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Anchoring Equipment – How Do I Know What to Buy?

By now, you have had time to read Part I of this series, review websites, acquire charts, study cruising guides, etc. In short, you are now an expert on where you can anchor … right? Good! Now you can buy anchoring equipment and get out on the water … pretty soon.

So what is the best type of anchoring equipment to buy? Sorry, but there is no definitive answer. Every boat manufacturer has a recommendation, every ship chandler stocks particular anchors, and every boat owner has a preference and advice. This article will help you navigate through the process of deciding what is best for you and your boat

Step 1 is to determine the bottom type at the places where you will anchor. Once you know what lies at the bottom of your destination, you can consider what type of ground tackle you need. Generally, you will find sand bottoms – either soft- or hard-packed – in the areas behind reefs and in partially protected, shallow spots. Patches of sea grass often abut sandy areas. Lagoons and mangrove swamps usually have muddy bottoms. Some places have rubble – bits of broken coral and rocks – and others are packed with coral heads. A few words about what you will find and what to use.

  • Coral. Just one word here – don’t. Don’t get near it, don’t anchor on it, just don’t. If the water is very shallow, coral will rip the bottom out of your boat. Coral can bend a steel anchor as if it were tinfoil, foul your chain, and slice through your rode. If that isn’t bad enough, in many areas of the Caribbean, a boater who damages the coral can be fined big bucks. For your safety and that of the marine environment (and your wallet), stay clear.
  • Rubble. Tricky, since your anchor must find its way beneath the rubble – without fouling – to firm holding. John Holmberg of Holmberg Yacht Charters, who has spent his life playing and working on the Caribbean Sea, has found a Barnacle anchor to be useful in rubble. However, Creative Marine Products reports that tests conducted by the American Bureau of Shipping find that the Barnacle has “no holding whatsoever” in sand. You will need different anchors for different conditions.
  • Grass. Many anchors will slip and slide over grass beds and you will wear yourself out trying to get a good set. Moreover, anchors cause terrible damage to grass beds where turtles feed and small fish grow to maturity. Sea grass has dense roots; your anchor must have edges sharp enough to cut through the roots and dig beneath them – a Danforth is a good example of an anchor that will hold in grass. A CQR, or plow-style, and a Bruce will also cut into roots.
  • Mud. The Bruce anchor will grab a hunk of mud and hang on. Likewise, a Mushroom will hold well in mud, sinking itself down over time. Unless your Mushroom is small –for use on the beach to anchor your dinghy – its best use is as part of a permanent mooring system, since “their efficiency as anchors is at the lowest end of the scale.” Source. Maloney, Elbert S. Chapman Piloting, Seamanship & Small Boat Handling. New York: Hearst Marine Books, 1987.
  • Hard-packed sand. Danforth and Fortress anchors work well in hard sand; the flukes of each will break and then dig into the sand for good holding. A CQR would work well, too; its sharp edge allows it to dig right in. A Bruce is also a good choice for sand.
  • Soft sand. Danforth and Fortress anchors are good choices for soft sand; they go in fast and dig deep. Some boaters like a CQR for this type of bottom; others feel that the plow-style will dig in but keep going, much like a farmer’s plow that moves through – but does not stick into dirt fields.

Step 2 is more homework. Find out what type of anchor your boat’s manufacturer suggests. Check out the websites put up by anchor manufacturers (see photo captions for Internet addresses). They have tables you can use to determine what type of anchor is right for your boat under various conditions. These websites also recommend the size and type of shackles, chain and line appropriate for anchors of different sizes.

After you have finished your homework, visit your local boat supply stores. They have ground tackle, catalogues, and knowledgeable salespeople who can help you decide what you need based on the size – including weight and windage – of your boat, bottom conditions and weather you might encounter. Talk to fellow boat owners. One powerboat owner told me that he carries two different types of anchor on his boat. If one anchor is ineffective, he can try the other one – his is the voice of experience.

Step 3 is to purchase your anchoring system. What should you buy? Only you can answer that, and now is the time to weigh all the information you have gathered against your budget and circumstances.

The cost of your anchoring system will depend on the size of your boat, what your anchoring needs are, and which ones will work best for your boat and crew. Information from Budget Marine, Island Marine, and Island Water World’s on-line catalogue put the ballpark cost to purchase an anchor system (including chain, shackles, thimble, and line) for a 30’ open powerboat at about $500.00. Not cheap, but neither are your life or your boat. Proper ground tackle could save both.

We own six anchors for our 34’ powerboat. Do we carry them with us all the time? Absolutely not. Our two-hundred-pound mushroom is permanently set as a hurricane anchor. “Big Bertha,” a 43-pound Danforth, is our cruising and secondary storm anchor. Our everyday anchor is a 21-pound Fortress. We have two smaller anchors – a Fortress and a Danforth – for use as stern/lunch hooks, and a very small mushroom we use to anchor the dinghy and the floating cooler.

Along with your budget and circumstances, you should consider practical issues. I asked John Holmberg why he carried a particular size Bruce as part of his anchoring system. He told me that he likes the holding power of a Bruce, it has no moving parts to break and it fits into his boat’s anchor well!

A True Story: Our first sailboat was a Hunter 23. We needed an anchor that would dig into the thick mud bottom of Galveston Bay, so we decided to purchase a Danforth. We checked out the manufacturer’s specs and then talked to the person at the boat store. Once we found the “right” anchor, I walked down the display and picked up successively heavier anchors. My husband explained to the puzzled salesperson that we wanted an anchor that was heavier than the one recommended, but not one that was too heavy for me to lift. That was our personal decision; an anchor that one of us couldn’t set, raise or easily move seemed like an impractical piece of equipment to own.

How to Anchor a Boat Safely

J. Summer Westman takes you through an intimidating process. We have all seen the fights that can happen when a loving couple comes in to set the anchor and the fight ensues. Don’t be one of those couples – learn the basics and make it easy for your next Caribbean Charter.  Learn How to Anchor a Boat!

Looking for a new anchor? Here is a handy list of Marine Chandleries in the Caribbean. Additionally, here are some Anchoring Equipment and Supplies Specialists.

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