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How to anchor a boat safely

Anchoring a boat

Whatever the weather, come rain or shine, you need to be able to anchor a boat safely and correctly. 

Why do we anchor?

It’s not all plain sailing at sea, or on rivers and lakes, and we often need a stop or break, sometimes before we reach a port. Anchoring holds our boats in a steady position so we can break safely. Whether it’s fishing, sunbathing, sightseeing, sleeping or taking a breather, we anchor to give ourselves some time on the waters. 

How does anchoring work?

It’s all a process of digging to find a secure patch in the seabed. The anchor does this for you. When the anchor drops down, it penetrates the seabed and then the suction from the seabed’s materials and the anchor’s weight creates resistance. When the boat tugs on the anchor and rode (rope), the anchor digs in deeper to create more resistance. For more difficult seabeds, where anchors can’t dig in, they instead snag on protrusions for a hold, but this is precarious.

Check out our extensive range of anchor lines and marine and yacht ropes at Rope Source – all made in the UK!

Types of anchors

Bow and stern

This type of anchor is suited for sheltered water, like near the edge of a channel. If space is limited and conditions are settled, this is a good anchor technique. This involves a primary and secondary anchor with the primary anchor attached to the bow of the boat and the secondary anchor attached to the stern. By securing the second anchor to the stern, you eliminate swing, but you need to factor in treacherous waters; that’s why it’s more suited for sheltered water.  

The Bahamian moor

This type of anchor is best for situations where there is limited space and poor holding. It allows for a boat to swing in a circle motion and is good for limiting your swing and if you want to avoid your anchor having to reset when the tide turns. Like the bow and stern, this is better for waters where you can see the bottom, where there is poor holding. With this technique, once you set both anchors, you don’t need to move again until you leave the anchorage. The primary anchor needs to be laid uptide, the second should be laid downtide with both rodes taken through the bow roller so that there is a fixed point for the boat to swing from in a circular motion.

It can be trickier to set up though. When laying the second anchor, you either need to lay it from a dinghy, or drop back by double your intended scope with the first anchor. Because it’s near impossible to lay out a chain rode, you should have a mooring rope or rope and chain combo rode on your second anchor. If you buoy the second anchor rode and let it slip, retrieval is easier. 

V anchors

You can anchor a number of boats together with a ‘v’ anchor. Again, for areas where there is poor holding, unpredictable weather conditions and limited space, this is a suitable anchor technique. The name comes from the ‘v’ shape you create by anchoring two anchor hooks angled between 45 and 90 degrees. You deploy the anchors by laying the first one as normal with the boat dropping back for the anchor hook to set. From there, motor upwind or uptide to one side of the first anchor. Lay the second anchor at a similar distance from the intended resting place. 

Drop back before setting the second anchor. To retrieve anchors, motor up to each anchor in turn. This technique can allow you to lay an anchor towards an expected wind shift and gives you more chances for a better anchor holding, especially in inconsistent weather conditions and shallower waters. 

Tandem anchors

For rougher weather conditions, tandem anchors are best, especially where there is poor holding. You can lay two anchors in a line, when wind is expected to stay in that same direction. This is where you need chains to help keep the anchorage strong. The second anchor is lowered and set first by extending from the first anchor, allowing the full chain to lay out, before lowering the primary anchor. 

Between the second and first anchor, you’ll need a floating retrieval line that can have one end attached to the shank of the primary anchor with the other end attached to the shank of the secondary anchor.   

Safety tips for anchoring a boat


Setting your anchor right needs applied tension to the rode so the anchor digs deep into the bottom. Sailors apply power in reverse to help with this. If your boat moves, you’ll need to reset the anchor and try again.


Wind directions and weather conditions are always changing on us. You can have different anchors set up to help deal with this but you may have to reset, especially if an anchor gets dislodged from a large boat swing. To help alert you, here are some safety techniques:

  • Chartplotters can have an anchor alarm set up to alert you if the boat swings too far out from your anchor point
  • You can also set maximum and minimum anchor alarms on a depth sounder to alert you on significant water depth changes, which indicates your drifting direction (away or towards the shore)
  • Set a course alarm to alert you of any radical changes to your boat’s heading on an electronic compass or autopilot
  • Use an anchor watch to detect any changes in position by taking bearings on certain landmarks when you anchor

Rocky bottoms

The seabed isn’t going to be always smooth and flat. You may want to anchor down at a poor-holding area. It’s why you have a number of anchoring techniques to help deal with these rocky bottoms. Use a robust one that works for your boat and gauge the weather at all times. Again, if it’s not secure or your boat has swung out too much, reset the anchor. Make sure your anchor is made of high structural strength – grapnel-type or plow-shaped anchors work well

Back-up anchor

It’s advised to carry at least two anchors (preferably different ones) in case one gets lost. You can also use a different one to suit a different condition, as it may work better. Two anchors also give you more anchoring options, like the ‘bow and stern’ and ‘tandem’. 

It’s important to remember that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all anchor. Certain ones can work better for different situations, so having more than one on board is definitely a good idea. When you’re out on the water, and the weather turns, you need to rely on more than one anchor, just in case. You’ll also need to have guides with you on board to help anyone with setting up different types of anchors. 

When it comes to choosing a rode and your anchor lines, there is quite the range out there! Here at Rope Source, we are the rope experts, so get in touch with us to talk through marine and yacht ropes, or call us on 01204 897642.

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