, and make sure that it will set well.

For example, if you want to anchor in a rocky bottom, choose a claw anchor. Or, if the bottom is sandy, consider a plow anchor.

Avoid any underwater dangers such as shipwrecks, logs, sharp rocks, submerged docks, etc.


While we have already discussed depth in terms of scope, you must also consider depth with regard to the possibility of grounding.

You should select a location that is deep enough to avoid grounding for the safety of your ship.

If the location is too shallow and your vessel shifts throughout the night, you could damage the hull.

Be sure to anchor in an area that is deep enough so that this is not a concern.

Also scan the surrounding area for any protrusions that may hit your hull – avoid logs, rocks, and rises in the bottom.

Room to move

While you intend to stay in one location for the duration of the night, your boat will probably move slightly.

Give yourself a wide enough berth to swing in all directions, and allow for slight movement.

It’s always better to give yourself extra room rather than wedging yourself into a tight situation.

Environmental concerns

Choose a location where your craft is protected. Steer clear of trees, strong winds, and any other concerns.

Anchor in lee of the wind if possible.

Consider visibility, and make sure that your boat is in a safe location to weather the night.

Always give yourself a clear pathway to port in case of an emergency.

Chain use

To anchor during a long-stay such as an overnight adventure, it’s a good idea to use a chain for the entirety of the rode.

Chains are sturdier than other materials, and you want the maximum security possible when anchoring overnight.

Using a chain can also reduce the need for a long scope in medium to deep water, and it can help make your anchor hold more secure.

Double anchors

If you want to anchor overnight, it’s often wise to use two anchors for double security and protection.

This gives you an extra layer of safety in the event that one anchor dislodges during the night.

And, using two anchors can hold your boat more securely.

If you are not used to sleeping on the water, you may appreciate the reduced movement afforded by double anchor use.

You can either anchor from the bow and the stern, or you can anchor from the stern and set the other anchor a substantial distance away using a smaller boat and some friends.

Assess the anchor’s set

Once you set your anchor(s) in the setting of your choice, observe the set by watching the boat’s movement.

Set the anchors early in the night. This will give you plenty of time to observe any potential issues that may arise.

If you set anchor as night falls, this minimizes your capability to predict issues before they become a problem.

Set the odds in your favor by allowing plenty of time to test the anchor’s set before you plan to catch up on sleep.

Securing your boat overnight is doable if you use these tips and thoughtfully execute a well-constructed plan.

When sizing an anchor or anchor rode, it’s useful to have starting point and to think of the whole system. This is a table developed by American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) to approximate the expected load on the anchor and the anchor rode for given wind speed and boat length. The complete table appears in Section H-40 of ABYC’s Standards and Technical Reports for Small Craft available at The below table was created more than 50 years ago and it is not clear exactly how it was derived. After comparing this data in this table to work that has been done since we come to the conclusion that the values presented here represent loads expected on the anchor rode if anchored on chain only without the use of the snubbing system. And using a line rode or and adequately designed snubber you can reduce the loads by a factor of 3, by eliminating the shock loads. This is an argument for why its so important to use a snubber but when sizing anchor rode or your anchor, it is important to consider loads as stated in the table. The reason is that we can not rely on the integrity of a snubber in a storm. Should the snubber fail, the integrity of the rode should be sufficient to handle the loads without the snubber.

The ABYC Horizontal Working Load (lbs) Table

How do you intend to use your boat? Do you sail only on calm days with fair weather (Lunch Hook) or are you outfitting for an adventure (Storm) where you might be exposed to hazardous weather at anchor? For example, if you are outfitting a 35 foot boat for you should size the working rode and anchor to safely handle loads up to 1,800lbs if planning a cruising adventure, but the same margin of safety is not necessary if operating day trips from the safety of a marina.

When making sizing recommendations we are generally referring to the needs of a cruising boat spending most of its time on anchor, in doing so we try to envelope high sustained winds (45 kts) and assume poor holding conditions (low viscosity bottoms). Some may think these recommendations to be too conservative especially when compared to sizing tables from other manufacturers. Companies often make claims of superior anchor efficiency, stating that their small anchor X will outperform a much heavier anchor from their competitors and often use sizing charts as a marketing tool to that end, recommending anchors and anchor systems that are dangerously undersized for their intended use. Comparing surface area can be a good judge for potential holding capability. Our anchor sizing recommendations are presented in the table below: