Rupert Holmes looks at the different anchor designs and how to choose the right one for your type of cruising

Today we are fortunate to have boat anchor designs that are much more effective than those of only a few decades ago.

Nevertheless, anchor choice is still one of the most heated discussions online and there are a bewildering number of options available, at a staggering range of prices.

When researching this article I found anchors described as being suitable for a 32ft boat, for instance, at prices ranging from only £80 to more than £1,000.

Boats anchored off the coast

You will be glad you invested in a new generation anchor, like the Rocna, when the weather turns. Credit: Rupert Holmes

There are many different competing factors to consider when choosing an anchor for different types of cruising.

This means a type and size that might be ideal for one owner may well be less suitable for another with a similar boat, but who uses it very differently.

Boat anchor types

Until 20 to 30 years ago there were primarily three different styles of anchor in common use aboard yachts and motorboats under 50ft – the CQR/plough, Bruce/claw and Danforth.

As a result, the bulk of second-hand yachts are still equipped with their original anchors.

It would be nice to think that, if this equipment appears to have worked well for so long, it must be perfectly suited to the vessel.

However, that’s far from automatically the case.

The later years of the 20th century and early part of the 21st saw an accelerating change in anchor design, creating products that are far more reliable than the earlier designs.

A man wearing a lifejacket pulling up a boat anchor

The same principles apply to motorboats and sailing yachts

Unsurprisingly, the new designs were more expensive, so were rarely fitted as standard to new boats.

My own experience of these over the past five to 10 years, with the original Rocna and the Lewmar Epsilon, is that they set far more easily than a plough or claw-type anchor, bedding into the seabed both faster and more firmly.

The extent to which an anchor is used also varies widely.

Some owners barely use them from one season to the next, while others will spend almost every night on the hook.

Nevertheless, it’s important that, even for infrequent users, ground tackle is part of the safety kit – to the extent that minimum standards are mandated for offshore racing boats.

The anchor, for instance, may be one of the things that keep you safe in the event of engine failure, stopping you from blowing onto a lee shore at the entrance to a harbour or drifting into a deep water shipping channel.

At the other end of the spectrum, anyone voyaging longer distances may need to rely on the anchor even in severe conditions.

A person on a boat

If you attach your anchor chain with a shackle or swivel, make sure you use parts with maximum load in mind

That’s as relevant for those cruising in the Mediterranean, where winter storms and summer squalls have the potential to blow at gale or severe gale force and very occasionally even hurricane force, as for those in North Atlantic waters.

Magazine articles about anchors traditionally talked about the types of seabed each one performs best.

However, in reality, that’s of little help when choosing an anchor as few of us are set up to routinely swap to a different anchor when visiting different places.

Nevertheless, it’s helpful to remember that, in general, the larger the size of the particles on the seabed the lower the intrinsic holding power.

Mud and fine sand therefore offer far better holding than coarse sand, shells or gravel.

Which boat anchor should I choose?

Boat anchor for daysailing

This is perhaps the least demanding use case, as there’s no need to ensure the boat is safe overnight and considerations are therefore likely to focus around ease of handling.

On a small boat that may point to a lighter-weight anchor with reasonably compact dimensions.

But don’t be tempted by one that is simply too small for your boat.

And if you’re in the habit of leaving the boat at anchor while going ashore for a walk or lunch it’s more important to choose one that gives maximum chance of retaining grip, even with a change of tidal stream or wind direction.

Boat anchor for weekending

A boat anchored in an estuary under blue skies

If anchoring in tidal estuaries, like the Taw-Torridge Estuary, make sure you have an anchor that can reset quickly. Credit: MH Coast/Alamy

Spending a night on board while at anchor is second nature to many old hands, but can be an anxious time for others and can interfere with sleep.

Today’s GPS-based anchor alarms can help in this respect, but the fundamentals of having good ground tackle that’s well dug in, along with ground tackle that’s suitable for the boat remain as essential as ever.

Few weekenders need ground tackle that will hold the boat in full gale conditions.

However, if anchoring in tidal estuaries it’s important to have an anchor type that will reset quickly if it breaks out on the change of tide.

Boat anchor for coastal cruising

In most cases, this is a similar situation to weekending, at least around the eastern and southern coasts of the UK.

With conscientious planning and a close eye on the forecast, there’s every chance of being able to be safely moored in a sheltered port well before unsettled weather arrives.

However, those who keep their boats in more remote and exposed areas such as the west coast of Ireland or Scotland, or even the far west of Cornwall, are likely to want the same level of ground tackle as those cruising longer distances offshore.

Boat anchor for offshore cruising

As distances get longer, or safe harbours more scarce, then there’s more chance of needing to anchor in bigger winds or more exposed locations.

This calls for bullet-proof gear that’s well-matched to the boat.

Boat anchor for liveaboard and long-distance cruising

Most of the time this calls for similar tackle to offshore cruising, but with two further considerations.

One is an extra-heavy storm anchor that you hope will never get used, but may get you out of trouble in severe weather.

The second is a plan for what would happen should you lose an anchor.

I’ve only lost one in almost 100,000 miles of sailing – but they can get snagged and that occasionally happens in places where it’s not possible to get a diver to recover it, and where the nearest chandlery is hundreds of miles away.

Many long-term cruisers therefore carry a third anchor and rode as a spare.

Boat anchor for dinghy and small-boat cruising

One issue with older generation anchors on smaller boats is that they often need to be of a certain weight – a minimum of 20lb (9kg) is good – to be sure of digging into harder types of seabed, or penetrating weak, which can be problematic for handling and stowage.

Newer generation anchors can, therefore, be advantageous, as smaller sizes will dig in more readily.


While some unbranded anchors can be of acceptable quality others may be lacking.

A drop-forged product will always be superior to a poor-quality casting, which may be brittle.

Equally, I’ve seen examples of anchors with poor welding or galvanising.

Stainless steel anchors are at the other end of the spectrum – some are works of art but they’re often four times the price of a branded galvanised anchor of the same type, without offering any greater holding power.

Types of boat anchor

1. CQR/plough

A CQR boat anchor

CQR anchors are readily available on the second-hand market

This design was originally developed in the 1930s and has remained popular ever since.

Generations of boat owners have therefore relied on plough anchors and in general, they’re well-proven, especially in mud and fine sand.

However, performance is markedly less good in larger particles such as broken shells and gravel.

With the patents now long since expired, many plough-style anchors are generic unbranded models and are among the most affordable of new anchors, while older CQRs are often found in boat jumbles at even more attractive prices.

Today they can make a good budget choice, especially for smaller boats, where the larger weights required than for a recent design may not make handling unduly difficult.

  • Ideal for: budget choice for small boats, or as a spare third anchor
  • Typical prices for 25ft and 35ft boats: unbranded £80 and £150; Lewmar galvanised CQR £230 and £410

2. Bruce/claw

A boat anchor

The Lewmar claw anchor. Claw anchors dig in well in soft mud

This was originally developed for large-scale commercial use, including North Sea oil rigs in the 1970s.

It was subsequently refined for use on small vessels and was at one time almost as popular as the CQR.

One of the benefits claimed was that the shape of the claw was such that it could rotate in the seabed following a changing wind direction without breaking out.

Again any patents are long since expired and most claw-style anchors are copies of the original concept.

Some of these may be very good, but I’ve seen others with different geometry and claw shapes that may be more difficult to set and less able to hold as much load relative to their size and weight.

In the past, I have used claw anchors extensively, particularly in the Mediterranean, but snorkelling over them shows they rarely dig in fully, other than in very soft mud.

  • Ideal for: budget choice if a CQR/plough style anchor is not available
  • Typical prices for 25ft and 35ft boats: £80 and £120

3. Danforth

A Danforth boat anchor

The Danforth takes up little locker space

Originally developed for World War II landing craft, and used for the Normandy landings, one of the benefits of the Danforth is that it stows flat and therefore takes up less locker space.

The large flukes mean it can hold reasonably well once dug in, even though it’s generally less good than newer designs.

However, it has a reputation of being easy to break out if the pull comes from different directions as a result of the boat swinging, a wind shift or a change of tidal stream and is therefore a less good choice as a main anchor.

Nevertheless, it can make a good kedge, especially when anchoring bow-to a quay Mediterranean style.

The original is still in production in the USA, though there are also many branded and unbranded products available that are based on the same idea.

  •  Ideal for: budget choice for a powerful kedge anchor that needs to stow easily
  • Typical prices for 25ft and 35ft boats: (unbranded) £100 and £150.
  • Contact:

4. Lewmar Delta

Lewmar Delta anchor

Most new boats are fitted with the Lewmar Delta

This has its origins in the early 1990s and was developed as an anchor that would be an improvement on the CQR.

It lacks the latter’s distinctive hinged shank but has a proportionately large fluke area, which increases holding power.

Lewmar is a long-standing supplier to many large boatbuilders and the Delta has therefore been the standard fit on many new vessels over the past 30 years.

If anything pricing tends to be below that of many other plough-style anchors.

  • Ideal for: better holding power than most ploughs at a very attractive price
  • Typical prices for 25ft and 35ft boats: £115 and £135.
  • Contact:

5. Bügel

Bugel anchor

The Bügel digs in quickly, thanks to the sharp tip

The 1980s saw one of the first new-generation anchors and quickly set a new benchmark, though later designs have improved on the concept.

A sharp tip encourages it to dig in quickly, even in harder seabeds and has the potential to penetrate weed, while the flat fluke helps boost holding power, even though it’s not as large as those of later anchors.

The roll bar is its biggest innovation: if the anchor lands upside down on the seabed this immediately rotates it so the tip faces the bottom, thus enabling it to dig in much more quickly.

The ideas behind the Bügel were never patented and it can therefore be a surprisingly inexpensive anchor – a key factor behind its enormous popularity, even though later products offer higher holding power.

  • Ideal for: budget anchor with moderate to good holding power
  • Typical prices for 25ft and 35ft boats: £80 and £130

6. Knox anchor

A Knox boat anchor

The Knox anchor is best for use in rough conditions

Professor John Knox spent a great deal of his spare time researching the loads on anchors and rodes, with many of his findings published in PBO.

His work in this area over 20 years contributed a huge amount to our understanding of anchoring and the causes of anchors dragging or breaking out.

This work also led Knox to develop his own design of anchor that would offer significantly better performance compared to the popular models at the time.

It was therefore also one of the first of the new generation designs.

It has a patented divided fluke with sharpened edges set at an angle that enables it to dig into the seabed quickly and efficiently.

It’s fitted with a roll bar, while the shank is made of the highest tensile strength steel available.

  • Ideal for: offshore and long-term cruising boats that may need to anchor in severe conditions
  • Typical prices for 25ft and 35ft boats: £330 and £470.
  • Contact:

7. Rocna ll

A Rocna 2 boat anchor

The Rocna II has a re-shaped roll foil to improve self-righting

The original Rocna anchor, which appeared in the early 2000s, garnered a lot of publicity and did much to bring the benefits of the new generation of ultra-high holding power anchors to a wide audience, quickly gaining acclaim despite an initially high price tag.

Instead of a flat plate, the flukes are more of a scoop shape, which provides excellent holding, while a roll bar helps ensure it’s always positioned ready to dig in quickly.

In addition, the tip is both sharp and heavily weighted, which helps penetrate the seabed, even if there’s some weed present.

This has several benefits – in a crowded anchorage it’s possible to position the anchor much more precisely and, if the hook breaks out due to a change of wind direction or tidal stream, it should reset almost immediately.

A Rocna boat anchor

Scoop-shaped flukes on the original Rocna anchor provide good holding

More recently an updated Rocna ll has been launched with several improvements.

These include a re-shaped roll foil in place of the roll bar that optimises the anchor’s self-righting performance.

The fluke also has increased surface area, and a redistribution of metal within the anchor increases tip weight.

In the past, it was common practice for serious offshore sailors to choose an anchor at least one size larger than that recommended for their boat.

However, Rocna’s size chart is intended as a guide to selecting an anchor that ought to hold in 50 knots of wind.

Nevertheless, Rocna recommends: “… that perhaps multihull vessels, large flybridge boats and those who may encounter extreme weather should consider increasing the anchor size slightly, or if they are between two sizes, picking the larger.”

  • Ideal for: offshore and long-term cruising boats that may need to anchor in severe conditions
  • Typical prices for 25ft and 35ft boats: £680 and £850. Note that the original Rocna anchor is still available at around half these prices
  • Contact:

8. Vulcan

A Vulcan anchor

The Vulcan can fit on a wide range of bow rollers

A downside of Rocnas is they do not stow neatly on all bow rollers. To solve this problem the company developed the Vulcan series.

It lacks the Rocna’s roll bar, but has a different shape shank and flukes that help it to dig in quickly and enable it to fit on a wider range of bow rollers.

It also has the benefit of being a little more competitively priced than the Rocna.

  • Ideal for: boats that need a high-performance anchor but can’t accommodate one with a roll bar
  • Typical prices for 25ft and 35ft boats: £450 and £480
  • Contact:

9. Spade

A spade anchor

The Spade has good holding power and can be easily stowed

Another popular modern anchor with a hollow shank that can be removed to make stowage easier.

This makes it an excellent choice for racing yachts and other vessels that don’t permanently keep the anchor on the bow, for occasional use as a kedge, or as a spare third anchor on a long-distance cruising boat.

There’s no roll bar, but the tip loading is close to 50 per cent of the total weight, which helps it to dig in and set quickly.

The main drawback of the Spade is cost – it’s more complex to manufacture than other designs, so the price is relatively high.

  • Ideal for: high holding power that’s stowed easily in a locker or below decks
  • Typical prices for 25ft and 35ft boats: £500 and £700
  • Contact:

10. Manson Supreme

A Manson Supreme anchor

The Manson Supreme is good for anchoring on rocky seabeds

This was the first anchor to receive Lloyds Super High Holding Power certification when the classification was introduced in 2008.

It’s a fabricated design that uses two layers of steel for the fluke and relies on a roll bar, rather than a ballasted tip, to self-right.

The upper slot in the shank is intended for use in rocky seabeds, or in coral.

The idea is that if the anchor becomes stuck the rode can be slid to the shank end of the slot, enabling the anchor to be retrieved without using a tripping line.

The more recent Manson Boss has similar characteristics to the Manson Supreme, but without the roll bar, which makes for an easier fit on some bow rollers.

It’s roughly 15% more expensive than the Supreme.

  • Ideal for: modern super high holding power
  • Typical prices for 25ft and 35ft boats: £225 and £375
  • Contact:

11. Lewmar Epsilon

Lewman Epsilon anchor

The winged design Lewmar Epsilon means it can self-right

The Epsilon is intended as a direct replacement for Lewmar’s long-running plough-style Delta anchor.

Although the Epsilon’s shank is proportionately shorter, the two models share the same basic shank geometry.

Therefore, if a Delta fits your bow roller then an Epsilon will fit too.

It has a winged design with concave flukes in a scoop, rather than plough, a shape that maximises holding power in a variety of seabeds, plus a ballasted tip that enables it to dig in readily.

It’s also self-righting, even though the roll bar is optional.

I’ve used it in both muddy and sand/gravel seabeds, where it’s dug in quickly and held for days in winds approaching 30 knots.

  • Ideal for: moderately priced and effective new-generation anchor that will fit most bow rollers
  • Typical prices for 25ft and 35ft boats: £200 and £300
  • Contact:

12. Fortress

Fortress anchor

The Fortress can be used on different types of seabed

This aluminium anchor is a Danforth-style design from more than 30 years ago that’s very light relative to the holding power the anchor provides.

This makes it a perfect option for performance catamarans and trimarans, as well as for smaller fast motor boats.

The key downside is that holding power is achieved through the surface area of the flukes, not the weight of the anchor, which can make it slower to dig in than other types.

Equally, like the Danforth, it works best with a pull aligned with the shank.

Although lightweight it’s also physically larger than other anchors, though it comes apart for easier stowage.

A neat feature is that the angle of the flukes can be varied to suit different types of seabed.

I used one recently for a week in Antigua for a 4.5-tonne 40ft raceboat that was anchored stern-to a quay in Falmouth Harbour.

Despite being only a 6.8kg anchor it dug in solidly into the muddy seabed and held reassuringly firmly when digging it in with the engine in reverse.

Nevertheless, I’d have wanted to use a different anchor if the boat needed to be left unattended for anything other than short periods.

  • Ideal for: lightweight yet powerful anchor for straight line pulls.
  • Typical prices for 25ft and 35ft boats: £210 and £300
  • Contact:

Will the boat anchor fit?

If you’re worried about whether the anchor you’re considering will fit your bow roller, many manufacturers have PDF templates that can be printed out to create a full-size model of their anchors.

Some retailers, including Jimmy Green Marine also sell cardboard mock-ups at very reasonable prices.

Anchoring technique

This remains an important factor.

If the rode is dropped on top of the anchor, or if the hook is not given a good tug to dig it in, while monitoring transits to check for movement, then even the very best anchors will be less likely to deliver their potential performance.

Equally, choosing a sheltered spot with enough depth at low tide and with a suitable seabed are also important factors.

Continues below…

Enjoy reading The best boat anchor types for different types of cruising & their pros and cons?

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