Updated March 2022
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Buying guide for Best boat anchors

Everyone knows what a boat anchor looks like, right? We’ve all seen pictures since we were kids: a couple of hooks off a central beam. You just throw it over the side of the boat when you want to stay in one place for a while.

The reality of a choosing good boat anchor is quite different, of course. Some of your options depend on the size of your boat, and some depend on the kind of water you sail in, whether river, lake, or sea. Making sure you get the right boat anchor is far less straightforward than it first appears.

It’s exactly the kind of problem that BestReviews was set up to address. We’ve recently been looking at the huge variety available so we can help you find the most secure option. Our recommendations highlight a number of very popular choices at various price points. In the following boat anchor buying guide, we look at design, materials, and effectiveness so you know exactly what to look for as you shop.

Take your time when anchoring your boat. Check out the area slowly and carefully. After a long day’s sail, your reward will be a comfortable night’s rest.

Key considerations


A good boat anchor has to penetrate the bottom and hold the boat in position against tide and wind. There is no perfect anchor, but unless you’re sailing the ocean, you’ll likely be in waters that are already or soon will be familiar with a similar type of streambed most of the time, so you should choose the best boat anchor for those conditions.

Anchors can be divided into temporary (also called “lunch hooks” because you use one when you’re just stopping for lunch) and permanent (also called “working” or “storm” anchors). While that gives you a rough idea, there are numerous styles with their own strengths and weaknesses. If you sail in a variety of waters, you ought to buy more than one anchor, and enthusiastic sailors often do. Let’s look at the most popular types,

Grapnel anchors: These are temporary anchors that are compact when folded and have four hooks that extend for use. They’re popular for small craft like canoes, dinghies, and kayaks, though large versions are available. They don’t have great penetration but rely on grabbing onto or between rocks, which they do very well.

Fluke anchors: Also called Danforth anchors, these are one of the most popular types, particularly with boats under 30 feet. They can be temporary or permanent (a glance at the thickness of the material and size of the welds is a good clue as to which is which) and are usually very affordable. They fold flat when not in use, minimizing damage to your boat when suspended, and are easy to store. These anchors are excellent in soft sand or mud, where they penetrate well, but they’re not so good where there’s a lot of vegetation because they tend to skate over it.

Claw anchors: These have a design similar to those used to anchor oil rigs and are particularly good in windy conditions. They hold well in most surfaces, including rock, though dense vegetation can defeat them. The three-pronged design is easy to set and often resets quickly if the anchor breaks loose. Claw anchors are often used as open-water anchors, with the only minor criticism that their hold isn’t as strong as that of a plow anchor, so they need to be larger.

Plow anchors: These are similar to wing anchors, which can be either hinged or one piece. They’re designed to right themselves, so they set very quickly. Any current in the water helps embed them. These anchors are suitable for vegetation, hard clay, and rock, but not for very loose bottoms like soft mud or silt, where they tend to drag.

Plow anchor with roll bar: This is a fairly recent variation on the plow anchor. The profile is sharper so it digs in better, and the roll bar keeps it the right way up. As a result, these anchors are fast setting and very efficient in almost all bottoms and in windy conditions. However, their shape can be a disadvantage because there’s the potential for it to damage your boat, and it’s not easy to store. At the time of writing, they are still covered by patents, so they’re also expensive. However, if you can afford one, they’re pound for pound the most secure boat anchor around.

If you’re buying an anchor kit with rope, chain, and shackles, you might get plastic or steel connections. The latter are preferred for their durability.


Holding power

A lot of experts talk about holding power: the ability of an anchor to hold a boat of a particular size up to a given wind speed (which can be given in knots or miles per hour). The challenge is that most manufacturers don’t provide relevant data. They simply say their anchor is suitable for boats up to 20 or 30 feet, for example. The problem there is that a 20-foot fiberglass speedboat is a very different vessel from a 20-foot wood-hulled fishing boat. You also need to consider the weight of the vessel. Charts are available online, but not all of them agree. You can try checking several and figuring out the average or just go for the biggest, which is never a bad decision as long as the size is suitable for your boat.


Once you decide on the style, you need to look at what the anchor is made of.

Aluminum: Anchors for small dinghies are sometimes made of aluminum. It has good corrosion resistance, even in salt water, and it’s light. However, it’s also relatively easy to damage.

Steel: Mild steel and high-tensile steel are common but rust quickly. To protect them, they’re dipped in a molten zinc coating, a process that turns them into galvanized steel. It’s effective, and inexpensive. PVC coatings are used to protect and color the metal. It’s claimed that they also reduce damage to your boat, though in truth the benefit is minimal. Stainless steel is also used, and it can be polished to a brilliant shine, but it’s expensive.

Did You Know?
The traditional navy anchor you recognize from movies and TV isn’t very efficient at digging into the seabed, and to a large extent its holding power depends on its weight. That’s why you seldom see one on smaller craft.

Boat anchor prices

Inexpensive: You can find a cheap boat anchor for a small dinghy for around $10 or $15, and for a little more, you can get lightweight anchors for boats of 20 feet or so. These are relatively small anchors for temporary use, not overnight anchoring.

Mid-range: The majority of well-made working anchors for boats up to 30 feet cost between $75 and $150. That often gets you a full kit with rope, chain, and shackles, but it’s not always the case, so be sure to check when ordering.

Expensive: Plow anchors with a roll bar demand the highest prices. You’re unlikely to see a galvanized version for less than $200, and the largest stainless steel models can cost over $4,000!

Did You Know?
When practical, some sailors like to carry two anchors: a lunch hook for calm waters in daylight, and a storm anchor for overnights or difficult weather conditions.


  • Pick the right spot. Outside of marinas and harbors, you want an anchorage that has as little swell as possible and adequate protection from wind. Make sure you have lots of daylight left so if your first choice isn’t suitable you can sail to another. Outflow from rivers, particularly large ones, can seem placid at first, but if you’re broadside it can suddenly become very uncomfortable, and you don’t want to discover that in the middle of the night. Also, it’s natural to want to be fairly close to shore, but will a change in wind direction risk you running aground?
  • Check for nearby vessels. If there are other boats moored nearby, make sure you have sufficient space to avoid them. Those boats can also provide useful hints. If they’re all anchored the same way, there’s probably a good reason!
  • Investigate the hold potential. If there’s a high chance of anchor drag because the bottom isn’t suitable for the type of anchor you have, it’s simply unsafe. Even if you don’t want to leave your boat to go ashore, there’s a risk of the boat drifting while you sleep.
  • Check the depth. Can you get enough scope (see the FAQ)? Does it shelve suddenly, so a small amount of movement could cause the anchor to come loose?
  • Retrieve the anchor correctly. Incorrect anchor retrieval puts stress on the anchor, rode, and boat fittings. Move to a position directly above the anchor and collecting line so it stays reasonably taut. Secure the rode on a cleat, power backward slowly a few feet to free the anchor, then raise it. It seems counterintuitive, but don’t power forward.
Length overall (LOA) often comes up in calculations for anchor size and holding power requirements. Remember, it’s not just the hull but the full length of your boat, including protrusions like spars.


Q. What is an anchor rode?

A. It’s the name given to whatever combination of rope and chain runs from your boat to the anchor. It’s also called the anchor cable. Chain is strong and resists all kinds of abrasion under water, but it doesn’t absorb shock. If the wind gets up and you have all chain, you’ll get jarring through the boat as the chain reaches its full length. A length of strong rope (usually triple-strand nylon) has a degree of stretch, so it acts as an effective shock absorber. If you buy a boat anchor kit, you’ll get both.

Q. How important is the anchor weight?

A. Much of the design of modern boat anchors concerns performance in different bottom conditions. The anchors need to be strong, but they no longer need to be huge lumps of cast iron. Some manufacturers quote weight, but just as many do not. In sand or mud, it’s more about how well the anchor holds. If there are lots of reeds or seagrass, the weight becomes more important. Some experts suggest that you simply buy the heaviest anchor that’s practical to fit on your boat. It’s not bad advice, but good design can compensate for low weight, whereas high weight is no substitute for the right shaped anchor on small and medium craft.

Q. What is scope?

A. It’s the length of anchor rode that runs from the lake, river, or seabed to the deck of your boat. It is not the depth of the water. In good weather, a scope of 5:1 is adequate — you let out five times as much rode as the depth of the water. If the water is 15 feet deep, that’s 75 feet of rode. In rougher conditions, a scope of anywhere from 7:1 to 10:1 is recommended, so in this example, you might need 150 feet. Bear in mind that these lengths are for open-water anchoring and may not be possible with other vessels around. Charts are available online which give rode for several parameters. Until you gain some experience, you might want to print one out and keep it on your boat for quick reference.

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