Bow of a boat showing the anchor line in the water after setting the anchor

Knowing how to set and retrieve a boat anchor is a boating skill that is needed to ensure safety while navigating your vessel. To prevent future common anchoring mistakes, it is important to follow these steps to make sure you feel confident before the next time you use your anchor. This article will cover the proper way to drop, set, and send retrieve boat anchors, the necessary steps and precautions needed to take to follow the steps successfully, and the reasons why these steps are important for boating.

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How to Set & Retrieve a Boat Anchor

When you learn how to properly set and retrieve your anchor, you will be on step closer to becoming the master of your seamanship skills. Not only that, but you will also be more confident to navigate your boat safely with friends and family onboard during daytime and overnight stays.

  1. Decide Where to Drop the Anchor – It is important to remember that anchoring your boat on the stern can be incredibly dangerous. If you anchor in an area where other boats may be present, your anchor needs to be clear of other boats to prevent any accidents.
  2. Drop the Anchor Slowly from the Bow – Lowering the anchor slowly will prevent it from digging in the bottom, which may damage your boat. When you lower your anchor, your boat will drift backward with the wind or current, allowing the anchor to move down smoothly through the water.
  3. Maintain Tension in the Anchor Rode – Keeping tension on the anchor node will make sure the bow of the boat is pointed toward the anchor. If your boat is anchored during strong winds, putting the engine in forward gear controls the speed and direction of the backward drift.
  4. Setting the Boat Anchor – Ensuring your anchor is “set” means you applied tension to the rode so it properly penetrates the bottom. A way to check and confirm your anchor is set is by putting a reasonable amount of pressure on the rode for a length of time.
  5. Retrieving the Boat Anchor – When retrieving the anchor, make sure the boat’s bow is directly over it to ensure a smooth retrieval. The best way to retrieve an anchor is to motor, sail, or paddle to the anchor spot and move the anchor to the boat at a slow, but steady, speed. The most common retrieval method is by hand-over-hand, but there are other options as well, including the electric windless method and the anchor puller method. If you lose the anchor line, determine how safe your boat is and buoy the end of the line so it can be easily retrieved.


Anchor Scope, Anchor Line, and Water Depth

Bow of a white yacht anchored in the open water with two anchor lines running off the boat

Before dropping the anchor, make sure to determine the water depth where you want it to drop. The best way to do that is maintain a 7:1 ratio of anchor scope. It is ideal to let out 7 feet of rode per 1 foot of water depth that you anchor into. To keep it short, make sure your anchor is as horizontal as possible when in the water.


Never Anchor a Boat by the Stern

One golden rule about best boat anchoring practices is to never lower your anchor from the stern side of the boat. The reason why this can be very dangerous is because this can cause your boat to swamp, meaning water can splash and pile into the boat from waves that crash against it. And just like Titanic, once you have too much water flooding into the boat, it will sink. Another potential cause is for the boat to swing, meaning the chain that is attached to the anchor can swing your boat into the wind, causing it to roll over and capsize. Always anchor your boat from the bow side, as this is the most ideal and safest place overall.


Always Keep a Spare Backup Anchor on the Boat

Two anchors mounted to the bow of a white yacht

In case of any emergency, keeping a backup anchor onboard is beneficial. Listen, we all make simple mistakes, and if one of them is ever misplacing your boat’s anchor, you will be reassured knowing that a backup anchor is within close proximity. Even freak accidents may happen when the rope snaps and the attached anchor sinks, leaving your boat stranded with nowhere to stabilize. Having a second anchor solves the problem and puts your boat back into place.


Setting a Boat Anchor in a Lake or River

Whether you are staying in your boat overnight or stopping to fish or enjoy a swim, knowing how to anchor your boat while in a lake or river is essential for a safe and enjoyable excursion. When you have found the right spot to anchor your vessel, determine the water depth so you know how much scope to lower; the rule of thumb is to drop 7 feet of scope per 1 foot of water depth. Once the anchor has been lowered fully, give a tug on the rope to set the anchor in the sediment. Next, tie the rope onto your boat cleat to make sure it is secure. It is normal for your boat to swing, as this confirms the anchor is doing its job.


Whatever the Anchoring Need, We Have the Best Stainless Steel Anchors for Your Boat

Product image of a stainless steel fluke Danforth anchor for sale at Sardine Marine

Sardine Marine is a leading industry expert for boat anchoring with extensive experience anchoring boats with every type you can think of. Our inventory is made of premium marine-grade, corrosion-resistant, 316 stainless steel boat anchors of all types, depending on the size of your boat and body of water you are navigating on. We provide the following anchors:

  • Fluke (Danforth) Anchors
  • Delta (Wing) Anchors
  • Grapnel (PWC) Anchors

Please visit to see our available inventory for boat anchors.

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By Jim Radack


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